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Server Manufacturing Levels Defined

Julia Shih 0

At AMAX, we sometimes get asked whether we are a systems integrator or a manufacturer of server technology. In fact, there is a bit of confusion within the industry in general as to what the differences and distinctions are between the two, or where one begins and one ends. A widely held belief is that a manufacturer is specifically an ODM (Original Design Manufacturer) like Quanta or Supermicro who both design and mass-produce server platforms including the motherboards and chassis enclosures, while systems integrators are value-added resellers (VARs) who simply assemble ODM platforms into servers.

While the previous definition can be true in some respects, it really depends on a specific company’s manufacturing capabilities, particularly what level of server manufacturing a company is capable of from a pre-existing glossary of manufacturing levels. Here is the breakdown:

Level 1: Parts manufacturing—this includes non-painted parts and molding parts on the component level.

Level 2: Piece Parts Sub Assembly—some level of assembly.

Level 3: Metals and plastics are integrated together and shipped as a case (i.e. chassis).

Level 4: Metals and Plastics + PSU and/or Flat Cable and/or Backplane are shipped as a kit or bag.

Level 5: All enclosure parts from Level 4 attached, cables integrated, I/O tested

Level 6: Integration of motherboard into chassis enclosure and power on test.

Level 6 manufactured platforms are what ODMs provide when they ship out “server barebones” which are integrated motherboard/chassis combinations with parts included, but missing components such as CPU, memory, hard drives, networking cards, etc. Often systems integrators will buy these barebones and populate with components to create specific server configurations. How much value that integrator can add in terms of services and further building out the solution depends on their capabilities in the next levels:

Level 7: Integration of add-on cards into server barebone with ability to test.

Level 8: Integration of hard drives into server barebone with ability to test.

Level 9: Integration of CPU and memory into server barebone with ability to test.

Level 10: Full assembly of server with full system and component level testing, OS/software integration, product kitted with user manual and other required documentation and delivered as a fully-integrated server solution.

A manufacturer capable of up to Level 10 manufacturing will deliver a working server solution. But if you need multiple servers networked together as a rack-level or even multi-rack level solution, you will need at least a Level 11 manufacturer (like AMAX):

Level 11: Node-level assembly, testing, OS/software loading of all server nodes followed by rack cabinet assembly of nodes into racks with full cable networking (including switches), and tested as a working total solution at the rack or multi-rack level.

Level 12: Rack to multi-rack level manufacturing featured in Level 11 including all networking with full software loading, validation and optimization. This may include but is not limited to cluster management, cloud OS (such as OpenStack) and networking software.

AMAX is a Level 6 to Level 12 manufacturer who produces turnkey server-to-rack-level technology platforms for Data Center, Cloud, HPC and Big Data computing that begins with custom architectural and engineering design of server solutions towards specific project/application requirements, to the manufacturing of these solutions in one of our several global ISO:9001, ISO 14:001, ISO 13485 manufacturing facilities, to stringent and often custom test and validation processes with the final solution delivery being anything from turnkey OEM server appliances up to multi-rack clusters consisting of hundreds to thousands of server nodes preloaded and optimized with software. From that standpoint, while AMAX utilizes an open-architecture manufacturing philosophy that takes advantage of platforms from various ODMs (who provide Level 1 through 5 or 6 manufacturing), we utilize their products as components to further architect solutions up to the software application layer (Level 12) which can include software for a total integrated product (such as the award-winning CloudMax Converged Cloud solution) with infrastructures that include multi-rack integration (Level 11). This allows the delivery of true technology platform solutions of any scale that are architected towards specific customer needs with as little compromise as possible.

Hope this blog helps with the understanding of how server manufacturing capabilities are broken down and empower companies in need of a manufacturing partner to engage in informed discussions of what they need with the right manufacturing partner to fulfill their exact solution needs. If you have any questions about finding the right manufacturing partner for cloud, data center, HPC, big data or OEM solutions, please don’t hesitate to contact us!