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How expandable or configurable is a white box server?

A white box server typically comprises standardized parts in a no-frills system configuration. Will they work with GPUs or handle upgrades well?

There's no rule that no-label servers built from generic parts, commonly called white boxes, cannot provide at...

least as many upfront configuration options and as much upgrade potential as any server from Dell, HP, IBM or another major vendor.

The term "white box server" simply indicates no brand name, but the meaning has changed over time to designate white box servers as low-cost, smaller form factor and functionally simplified as compared to branded servers. White box servers can have a wide range of processor, memory installation, local storage and network interface options.

Standard peripheral component interconnect express slots allow add-on devices from solid-state accelerators to graphics processing units, as long as the local power supply capacity is up to the challenge. The use of stock parts without proprietary alterations virtually ensures that you can replace or upgrade components during the server's lifecycle. Want a 10 gigabit Ethernet network interface card rather than the stock 1 GigE port on the motherboard or current NIC? No problem.

Not sure what a white box server is?

White box servers are not associated with any major name brand server manufacturer. They're often associated with Open Compute Project servers, though the two are not synonymous. Get the facts straight on white box servers.

Emerging initiatives like the Open Compute Project, which aims for simple parts creating a very high volume of basic servers arranged in a compact configuration, complicate white box servers' place in the data center. Even individual power supplies are abandoned in favor of centralized DC power distribution through compatible rack assemblies. In today's Open Compute Project white box server paradigm, the individual server is largely unimportant -- it's the collective volume of servers that provides businesses such as Facebook with overall computing prowess. This approach also creates short-lifecycle (even disposable) servers that obviate service and support contracts. If the server breaks, throw it away and insert a new one.

While you can upgrade a white box server, you might not want to. It's more effective to purchase white box systems that are adequately configured from the start. While it's an option, no one really wants to install new DIMMs in 10,000 servers.

Next Steps

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This was last published in August 2015

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