Project Management

Why consultants should not sell generic PCs and servers

Erik Eckel encourages consultancies to deploy systems specified and assembled by major manufacturers rather than generic "white-box" computers and servers.

Consultants shouldn't sell and then deploy generic "white-box" computers and servers because these systems are unreliable. I have formed strong opinions on this topic after supporting hundreds of commercial clients, many of whom were dependent upon generic "white-box" computers and servers deployed by former IT consultants.

No one ever got fired for buying IBM

Does that mean consultants should only recommend and deploy the most expensive name-brand boxes? No, of course not. But based on my experiences, systems specified and assembled by major manufacturers, such as Apple, Dell, HP, IBM, and Lenovo, provide clients with remarkably improved value and total cost of ownership.

Do systems from Apple, Dell, HP, IBM, and Lenovo fail? Sure. That's the nature of any complex machine containing moving parts and electronics sensitive to spikes, drops, and heat. But meantime to failure and meantime to repair, not too mention simplified warranty service and access, make recommending professionally manufactured systems a best bet for consultants truly focused on what's best for clients.

What's wrong with a white-box?

Generic systems might minimize upfront expenses -- that's why I was able to build a $500 Windows Vista test machine years ago, but that machine's motherboard lasted about 18 months before the motherboard's USB ports failed. An equivalent replacement Dell system is still running three years later.

My office routinely encounters generic computer systems suffering failed power supplies, popped capacitors, RAID controller incompatibilities (which are particularly problematic as the issue arises not when the system was deployed but months or years after deployment following a Microsoft service pack or hardware update), and generally slow performance. I've seen these systems fail upon deployment. I've seen white box systems catch on fire (more than once). I've seen many a generic chassis fall apart, too, or require that half the system be disassembled due to bad design just to add a stick of RAM.

Why do some shops recommend white-boxes?

Some consultants recommend generic systems to clients claiming generic workstations and servers are better because they're custom built to the customer's specific requirements. If that were true, my office wouldn't encounter such common white-box builds when troubleshooting these machines deployed by other firms.

If white-box proponents are so concerned about clients' welfare, my consultancy also wouldn't discover such an alarming rate of software piracy in concert with these generic, white-box systems. In addition, we would not be called in so frequently to troubleshoot the performance, licensing, and stability issues the client is experiencing, almost all of which are due to the previous consultant's lack of expertise and deployment of these poorly performing "customized" systems.

Conclusion

Almost every time my office performs an IT assessment and finds generic computers and servers, we can bet we're going to discover unlicensed software, performance issues, and general information technology neglect. The biggest reason I believe consultants tout generic boxes is customers can't price shop these systems. If that's the strategy an IT consultancy must adopt to prove competitive, the consultancy has bigger problems.

I realize these are strong words, but years of 50- to 75-hour weeks of full-time consulting have taught me the value of being a straight shooter.

Please share your thoughts about deploying generic "white-box" computers and servers.

About

Erik Eckel owns and operates two technology companies. As a managing partner with Louisville Geek, he works daily as an IT consultant to assist small businesses in overcoming technology challenges and maximizing IT investments. He is also president o...

86 comments
miles
miles

Think about it... the best thing about Dell is that their service tech will be at your site within 24 hours. The worst thing about Dell is that their service tech will be at your site within 24 hours. If they just had their systems built with parts from other than the lowest bidder our real costs and TCO would be lower and the work time lost due to their inferior products would be eliminated. Give me a pure Intel "white box" any time over the brand name systems.

rsparks1962
rsparks1962

We only purchase high end now. In a I.T. shop with 800+ servers we learned the hard way that we can not build a white box that stacks up to IBM and H.P. servers. Plus IBM's 4 hour response time is critical when your systems must stay up.. It goes back to the old mind-set of, what is the data worth you are storing on your servers? I work in the medical industry and no kidding the buck stops here.. White box's can not perform at the level of my heavy metal box's from IBM!

adilnayab
adilnayab

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Rick S._z
Rick S._z

Good grief. A CONSULTANT, such as myself, does not play around with off-the-shelf, single-PSU workstations (i.e., PCs) within the business. That said, if your client asks for a recommendation on non-critical "end-user" machines: More than anything else, it depends on the number of machines. For an "Enterprise" using Windoze, 3-year lease agreements (with site licensing and next day hardware replacement), from Dell, is an attractive recommendation. But, if you're making a recommendation for a small number of computers, then it's best to specify a big-label box -- but STRONGLY, STRONGLY suggest replacement of the el-cheapo PSU's which they come with -- and recommend RAID. Always! 90% of the time, case cooling is also insufficient, and easy to upgrade. STRONGLY, STRONGLY recommend a big, quiet, fan. It takes about 2 minutes. ($20 PSU's with wide swings in voltage AND "flutter" as well, eat motherboards. The cheap motherboards are prone to fail, and the "cheapest per terrabyte" disks WILL NOT!! be Caviar Black. But nearly all computer hardware failures start from the PSU, or from excessive heat. DO make specific model recommendations. And of course, because you're replacing a couple of parts, be absolutely sure that the model you're recommending doesn't have one of those "warranty void if removed" stickers.

jgirizarry
jgirizarry

I have deployed Dell computers for projects and this PC's have lasted for more than 5 years on different companies. I don't believe anymore in cloning, it is more expensive and more difficult to keep warranties and licenses. Dell provides all I need in one purchase, are they perfect?, no, but they get the job done most of the time.

john.lovrinic
john.lovrinic

Having been an IT director and a consultant on and off for quite a while and as someone who has designed and built hardware, my recent (last 5 years) experience has caused me to avoid, HP, Dell IBM. Particularly in the small to medium (under $100M) area. Issues: 1. Ever increasing support contract costs. 2. Difficultly in ordering non OEM loaded software. 3. Old platform designs. 4. Terrible customer/tech support. Occasionally, if I can find what I want (depends on the usage) on their sites (Dell, HP), I will recommend one of their units. But for high performance and good value, I find that units assembled by a good non-big 3 manufacturer or one of their resellers can work quite well. However, when I take that route, I always tell the customer to buy extra unit(s) (depending on the number they employ) so they have directly swappable hardware spares. This usually is more cost effective than the support contracts. I also explain to them the cost versus risk aspects quite thoroughly and offer them the closest thing that the big 3 have with comparable performance specs so they can make an educated decision. I also have them talk with the vendor directly (I don't take a piece of the pie). I also note that I use this technique mostly for SAN based virtualized environments and have found it to work quite well. I use it for my own professional environment and have units that are still running strong after 7 years. Of course proper maintenance, heat management and cleaning helps a lot with this. The correct answer is really that it depends on what you need the unit for. Single app Server, PC or Virtual Host? Educated user or neophyte? Big or small/nonexistant budget and staff? Are you a one man shop or part of a larger organization? These are all factors in the equation, but the key thing is to always do what is best for the long term interest of the customer so they will be able to stay a customer.

paul
paul

I disagree with this missive completely.I have been building computers from scratch since about 1976-77. I now build bespoke PC's using mid to high end components. There are certain component manufacturers I refuse to use,after having had some very bad experiences. I segued into this niche market for exactly the opposite reasons you purport, namely the big manufacturers use cheap components, most especially PSU's. From experience putting a high quality PSU in a PC, and it will run for years.Many ones I have to fix , or build a new machine for is the mainboard has blown, most likely due to the PSU. I very rarely have any returns ( I build quite a few, and I could not name the last time I did) , however on a daily basis I get called to fix machines by the major manufacturers. Cheap cases , cheap components and cheap PSU's , one and all.... regards Fitvideo Fitvideo

mjcampese
mjcampese

I've seen success and horror stories from white-box builders and name brand systems alike. Erik, many of your points are very good ones, but you sound like a guy who's frustrated with the bite white-box sellers have taken out of your own business. If white-box systems were all as bad as you claim, there would be no need for you to write an article to explain the obvious to the rest of us.

jleonard20
jleonard20

Ok Erik, if you are going to lump ALL white box systems under the crap category, I will return the mindset. It sounds like Erik is saying that we would be better off using ACER systems in business rather than white boxes. I had to call Acer a couple months ago about a netbook memory upgrade. They say that the systems works with a 2gb stick of memory as long as you aren't running Win 7 starter. I removed the hard drive so OS wasn't a question of working. When I powered on the netbook, no post, no video. I called to find out if there was a bios patch, they just kept saying that because I had Win 7 starter installed on the hard drive that wasn't plugged in, it wasn't going to work. I had to walk them through what happens when a computer boots. I had to do the same thing with Danish Black at HP. Danish was happy to listen that I was well. Yup, great support. So how about that apology Erik? We won't lump Dell, HP, and IBM under the crap category as long as you don't throw us White box system builders under the bus? Dell and friends have been known to produce garbage systems, there are plenty of white box builders that throw cheap parts in a cheap box and call it a business computer. However, there are a bunch of us that take great pride in our work and find it very offensive when someone writes an article saying what we do is unworthy of being used in a corporate environment.

Walthy
Walthy

I'm not sure I disagree with your opinion except I can add memory with a lifetime warranty from a vendor I've been dealing with for over twenty years and at a lower cost than Dell or HP. If I can get warranty service like that on other items like raid controllers and motherboards I would be more willing to build white boxes these days. But alas, I've been disappointed with motherboards and power supplies over the years also. I always used to use PC Power & Cooling. Are they even still in business? I always thought that Gigabyte was a class motherboard vendor until I had problems with one of their motherboards, and also ASUS, and most others, and now realize that none of them are as good as I had hoped. HP is so proprietary that they are on my don't buy list right now. I've been impressed by Lenovo recently with even a low end desktop that was a great value. Would you lump a vendor like SuperMicro in the white box category or not? As near as I can tell they are a solid vendor, but haven't used them yet. As far as off-shore support I've had it both ways, good and bad. The real problem is how well they are trained and with their understanding of "our" version of English. I've been disappointed with both Dell and HP recently with scripted support without an underlying understanding of the problem I was trying to describe. But I have also had some great support from India, Canada, South Africa, and elsewhere, but I agree that on Server systems and major vendors the support should be within the country where you reside with people who speak the native tongue. In Dell's case I am lucky to have resources available to cut through the channels to get questions answered. HP and Dell also have some good online forums. Spiceworks has the most helpful online forums for almost any system or network question and Spiceworks itself is free with major vendor support from Dell, HP, and others.

BroadcastArashi
BroadcastArashi

I've been reading TechRepublic for a long time, and I have never seen any article as horribly biased as this one. Custom built computers aren't inherently bad. You get what you pay for on both sides. Years of experience in the industry has shown me the opposite of what you're claiming. If you build cheap crappy custom machines, you get cheap crappy custom machines. If you buy cheap crappy Dell/IBM/whatever machines, my experience has shown me that these are generally worse than the crappy custom machines. At least the custom machines don't require overpriced proprietary parts that significantly increase the total cost of ownership, and time to repair. I build custom built computers, and they're much better quality, cheaper to own, and easier to fix than any of the brand name computers out these days. Particularly those new all in one PCs that conjour up memories of the early 90s.

Magcon
Magcon

Interesting paper but would be careful not to generalise. In the past hardware was pretty much unreliable however advances in technology suggest that "white box" products could be quite powerful. Some branded items have also caused problems especially in mission ciritical installations.

daniel_chern
daniel_chern

I built a file server running win2k server for my office with help from a friend in the year 2000. It is still running and serving the 5 users it was configured for. I only had to deal with a fried power supply (caused by lightning and a failed UPS) and a replacement for a failed RAID hard drive after about 5 years. Bottom line is it actually saved me a few bucks without too much downside.

jleonard20
jleonard20

Let's look at the clam shell design Dell used on so many of their systems. Those were a pain in the a$$ to get into and install memory. The slim design models that you have to take apart in layers to add memory. Hard drives that are mounted sideways or vertically, or upside down. Power supplies that have exactly 3 4 pin molex and 1 sata jack. For hp/compaq, T15 or T20 torx head screws!!! Is there something wrong with industry standard Phillips Heads?!?.!!?!

gilde
gilde

I have run into some pretty "bad" product from HP and Dell on occasion especially some of the motherboards being used. Custom builds can incorporate the best of the best. I want my clients to have great working equipment. Saves my time to in chasing problems.

tbmay
tbmay

No more. I did it to save money for very low budget customers. I was the "starving artist" willing do whatever I had to for very low paying jobs. It's a road to nowhere. Servers are all Poweredge's now. If customer cringe at that, it's a solid indicator the relationship isn't going to work.

artivision
artivision

I would NEVER consider a name brand.I've done that once (Apple) and within 3 weeks the product failed.It was a failure well documented in the media.The response was a denial that the product was faulty and my only recourse was legal. This is why name brands are costly - to support advertising,high margins and an intimidating legal department. In 30 years of being in the business and using no names boxes I have had 1 power supply die and a couple of hard drives ( I currently run 40 drives) - as well as a "Click" drive. - All after considerable use.Considering "no names" are about half the price of the alternatives I know I am miles ahead.

Micromanx5
Micromanx5

As someone who does sell whitebox desktops and servers I find Erik's position frustrating. My company has been building whiteboxes for over 15 years and we have plenty of boxes that have out lasted the name brands. The difference is in the quality of the parts. We use Intel currently and I don't build servers out of anything other than Intel server parts. As an Intel partner we are able to warranty service comparable to the big guys and sometimes even better. In my experiences with Dell and HP I'm always having to jump through hoops and spend time PROVING that a part is bad before they deal with it. We've all gotten bit by the capacitor issue even Dell. Some companies handled it better than others. We've don't only assemble servers for our own direct customers, we build them for other consultants. We were building custom servers for a local software company that deploys software to 911 emergency centers. The owner of the company decided to outsource the hardware to dell instead of dealing with internally. The best metric we got about the quality of our products was from the companies purchasing agent. They were deploying Dell servers in new installs and constantly having to call Dell for repairs. While machines build by us, continued to run without a hitch. Everyone at the company tried to get the boss to stop buying from Dell, because of the problems. So not every whitebox builder assembles crap computers, not all of us use desktop boards and call it a server. Erik's position reminds of the furor a few years ago that erupted over the Microsoft credentials. It got to point that suddenly everyone that had any sort of credential was suspect of not earning it. Broad paint strokes can hurt not only individuals but entire groups. For some reason it seems that a lot of so called "experts" who write columns want to bash whitebox builders. I've see it pop up all the time. My question is this...If whitebox is so bad for the industry, then why do Microsoft and Intel put so much money into products and programs aimed at that market? As for his remarks on piracy it has nothing to do with whitebox builders, so don't go there. It has to dollars and companies that don't want to spend the money.

MicMec
MicMec

I can't speak for the US experience but I have supported thousands of PCs for numerous customers over 25 years in Australia. The "white box" is almost always more expensive than the equivalent brand name PC but offers better build quality, reliability and performance. Brand Name support is slow and expensive. Software licensing is an unrelated issue.

dcolbert
dcolbert

I've been working with DIY whitebox workstations and servers for decades. I started out in retail PC sales at a small mom & pop shop before the big box stores came along and destroyed that model for the most part. I've had GREAT reliability from DIY machines during that period. I'd say most of my DIY machines outlast their functional usefulness. Becoming obsolete is what kills these old machines. Along the way, those machines often offer an upgrade path, where I've had DIY machines that have morphed slowly into complete new machines over the period of years, ugprading component by component taking a machine from one state, through an intermediate state, to a final state, before the technology changes so much in some fundamental way that all the equipment reaches a logical End of Life. During that time, I've also seen some rampant industry problems cause outrageous failure rates. The Taiwanese Capacitor Plague is probably one of those defining moments in any IT professional's career who has been in the industry for awhile. In the DIY market it was mostly low end components that had the highest failure rates related to fautly capacitor electrolyte. In particular, AMD systems seemed to be real prone to losing IDE channels when busted caps leaked fluid and shorted out contacts. I saw this issue frequently, and consistently on AMD systems with VIA chipsets. I don't think it was AMD's fault, or Via's fault. I think that AMD and VIA tended to end up on budget DIY motherboards and DIY budget motherboards tended to use lower quality components, and thus the less expensive taiwanese caps with faulty electrolyte. A high quality Intel P4 motherboard of the era, though, was likely to have higher quality components, including japanese caps with the correct formula. But - here is an interesting observation. Among Dell systems, I saw huge numbers of failures of Corporate and personal desktop PCs that were all clearly traced back to cap failure. But you know what, I just recently retired a Dell high end (dual P3/700) workstation from that era, and I've never lost a Dell *server* that I can think of that can be attributed back to failed caps. And I've worked with a boatload of Dell servers during the last 15 years. I agree with you, in the larger scope, simply because vendor consolidation makes sense for any kind of organization with any sort of scale. If you're not of that basic scale, you're not really on my professional radar. I know there are a lot of people in the industry out there that make their living at that level - and that the truth of the matter is that if a Dell server costs $2500 they can probably put together a generic white-box DIY server for less than half of that cost, often with better specs. I know that such a DIY machine might give years of reliable use. When you're starving, you take what you can get and you make the best out of it. But if I had options, I want a name brand and a premium price on my equipment. One that has a top market presence if possible. Really, of the enterprise class server vendors, Dell is basically the DIY white-box vendor in this segment, too. Far cheaper than the competition, and it shows in so many ways. This is, not surprisingly, one of my arguments on why you put a legitimate commercial OS on your business grade equipment, as well. The logic for one extrapolates well to the other.

jimmeq
jimmeq

We started with White Boxes before they were pegged with the name. It took several trys until we hit the right combination of motherboard, graphics, and HDD. With the right combination the systems were solid and if one did need a part, it was readily available. Our servers were White Boxes and when we moved to HP, my hope was that HP would be as reliable as the servers I built. They are! We ran Exchnge up to 5.5, SQL 7(?), SMS, printer & file sharing 24/7/365 on White Box servers until they were replaced with HP DL 380 series boxes. The cost savings is just not enough of incentive to build a White Box. Straight away, I can not built a box as sophisticated as the HP's are engineered, and certainly not save much in the process. I do think White Boxes are still a viable alternative, just choose the components, and the intended usage wisely.

ummon33
ummon33

I boils down to one thing with pc's whether it is White Box or Name Brand, I build custom PC's when a customer really wants a pc that lasts.. DELL, HP IMB, etc, I have replaced just as many as them as I have cheap white boxed PC's. I will agree with you on the software side of things...allot of white boxes will have software that is not registered. But, I have very few customers come to me after I have built a customer a custom computer with problems. Most of the time it is for a upgrade 3 to 4 year later. It all boils down to the parts you use in my opinion and the environment that it is built in.

Charles Bundy
Charles Bundy

The same can be said for the name brand "big boys" if you start buying outside their corporate line. I don't run screaming when I see a whitebox, and when I spec one it is with corporate level parts. Case in point I still have a dual core Opteron 939 server I built around 2006 and it's running great. Now why you would want to spec a whitebox might be personal preference or control over design. If the reason is to save a buck, cost can cut you with name brand or whitebox. You get what you pay for. As far as software piracy goes I've seen a ton of it OEM on those corporate name brands, especially WinXP professional. While this article is a interesting anecdote it sounds as if your conclusions are biased.

Philibertf
Philibertf

I was dragged into consulting part time for someone who couldn't find a decent consultant. And my son's school roped me into the job as a volunteer. And I spec'd major brands, as I do in my 'daylight' job. Frankly, I don't care what the hardware costs... it doesn't cost ME, it costs the customer. But is has to be solid, and I spec the right system to do the job. I remember specing a Dell server with RAID, they charged me for 'integrating' the raid controller... hell, it didn't even show up on the same day, forget aboutit being 'integrated'! And I had to hunt for drivers... and shoehorn them onto startup floppies for NT SBS (Ok, it's been a while...) which was supposed to be factory installed. You get the idea. And I've run into other issues, from the HP server that refused to boot Redhat (which it was supposedly 'customized' for) with a USB keyboard, to jumping through hoops to get Dell to send me the 25th disk that failed out of the crummy batch they sent me at my son's school. Oh, and stripping out the bloatware on factory OS installs is so much work, it's easier to build a fresh image and just image the machines. White box desktops are just plain silly. Anyone who thinks he can undercut a Tiawanese assembly line on price is kidding himself; but the majors are no picnic, either!

bwexler
bwexler

I build white box to provide improved quality of each component. I always offer a price guaranty. You can buy every component cheaper somewhere else.

wdewey@cityofsalem.net
wdewey@cityofsalem.net

I tend to disagree with the reasoning in this article that all white box machines are lower quality (don't last as long) as brand name machines. I personally don't build machines because it's more work than I want to do and I don't want to be build the documentation or be forced to stick around through the life of the machine. Where I see brand name computer being better is that they have documentation about the system online and it's easy to find. They have driver downloads all in the same location as well. Bill

Old Timer 8080
Old Timer 8080

FYI: I've found the BAD CAPACITOR problem in both NAME BRAND and WHITE BOX motherboards.. As far as I'm concerned, that blows your whole SCREED out of the water! I've been in this industry BEFORE there was a real PC. I can compare the countless motherboards and components from a hardware standpoint. I hate to break it to your CLOSED MIND, but BOTH Big Box and White Box companies have their share of bad designs pushed onto the public. The Big Box companies just have a PR Department that can do DAMAGE CONTROL. Dell is just one example of this type of ANTI-SOCIAL behavior. Why you think you are qualified to make such a sweeping statement? Your behavior appears to make you a SHILL for some of the advertisers for ZD... Just like a certain butthead that shills for M$......

jleonard20
jleonard20

Just to touch on something I said earlier, you buy a bunch of name brand systems, you can plan on sending a handful back as DOA. Do you know how many DOA system's I have delivered? None! That's what happens when you build it, if there is a bad part, it is taken care of before the customer gets the machine. It's called customer service. I have a compaq that was provided for me for my job. I had it 1 week before it started saying CPU fan has failed, I called compaq and we determined it's a bad fan. They won't send me a replacement fan, I have to send them the box, it will only take 2 WEEKS!!!! I bought a fan and had it fixed in ten minutes! Yup you go and buy the big name boxes and get their idea of customer service.

jim
jim

The issue is not big box vs. white box. The box is not the measure, the measure is the integrity of the support personnel. I have seen much abused of customers by BIG box companies that you do not mention. To get a Big Box mentality is the same as saying the government should take care of all our problems. No people need to trust in something other than BIG, cause big is going to take advantage of you. Sir you miss the real issue.

GLWelker
GLWelker

If you are selling anything besides your time, expertise and knowledge, you are not a consultant. You are an equipment salesman. Now if all you do is recommend equipment to buy, without getting anything in return from the vendor of that equipment, then that is fine, but the moment you go to selling stuff, you quit becoming a consultant and become a common equipment vendor.

info
info

The black box (Major) systems tend to have fewer 'glitches' than a whitebox system bought for a hundred or so dollars less. I recently rolled out HPs to give myself more time for other things than troubleshooting the existing white boxes, and it worked! That being said, the executive and accounting offices gave me Hell for the costs. Said that the extra productivity from the employees (and from me) 'wouldn't happen'. I think they were wrong. Some of the whiteboxes were actually well-built with good components. Even some of the cheaper ones have lasted near 10 years! But there always seemed to be calls every other day about 'glitches'. Annoying little things that just kept happening, although they didn't disrupt operations at all. With the HPs, those calls have disappeared. That being said, I didn't get the 'cheapest' HP business systems I could. I go a couple of models up and settle there. Also, one of my branches went out on their own and bought HP home systems to save money. I don't think any of those systems lasted 3 years... When I spec white-box, I DO build it myself, or closely supervise those that do. It's not worth the time at the employee desktop level. Heck, even at the server level I think it's worth it to go name-brand. But when our drafting department cried that they NEEDED a high-end workstation (worth about $15k or more) and had NO money in their budget, I told them I could build one for $3k. The system works beautifully, is better appointed than the black-box one, and hasn't suffered a hiccup. I agree that brand-names SHOULD be prevalent in business. They do pay off in the long-run. A white-box built to the same standard will usually cost almost as much! But if you have a client that insists, I don't buy the 'hard to get parts' arguments. I find them easier to troubleshoot, and you can roll up some of the costs savings to have a spare PC or two for use or for parts! So far, the HPs only glitches have been with hard drives (which saves me no time since I need to restore the data), and some other little things I've needed to rely on tech support to help me with, and they've done nothing but argue that no problem exists! I find white-boxes take a few minutes to troubleshoot and a few more to repair, most times.

jaxent
jaxent

The number one reason was left out. If you are a good consultant, you have more profitable uses for you time than competing with Chinese manufacturing companies. (There are some good smaller integrators that are better than the big boys, but I don't consider that to be white box). I am big on small computers that bolt to the back of the monitor these days, the ASUS EEE box is big on my list for desktops. Cheap, reliable (knock wood), and fewer cables running around for users to kick out of the socket. (All in ones mean you have to replace the monitor every time you upgrade). But I strongly agree that some special purpose boxes may need a custom build machine. But even then there are appliance makers that may have the bundle done already.

Trotter516
Trotter516

Every vendor will have some failures. the more of a particular make and model you have the higher the chances of you running into this obviously. but a lot of it can be avoided by going with what is good/best and not what is cheapest. I've got computers I built ten years ago that are still going strong right alongside s few old Dells... but these have seen many more Dells meet the scrap heap over those years. The adage holds true, "Garbage in, garbage out." This does not mean that I automatically assume that you or whoever cheaped out on everything about the white boxes, but your descriptions of the failures tend to color the picture that way. Truth be known it is hard to provide a white box for the same price as the big boys. If I get to choose the components of a custom build then I know I can trust it and would take it over Dell, HP, or any other pre-built.

pizza7
pizza7

Black boxes are mass-produced. How many CMOSS batteries died prematurely in Dells ? How about the recall for capacitors in Dell GX280s that popped ? As long as a white box is built with quality parts you are fine. I build my own machines three of which are running the latest MS Servers. I have one machine that is 11 years old (soon to be replaced) that has never been even re-imaged. A white box can be built to your exacting specifications. A white box can be a higher-end build than what you would normally get from a major manufacturer. You look at even the power supply of a HP dc5800 or dc6000 (business class computers) and they only have a 300 Watt power supply. That's fine for most cases cutting it close for higher-end needs. You can argue that there are indeed more headaches and you have to engineer your own system build. Is the quality of a black box acceptable ? Yes. It is definitely convenient.

mnttsacs
mnttsacs

This doesn't make sense from a very simple standpoint: How is, for example, an Intel mainboard manufactured for Dell any better than an Intel mainboard manufactured for open market? Furthermore, from a warranty standpoint, if you're just desiring to be lazy, then yes, an OEM server is better. Again though, nearly all manufacturers (and definitely all the "good" brands) put a three year warranty on their parts. For a third point, ever try to get parts for a 6 year old Dell server? Good luck with that. It's not a matter of who's badge is on the front. It's a matter of the parts that went into the box. If you are using quality parts, you can build a box with much more capability than OEM for a fraction of the price, and still achieve the same server life span. I built a Windows 2003 SBS server over 7 years ago for a client. At the same time, they were also getting a new Dell server through their POS vendor. The Dell has had to have warranty calls 4 times, and has blown three drives after the warranty was expired. The SBS server blew its first drive last week, and is still providing excellent service. It's a dual-Xeon system with 4GB of RAM, Intel serverboard, Intel server chassis, APC 1500, 8 Ultra320 73GB drives in RAID5 including hotspares, and cost them about $2500 less than the Dell. If it needs parts, we can have them next day. If the Dell needs parts, we are still hunting them down the next day! I understand that there are definitely scumbags who will build things as cheaply as possible, call it a server because they installed a server OS, and put a 200% markup on their box. In those situations, I would concur that the customer would have been much better of going OEM. But when you have vendors like Dell pumping out "servers" under that same logic, where you have a Celeron CPU and a single hard drive, they are no better than the lousy whitebox builds. Last month I worked on a customer's Dell server, which has a Pentium series CPU, and a WD800BB hard drive - not even the JB - and this server is 6 years old. It's a workstation in a big chassis running Std 2003 server OS - but it's by no measure a server. I really feel that people writing these articles should think a bit more before they put information out there for the world to read, and understand that there are people who read this article who really don't konw, and treat is as fully accurate and complete. By the way, I have been in this business for over 14 years, and in the 10 years I have been building servers for customers, I have yet to see one fail! The closest we came was a RAID 5 array that had a drive go out, and during the rebuild, a second drive developed issues. That was a very close call, but again, Seagate makes hard drives and sells them to the world in general. Those drives could have just as easily been shipped over to Dell or HP or IBM, and is by no measure an indication of the quality or reliability of the box as a whole. The quality of a server is no different than the quality of a workstation or laptop. It's all about the quality of the components used in the build, just like anything else. You build it with a bunch of cheap crap, you have a big piece of cheap crap. The best advice, in summation, is not the badge on the front. Don't let the customer dictate what goes in the box either, as they will certainly opt to forego that expensive hardware RAID, and you end up with onboard SATA RAID that can't keep up when you have more than 3 heavy users. Don't build with cheap components either. Use a solid manufacturer such as Intel or Asus for your motherboard, and do your homework on the chipset, power it with an overly strong PSU, and use reputable drives, such as Seagate. What you will end up with, contrary to the author's beliefs, is a very solid system, with room for growth, ease of maintenance & repair, and no need for a translator and 4 hours of hoop-jumping if a warranty issue pops up!

jleonard20
jleonard20

I have spoken to many business's that have ordered 30 Dell systems only to send half a dozen back DOA. I spoke to one place last week that had a Dell with a bad board, the tech came out and swapped the board and left. Shortly after she had to reboot and found that this highly trained Dell tech never configured the bios so it was looking for a nonexistent floppy drive. Put this together with Dell, hp, whoevers numerous variations of power supplies and trying to get the right one and a working one at that is a challenge. Can I build a $500 server better than Dell? No, I wouldn't trust a $500 server with saved games, let alone someone's business. If a white box builder uses QUALITY components, it lasts. I use Intel boards 3 year warranty, chip is the same, I'm a partner I get a replacement next day. Seagate hdd's 3-5 year warranty. I get proven optical drives that aren't expensive. If something goes down, I can go to a store and get a universal replacement not order one from Dell and wait for them to get it right. I have systems in auto garages, offices, and metal shops. I replace systems every 6-8 years. We only replace them because the are slow, not broken. On average, I replace a power supply once in that systems life, maybe a hard drive, that's it.

programit
programit

I generally find that white-box computers offer better value for the smaller client. You need to ensure that quality components are used and do some research, but some installations can save 30 to 40% off the top simply by leaving a badge off it. Any brand can fail, and thats why local support is important. It was found out by a client who went Apple to find the first machine lasted less than a month (after a month fighting warranty) he got a replacement that lasted just over 6 before it had dramas. He went back to the generic (linux) systems and had no dramas in over 12 months so far. (And would have save excess of $1000 if he went that way to start with.)

stephenmark1
stephenmark1

Your argument really is that suppliers of components make sure IBM, DELL and that lot get the best components. They are getting them cheaper than I can buy them, so the punter is being fucked twice, paying more and getting shit of components. I could replace a motherboard twice or three times with the price charged by IBM and DELL etc and I still have a machine that better matches my technical needs. Please write about something more realistic; I live in 'rip off britain' and I write 'britain' with lower case because that is what it has become, with the influence that comes across from the good ole US of A. So if you are American I can understand your fear of being responsible for supplying a machine without a brand name; but then all Americans are turkeys; bigger versions of the chickens we have in britain.

MobyMud
MobyMud

I always include a 6 month warranty, onsite. And because of that, I use quality components, which each have at least a 1 year warranty, some, like memory, are lifetime. When I install Win 7, it doesn't come with tons of bloatware which I have to charge to remove (building a custom Win 7 is faster). I use top quality motherboards, fans, and processors. Memory has a lifetime warranty, motherboard and processors are 3 years, so that's the core system. With a good HDD, it could be 3 or even 5 years. As long as I'm willing to diagnose the problem and RMA the parts, where is the downside for the client? And unless they are running hot computers with vents blocked or they have noisy power and someone accidentally bypassed the UPS, white boxes run for years and often I've recovered the costs of upgrades by selling the old parts!

Spitfire_Sysop
Spitfire_Sysop

I agree that the warranty makes the difference and is well worth it for enterprise operations. I have not seen the problems you describe here with any systems I have built. Most people opt to make custom PCs either because it costs less money or they can't get the exact configuration they want from the big boys. That being said I once overheard a past employer say "If I had an Admin that wanted to sit around all day and build all my computers by hand I would fire him". There is a time and a place for everything. When you have a client that owns a small business that needs a custom, purpose built solution and wants to get a good deal on it I see no problem with making something just for them. It should be made clear that there is no warranty beyond what you can offer yourself. Do you want to be supporting these systems or would you rather have DELL do it? Maybe you are the DELL certified repairman for this area and you would do the maintenence yourself anyway. I'll bet if you were, you would rather install a system that you built yourself! (You would know better ;-D) So I conclude that different things are good for different situations. There is a time and a place for everything and there is no one size fits all solution. If you make rules that you should always do things one way you not only assert that you have thought of everything that could ever possibly happen but you also limit yourself to the decision you made.

danekan
danekan

"Why consultants should not sell generic PCs and servers" Because it's not 1998 anymore.

JamesRL
JamesRL

I know historically I've come out on the side of buying a major manufacturer, from the business owner's perspective. But if the consultant is in the business of servicing what they sell, and the business has a long term support contract, then it may be all right. Whiteboxes may be full of junk parts, or may be spec'd with decent parts. But guess what? So are some of the name brands, especially in the versions marketed to be low price leaders. Dell doesn't manufacture any parts. They do specify some parts, have them made to order, but others, they just shop for something cheap. Whats worse is that they will sometimes change the spec in the middle of the production run, so that the same model name may have different parts throughout its production life. My current employer likes to buy in bulk and do mass upgrades every few years. They have been buying Dell. Some of them have been stable workhorses, others have been problematic. For a large enterprise, I think it makes sense to buy from a major maker and rely on the warranty. For small businesses, that rely on consultants, if they have the right consultant that they trust, I think white boxes are an option.

John_LI_IT_Guy
John_LI_IT_Guy

Except for the earlier mentioned custom hardware application running Linux; whitebox hardware should NOT be in the business space. LACK OF SUPPORT, who's providing the warranty on these Frankenstein machines??? Most of the time the knuckle head who built the thing is out of business. Nobody ever got fired recommending IBM, Dell, or HP. At least the customer is getting a manufacturers warranty. Easy access to drivers, BIOS, firmware. Try finding that for whitebox machines put together with cheap parts from Asia, forget about documentation. Whitebox PC's are fine for the hobbyist, they have very little place in the business space!!!

Old Timer 8080
Old Timer 8080

Or just a board. I've gone the route of BOTH. I'm in the process of retrofitting OLDER SuperMicro hardware with NEWER motherboards. Try that with HP and Dell servers. The EATX footprint and multiple mounting screw placement makes the SuperMicro case as easy as using an ANTEC " white box " case. The Supermicro hardware is a perfect example of NO PLANNED OBSOLESCENCE like the HP gen 1, gen 2 gen 3 and gen 4 products. My only complaint with the Supermicro MBs is that you have to go liquid cooling in an ANTEC case..;-). It's HARD to get rid of 200 watts of heating power with air cooling, not so hard with the SuperMicro axial flow in the rackmount case... The reuse of components is also what is wanted when you throw out the word GREEN. How many HP, Dell and IBM servers/desktops are really GREEN?? Answer: NOT MANY! ( and I am not talking about the latches and component parts inside a Dell )

Alpha_Dog
Alpha_Dog

I've been in the IT biz long enough to know what switch 1 bank 1 did on the original IBM PC, and why it was a good prank to pull on the shop noobs. For you young pups, look it up. That said I spec Dell for about 95% of everything I do. The times I don't (other than customer preference), I use equipment we engineer in house. I'll have all of you know: a white box PC, properly engineered is NOT cheaper than a name brand. That's not the way the economy of scale works. On the other hand, I have yet to have anything we have built die of anything other than obsolescence. Sure, there have been warranty claims, but these are usually passed on to the vendor if it's infant mortality (we usually catch these during burn in), and we'll swap the part within our 10 year guarantee. Bottom line is we're not broke with this guarantee, but our equipment is NOT cheap. You'll pay $2500.00 for a basic router and firewall appliance from us, as opposed to a $79.00 Linksys or whatever parts you have in the bin for free. The questions boil down to: What is your time worth? What is your uptime worth? What is your security worth? The same principle applies to PCs. I could build a PC to the same standard, but it would cost about $5-6000.00. The box that sits under my desk is a $700.00 Dell, and it's good enough.

dedrizen
dedrizen

With the way the USA is going, we will probably have to call this the usa soon, if not already. As for myself, I believe there is a place for both white boxes and the large systems. If I manage to land a large client with locations across a few of our States, I might ask a few questions before choosing to recommend white boxes or ordering from a major manufacturer. 1. What sort of response time do they need? Locations out of state I will not be able to respond with onsite service within 24 hours. The big box company can. 2. Are they look for a computer for a task that I am not confident I could support directly? 3. See #1. I have seen small businesses choosing to go with a local consultant they trust. Some of these consultants set them up with white box, and others had their clients purchase a number of HP/Dell computers (I happened to be coming in to do data migrations hired by the parent company on a contract job to assist these local business owners move data from the corporate PCs to their personal PCs). So why I choose to build a white box computer over the big name PCs for a customer (outside the support issue I hinted at)? Simple, even using the quality parts, the only big box prices I cannot compete with are the base models. Once you start adding their optional upgrades it quickly becomes just as costly as my builds. As I told someone, I cannot even buy the parts for under $300 including OS but once you get their upgrades I can buy parts to build a nearly comparable system and make my markup and add labor. Have you looked at the price Dell charges for RAM? It isn't just the upgrade cost, but also the amount they charge to buy it. I was seeing 1 GB sticks for nearly $100 each. Surprising the 2 GB stick was cheaper by a little. And that brand new 4 GB computer? 4 individual sticks of 1 GB RAM. To upgrade from 2 GB of RAM to 4 GB in the customization added $80 to the price (you can buy a FULL 8 GB of RAM for less than that). Some of these repairs can be completed cheap after warranty expires, but the one repair I have trouble with these is the motherboard. In my personal work as a consultant, I had someone with a HP computer with failing motherboard (hdd controller). I told them what their problem was and easily helped them get by a bit longer simply plugging the SATA cable into another port. They had the extended warranty so when the controller finally gave up the ghost they went back to their place of purchase. The store did honor the warranty by giving the a full refund in store credit. They were now without their computer. They asked if they could have it but were denied. When they told me about it, I told them that yes I could have rebuilt them a computer from the parts like they had suspected. I might not be able to get an HP motherboard (the warranty was with the store and not actually HP) but I could have used all the other parts and built a new computer for them saving some $$$. Too bad the store wouldn't let them keep the broken PC, but then their techs probably knew that a consultant like me could have known what the real problem was (instead of the line "it isn't repairable"). At my day job working for a small corporation, I work with Dell PCs. Twenty-six per store, and now approaching 30 stores, plus however many we have at the corporate offices on top of that. I am really grateful that those within warranty that Dell will send a tech to our stores across the US (including Alaska) next day to complete the hardware repairs. However, since we rarely have those break, I am well aware that Dell is making a killing on the service contract. On the other hand, the ones outside of warranty seem to be collecting in a small room and I am often taking parts from multiple broken PCs to put together a working system to keep that portion of our IT infrastructure up and running. Now we were using Windows 2000 PCs still as a part of the mix even as late as last year, which was one of the first projects they had me work on after I was hired on. The system administrator handles the servers. I don't think of those are white boxes, but I don't recall seeing any Dells or HPs in the network cabinets either. Mostly other brand names specializing in network equipment. Some Dell switches though.... By the way, how quickly we forget that Dell started very small.... so don't knock the white box too hard because the next big box vendor may have been a white box company when it started.

Alpha_Dog
Alpha_Dog

Yes, our box technically is a "white box", but our support offering is just as good as the big guys. This isn't some frankenstein POS with no engineering behind it that needs the touch of the IT guy who quit last week. That's the difference. That said, a white box can be made to be as good or better than the name brand stuff, particularly in the desktop department, but you won't get it for the price point you may want. Bottom line: Support, price, or quality... pick any two.

Spitfire_Sysop
Spitfire_Sysop

I know a CEO that hates HP with a passion and yes, he would fire you for recommending them... Cheap parts from Asia? Wait a minute. Aren't ALL computer parts from Asia? Especially I know that DELL computers are made by Foxconn which happens to be the cheapest of all Asian silicon fabs. You know, Foxconn? The place where they are combating a huge worker suicide problem? Yeah, that one. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Foxconn

Walthy
Walthy

Thanks for your comment "Old Timer 8080." I suspect we are of the same generation. I've been around since before the 8080. I started in electronics in the 60s as a tech and EECS degree. I think I will try the SuperMicro route for my next prototype server. I always buy good cases and power supplies for servers. Motherboards seem to be a crapshoot. I'll put in a plug for my "lifetime guarantee" memory vendor. It's "The Upgrade Place" dot com. It's a woman owned business and has records of every purchase I've made over the last 20+ years and stands behind every one. Donna has been my sales rep almost the whole time. Can't beat the price and certainly have never seen such great service from anyone else. Stay healthy "Old Timer!"

Magcon
Magcon

well said but dont agree to take sides with one brand.

sframberger
sframberger

"I know a CEO that hates HP with a passion and yes, he would fire you for recommending them..." As do I. All it took was dealing with their out-of-warranty support regarding the enclosure on an external tape drive we were having exhaust fan trouble with. Their Indian technical support specialists (yeah, dealing with business-grade products)called me back with a breathtaking quote of $3500 to replace the enclosure on a tape drive that cost us $1800 four years earlier. The cost was due to their oddball idea that I wanted on-site support, when I clearly stated in the problem description that I wanted to ship the drive in for repair. Turns out the cost to repair/replace the enclosure would only cost us $780, not that I was willing to trust a word coming out of their mouths at that point... The drive fixed itself, working great two months after dealing with those morons, who only seem to care about pushing on-site service using the most poorly trained employees they can find in India. On the other hand, we've had nothing but great success with Dell. I dealt with them regarding an OOW PowerEdge server and their US-based (or Canadian?) support tech was was a pleasure to deal with, competent and right to the point regarding tshooting.. As a bonus, the parts replacement costs were downright CHEAP and we were back up and running within 24 hours. HP would've had us shopping Dell for a new server, I'm sure. "You know, Foxconn? The place where they are combating a huge worker suicide problem? Yeah, that one." *shrug* Apple uses them too. Remember that OEM: Oriental Equipment Manufacturer. No issues with our Dell desktops. The whiteboxes, on the other hand, that were not built by me (meaning good and expensive components) are a bit less reliable. It sucks to fix them because there is no standard to the crap cases the other guy bought as standard.

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