What's In A Name?

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It first happened a couple of months ago, while I was moderating a panel of distributors during a conference for Intel Premier Providers, the company's top-tier channel partners.

I had just cited some research measuring the recent rise in sales for white boxes,something this publication measures on a monthly basis and its parent company also tracks through annual research. An attendee close to the front of the audience raised his hand impatiently, questioning my label for this segment and pointing out that plenty of systems lumped into this universe actually have a brand name attached. In other words, they're not "white" at all.

HEATHER CLANCY Can be reached at (516) 562-7446 or via e-mail athclancy@cmp.com.

Last week, I remembered his comment during Tech Builder XChange, a gathering of systems builders and so-called white-box VARs that swear by the benefits of assembling their own hardware,which, of course, is branded in many different ways.

As I spoke with Tech Builder attendees last week about the branding topic and listened to their subsequent debates during various panels,this is not a shy bunch,several themes emerged. They all boil down to this: It is what's inside the box and behind the box in terms of service that matters, not necessarily what label it carries.

With the merger between Hewlett-Packard and Compaq Computer approved and rolling forward, it's clear to me now more than ever that the industry will never be the same. On the surface, it looks like solution providers will have fewer product choices to represent.

This couldn't be further from the truth. When it comes to innovation, service and customization, plenty of small businesses will consider white boxes,and there are plenty of labels solution providers can represent, including their own.

What exactly does the term white box mean? Originally, I suppose, it was meant to designate the universe of vanilla systems with no discernable label. Today, however, it describes a system carefully constructed with high-quality components and bundled with the right software and services to meet the needs of a specific customer. When it comes down to it, the solution provider is often the brand.

Is there a better term for this category of hardware than white boxes? I welcome your suggestions and comments.

HEATHER CLANCY, Editor/Strategy at CRN, can be reached at (516) 562-7446 or hclancy@cmp.com.

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