Reasons to Build Your Own Server vs Buy

Building a White Box Server vs Buying a Brand Name Server

I’ll start out by saying that building your own servers for production environments are not for everyone or every use case.  Dell, Lenovo, and HPE offer services you won’t get if you build your own. If you build your own server, you are responsible for it or your companies IT Team will be.  If you buy a server from a third part and it has a warranty, then you have someone to call for assistance if/when something breaks.  And things will break no matter which vendor your choose.

Microsoft analyzed one million consumer computers for failure.  The full findings can be found here:
https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/research/publication/cycles-cells-and-platters-an-empirical-analysis-of-hardware-failures-on-a-million-consumer-pcs/

 

Failure Comparison
Failure Type Brand Name White box Diff
CPU 0.833% 1.075% 0.242%
DRAM 0.037% 0.105% 0.068%
Disk 0.556% 0.556% 0.00%

White Box Computers Fail More than Brand Name – But Not By Much

At least when it comes Desktops and Laptops.  I would assume the same for servers also.  But the difference in failure rate is very small.  But you will usually get a warranty with a brand name server purchase.  Some of them only for 1 year, but you can buy up to 5 years in most cases and then extend your support beyond that.  But what you may not know is if you build a white box server you’ll have some warranty also.  Even if you assemble it your self.  The component manufacturers often offer a warranty on their items.

White box warranty
Part Manufacturer Warranty
Hard Drive Seagate Enterprise Drive 5 years
Hard Drive HGST Enterprise Drive 5 years
Hard Drive Western Digital 5 years
CPU Intel Xeon 3 year
RAM Crucial Server RAM lifetime

The Cost Difference = +89.5%

Lets see what the price difference for the hardware between a Dell, Lenovo and a White box SuperMicro build.  I kept the configs as close as possible in all cases, there are some small difference because no two servers from different manufacturers will be exactly alike.

Dell Lenovo DIYWhitebox
PowerEdge R730 x3650 M5  
2x E5-2620v4 2x E5-2620v4  
8x 2TB Enterprise SATA  8x 2TB Enterprise SATA
8x 16GB DIMMS  8x 16GB DIMMS  
2x Power Supplies  2x Power Supplies included with chassis
Mellanox ConnectX-4 NIC  Mellanox ConnectX-4 NIC  
DELL Server Config PDF   Lenovo Server Config PDF see above
$10800 $10500 $5700

Is it worth it?

That is up to you.  There is a lot of benefit from buying from a brand name provider.  They will often give you a discount off of the website price.  But consider that many server deployments are going into cluster environments.  Servers are being visualized at a higher and higher rate and the cost to deploy visualized environments is dropping.  It is becoming that the hardware doesn’t matter.  There’s the saying that servers are cattle, not pets.  They exist to provide computing power.  The software that runs on top of the servers provide the protection against failure.  VMWare and Hyper-V on top of commodity hardware can save significant money.  If your white box server solution is built to withstand failure, then does it matter if the bezel has a brand name on it?

I don’t think so.  That’s why I deployed Hyper-V cluster, scale out file server cluster with 3 JBOD back end, on all SuperMicro gear.

Read about it here: Migrating to Microsoft Storage Spaces