The Cloud Drives a White-Box Resurgence

Frank Ohlhorst

A few years back, white-box systems were all the rage. Savvy buyers looking to save a few bucks or desiring a high level of customization would seek out system builders that could deliver the white box of their wishes.

However, that all changed-faster CPUs, bundled software and a plethora of options reestablished branded systems as the first pick for most buyers. Yet, the IT market always exhibits the characteristics of a pendulum, with white boxes on one side and branded systems on the other. Thanks to the cloud, the pendulum is now swinging toward the white-box zone, creating opportunities for system builders to address the needs of what is probably a growing market.

The dynamics behind that change are actually relatively straightforward-the cloud has given birth to the Web app, which has in turn has normalized hardware requirements. In other words, if your PC can run a browser, it can work in the cloud and if it can work in the cloud, it can run the latest Web apps, software-as-a-service (SaaS) offerings, virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) desktops and Web 2.0 offerings. Simply put, it is the cloud that has become the critical element and the PC has become little more than a commodity item.

What's more, the whole 'break/fix' dynamic goes out the window-cheap white-box PCs are on the verge of becoming disposable items. Of course, there are exceptions to the rule here-the cloud can't do everything-there is still a need for workstation-class machines, desktop replacement systems and other niches that branded systems still serve best. But, as CPUs get faster and cheaper and generic hardware approaches the performance goals of branded pieces, white-box systems may even be able to penetrate those markets.

One area that white box probably won't be able to conquer any time soon is the server/data center market. Here, specialized rack-based systems optimized for virtualization still rule the roost and it will be difficult, if not impossible, for system builders to be able to crack the server code, where advanced features such as lights-out management, intelligent clustering and hot-swappable components are a must-have. Nevertheless, it is doubtful that the desktop PC market will remain solely on the hands of branded systems.

For CTOs looking to reinvent their data centers into private cloud computing platforms, this trend bodes well. Now capex and opex expenses can be focused on the data center and the desktop becomes a commodity item that can be purchased for a whole lot less.

Economies of scale are a powerful force when it comes to buying what is now a commodity product. In other words, the cloud will rain white boxes upon the masses-don't forget your umbrella!

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