With the increase in consolidation, intensive virtualization and outsourcing, the traditional data center environment with common brand-name equipment and conventional architectures is quickly shifting to the “hyperscale” data center of tomorrow.

These hyperscale data centers put the demand for customization on the rise. Let’s take a look at this trend worth watching.

The White Box Affect

Typically associated with cloud computing and the super data centers owned by the likes of Facebook, Google and Amazon, hyperscale computing environments often encompass millions of stripped-down virtual servers that are customized for specific needs.

One obvious indicator of this customization is the growth over the past few years of the ODM (Original Design Manufacturers) server market and the decline among big server vendors like Dell, HP and Lenova, as well as IBM’s recent decision to get out of the server market altogether—collectively something I refer to as the “white box affect.”

White-box-server-marketshareBased on the term originally used to describe homebuilt PCs that were assembled via separately-purchased components, white box servers are those without a well-known brand name and assembled by ODMs to spec for companies like Facebook, Google and Amazon. These ODMs that produce more than 75% of all servers are now selling direct to end users, cutting out the name-brand server vendors for whom they also manufacture servers.

Most of these custom white-box servers use x86 chips from Intel. Gartner forecasts that the ODM direct market share will reach 4.39% of the x86 market by 2016—much of which will be driven by hyperscale data centers that Gartner also predicts will consume 17% of the x86 market by 2015.

Download our 10 Steps to Holistic Data Center Design white paperGoing Skinless and Efficient

Sometimes these white box servers are known as skinless servers because they are specifically designed to include only the components required to run a specific software application and often have no external casing.

Having just the bare necessities allows skinless severs to operate with much less power—all the power supplied is used to operate the server rather than unnecessary components. Skinless servers also often rely on shared power and cooling.

More to Come

The customized server market is also heating up due to Open Compute designs. Launched by Facebook in 2011, the Open Compute Project develops specs for the motherboards, power supplies and other components that ODMs follow to build white box servers. This further reduces reliance on proprietary server designs.

Hyperscale data centers are also looking at how these “open” white box servers will ultimately be networked together. While today virtualized white box servers are primarily connected with switches from well-known vendors (no need to name names here), OS-independent white box switches are emerging to support the increased virtualization.

White box switches are in turn is a boost for software defined networking (SDN) that uses an open source communications protocol to ultimately manage and optimize the flow of traffic across hundreds of virtualized white box servers. In fact, the SDN market is expected to reach $35 billion by 2018 (up from just $454 million in 2012).

In the coming months, stay tuned for blogs on SDN and how it will impact traditional single-vendor data center environments. In the meantime, Belden offers a consultative approach for designing, building and delivering customized data center ready solutions that support these emerging non-traditional active equipment environments. Learn more about how we can help you meet your data center's needs!