Is it time for your business to switch to white box servers?

ODM servers are proving more efficient and cost effective, but are they the right choice for your business?

White box servers are certainly a more cost-effective, and energy efficient option, but these benefits come with some caveats that may still be of concern to some. OEM servers may be more expensive, but the services provided can be considered worth this additional upfront cost for some companies, especially those in hosting or telecom. Deciding between the two options will inevitably depend on the needs of the business or individual.

white box servers

How white box hardware changed the purchase game

Until recently, companies defaulting to one of the core OEM vendors was the industry standard for hardware needs. And for solid reasons:

OEM features simply weren’t available elsewhere, the vendor support supplied was critical to operation maintenance, and white box hardware lacked the tested performance record OEM’s exhibited.

However, these decisions have increased in complexity. Cloud providers have become more competitive, providing better prices to entice end users. With these new circumstances, it makes less sense for many companies -especially cloud giants, to opt for OEM’s with their premium price scale

White box server vendors: The ODM

Reports are showing that original design manufacturers (ODM’s) are beginning to dominate the market as cloud giants reduce prices and shift their server orders overseas -a development that is edging OEM’s out of the market.

This shift is not just limited to giants, the enterprise industry now looks to follow suit via the Open Compute Program.

Open compute project: The server upgrade revolution

The Open Compute Project has allowed companies to purchase custom built hardware directly from the manufacturer. This principle created an industry landscape where the free market could become a catalyst for innovation through open sharing of design and strategy.

Whereas the cloud giants, such as Amazon have an established success with sourcing customized hardware, statistics from other mainstream converts are equally convincing:

Korean telecom company SK Telecom reported 20% increase in efficiency from ODM sourced OCP servers for average workloads versus traditional OEM hardware.

These industry developments mean that enterprise customers can now too source the best OCP hardware for their unique needs, and place a bespoke order directly from an ODM vendor.

Can OEP services compete with the transformed industry landscape?

So what about the concerns relating to purchasing white box servers over OEM’s?

The common objections relate to the services that allowed OEM’s to dominate the market before the OCP transformed the previous boundaries. Mainly, the safety of the warranties, support, and hardware quality OEM’s provide.

But ODM’s are counteracting this market perception:


Decent warranties are no longer only an OEM benefit. Many ODM’s can offer competitive term and parts warranties but in many cases, a bespoke support and service level agreement may be better suited to a custom OCP order, something ODM’s aren’t opposed to providing.


It can’t be denied that Dell and HPE offer prodigious management software. Features that OEM customers benefit from may have an advantage over their ODM counterparts. Few ODM’s currently offer software, and the ones that do, don’t compare in terms of capabilities.

However, not all companies take full advantage of their OEM software platforms, making these services more ambiguous as true benefits.

Better hardware options

ODM’s already contributed to OEM hardware sourcing, but in addition to this, the innovations presented in the OCP marketplace are speeding advancements in the ODM marketplace.

Lower costs and increased efficiency are compelling evidence that white box servers triumph in this context.

What’s the catch with white box servers?

ODM’s have a docket of convincing reasons to prompt your switch to white box servers, but there are some considerations you should address before committing to this change:

OCP compatibility

Open compute project hardware is not standardized the way that is guaranteed with OEM products. With different contributors and designers involved, compatibility could become problematic, as could rack heights and input power.

Deployment and communication

When purchasing from an OEM, a certain level of speed and customer service can be the standard expectation.

With ODM’s, these elements may not be so accessible. Communication may not be as timely, time zones could slow processes, and delivery timetables less speedy or flexible.

Where to begin your white box upgrade

If you do decide that White box servers are the best data center upgrade solution for your company, researching Open Compute Project designs in the OCP products section is a smart way to start planning. Switching to white box servers will require communication with your company’s relevant departments to determine the unique needs of your business before committing to a design. Consulting with an OCP deployment specialist could optimize this process.

An ITAD company can maximize your return on hardware you intend to replace. Decommissioning, on-site pickup, and data erasure can make this aspect of the upgrading process smooth.

Brian McMullin is the operations director for Exit technologies, an R2 certified, global IT asset disposition company (ITAD).