HP MicroServer Examined

Tile for the HP MicroServer projectI bought the HP MicroServer after reading some reviews and listening to a podcast that intrigued me, but without any real plans for it. This server server seems perfect as a test box to try things out. Small, low powered but with potential.

I spent time this past week trying different OS’s and configurations and ended up with a decision. At least one for the next couple of months.

The HP MicroServer full specs are on HP’s site.  Mine added 8 GB of RAM to the 1.3 GHz CPU and 160 GB hard drive.

As I researched the server I noticed there where a number of people doing (or planning) significant upgrades such as adding RAID controllers and other hardware. While I certainly understand the desire to do something “because I can”, for me any significant upgrades or modifications negates the benefits of this box. I did max out the memory since I typically always install the maximum memory, or as much as I can afford. Can never have too much RAM (imo). I knew I’d need to be adding hard drives but I don’t want to buy any other hardware for this.

I ended up using 3 TB drives in the final configuration although that was a last minute change when they went on sale and most of the testing was done with 2 TB drives.

The server does support RAID through the motherboard but it’s “fake raid” rather than true hardware raid.  Only RAID 0 and 1 is supported. RAID 0 is stripping and is done for speed, while RAID 1 is mirroring. Hot swapping is not supported. Having been burned by motherboard RAID too often I’m not even trying the on-board RAID.

All the Microsoft software was from current Technet downloads while the Linux  software was the latest release of that version from their website.

Citrix XenServer

My first install was Citrix XenServer. I added three 2 TB drives to max out the internal drive bays. The installation went without incident and XenServer was quickly running. By default Xen set up a separate local repository on each of the 2 TB drives.

I installed a Windows 7 VM just to make sure I could and it booted fine.

Since the box is a low power server it’s not really something I’d expect to work well with numerous VMs. I could probably keep a few test VMs that I would fire up as needed, but that’s all I’d expect. I installed Xen first since I knew I’d be moving on from it. I wouldn’t rule out using Xen to use this as a low-end test platform for a vm or three but it’s not my first choice.

I moved on to the next OS which was…

Windows Server 2008 R2

WInSrv2008R2Again, the Windows Server 2008 install went without incident. No special drivers needed during the install or post-install. HP does have recommended Windows drivers on their site (actually, they link to the AMD website). I stuck with the drivers bundled with the OS.

Once I got all the updates installed I used the software RAID in Windows Server 2008 R2 to create a RAID 5 array with the three 2 TB drives.

Everything appeared to work fine. While I didn’t benchmark, file copies and server response was acceptable.

Then it was on to…

CentOS 5.6

I wasn’t able to install CentOS 5.6, with the installer telling me it needed some drivers. Since I had already eliminated CentOS from consideration for my web server I immediately moved on to…

Ubuntu 10.04.2 LTS

This install went fine. I configured the three 2 TB drives as a RAID 5 array and configured for LVM during the installation.

All seemed fine and performance was acceptable. I decided to try hooking my Drobo up to the server and use Drobo-Tools. It did work as expected. The problem is expectations are low since there are limitations with the Drobo under Linux. The Drobo formatting was painfully slow and I moved on to Windows Small Business Server 2011 Essentials before it finished formatting. Check out drobo-utils if you want to run a Drobo under Linux.

Windows Small Business Server 2011 Essentials

I saved this for last as it’s the one I expected to keep on the server. Since it’s based on Windows Server 2008 R2 which already installed fine I didn’t expect any problems.

This is where I changed up the configuration a bit. The HP specs specify a 8 TB disk max (4 x 2 TB).  I’m using the original 160 TB drive for the OS and then three 3 TB drives in the internal bays. I haven’t had any problems with them so far.

I’m not a fan of RAID 0 (stripping) but to test out the limits I used the three 3 TB drives to setup a 9 TB RAID 0 (software RAID through SBS 2011). I consider its nickname to be appropriate – scary RAID. So far it seems fine. I’ve been reading/writing to it fairly regularly without any errors. It appears the specs were based on the math at the time they were written and not any actual hardware/BIOS limitation, four bays with 2 TB drives being the max at the time. I should mention I did upgrade the BIOS to the latest version before I started all this but didn’t see any mention of drive support.

I also moved my Drobo from my Mac Mini to this box, connecting via USB. The Drobo has never been fast, even on FireWire and it will be even slower on USB. But it will give me a good sized file repository for local (as in in-home) backups. Not something I need speed for. The Drobo dashboard does install fine on SBS 2011.

I haven’t spent any real time with SBS 2011 itself, concentrating on testing the hardware for now. I did set up backup for one test virtual machine. It seems to work fine but I’ve yet to do a restore.

Plans for the HP MicroServer

I’m currently backing up my Windows Home Server 2011 to both the Drobo and scary RAID, mainly as a way to load up a lot of files and stress the server.

I plan to rebuild/rework my current WHS v1 box which now serves as a backup destination for my WHS 2011 files. So I’ll be using the Microserver as a backup destination during this rebuild. Whether SBS 2011 sticks around after that remains to be seen.

It does have a better than even chance of sticking around. I have the Office 360 beta (which I’ve yet to use) and it’s supposed to integrate with SBS. So I’ll Want to try that out if only oust of curiosity.

I’ll probably change the RAID 0 array to a RAID 5 array, although having that 9 TB of space is sweet. Less sweet would be losing that entire 9 TB when just one of those drives fails.

I’m trying to avoid spending more money on this box but if I do end up using it for something that requires reliability I’ll consider buying a 160 GB drive to match the one it has and mirror the system drive and then mirror the remaining two 3 TB drives. As an alternative I could avoid the OS mirror and just rely on backups should the OS fails. This would significantly increase my space for data.

It should be noted that 3 TB drives will have a problem with the built-in backup software as there’s a 2 TB limit for backups. Because of the way I do backups this isn’t a concern for me.

Overall I’m happy with the flexibility of the box. I never expected performance and I’m not considering considering using it for anything that would be CPU intensive.

Other than CentOS every install was straight-forward and lacked an hardware issues. A Google search shows that people are using CentOS on the hardware so there’s nothing inherently wrong. HP has a CentOS support pack and the answer is probably in there but I didn’t pursue this in the interest of time.

I’m not sure I would change anything with the HP MicroServer. There’s a few things that might be nice to have, but I wouldn’t pay more for them. It’s kind of nice to have the limitations of the box to keep from usual, inevitable project creep.

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