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.
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.
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 of Eckel Media Corp., a communications company specializing in public relations and technical authoring projects.