Small Business Server Review: HP Proliant MicroServer Gen8

Monday Jan 13th 2014 by Joseph Moran
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HP’s small business server, the MicroServer Gen8, offers enterprise-level monitoring and management in an unobtrusive package.

When we looked at the original HP Proliant MicroServer back in 2010, we said it would make a great first server for a small business. We feel much the same way about HP’s new Proliant MicroServer Gen8; it significantly improves upon its predecessor with great engineering touches and useful technology brought down from HP’s enterprise-class servers. Though to be fair, it also leaves us wanting in a couple of areas.

Small Business Server Hardware Specs

At 9 inches cubed, the MicroServer Gen 8 is not the smallest small server we’ve ever seen (the WD Sentinel DS6100 we recently reviewed would almost fit inside it). Still it's small—and quiet—enough to live unobtrusively in your workspace rather than tucked away in an equipment room. The front of the MicroServer Gen8 reveals four SATA drive bays behind a silver plastic door with a sturdy magnetic latch. If you want to express your server’s sartorial side, you can buy replacement doors in red, blue, or black.

MicroServer Gen8 small business server

Figure 1: The compact MicroServer Gen8 measures a cube-shaped 9- x 9-x 9-inches.

You'll also find two USB 2.0 ports up front along with a large LED that glows blue, amber, or red depending on the status of the server.  At the rear of the MicroServer Gen8 you’ll find USB 2.0 ports, two USB 3.0 ports, a pair of Gigabit Ethernet ports, plus one more Ethernet port dedicated to the server’s iLO (Integrated Lights Out) remote management feature—more on this later.   

Open up the case—which is easy to do without tools via two large thumbscrews—and you’ll see some thoughtful engineering touches, including a large but slowly-rotating (read: quiet) fan, and a lever that secures the hard drives in their bays (preferable to a conventional lock and key, the latter of which can be easily misplaced).

HP MicroServer Gen8  with SATA drives

Figure 2: Four SATA drive bays support RAID 1 or 10, but not RAID 5. They're not hot-pluggable, either.

Easy-to-access internal components include the single Gen 2 PCIe expansion slot and two DIMM sockets (the server can accommodate a maximum of 16 GB of RAM). Unlike the aforementioned Sentinel WS 6100, the MicroServer has but one power supply, and it’s internal to the server.

Small Business Server Pricing and OS Support

TWe like the MicroServer Gen8's price tag, too. It’s available in three models which sell for $449, $529, and $929. The $449 entry-level unit we tested is a diskless model with 2 GB of RAM, a 2.3 GHz dual-core Celeron processor, no optical drive. The top-end $929 model includes that optical drive (a slim DVD-RW), 4GB of RAM, a slightly beefier 2.5 GHz Pentium CPU, and a copy of Windows Server 2012 Essentials, but still only includes a lone 1 TB hard drive. Suffice it to say that the MicroServer Gen8 is offered as a foundation to build upon and customize, not as an all-inclusive, "just add company" kind of server.

Keeping with the customization theme, the MicroServer Gen 8 is certified not just for Windows Server operating systems, but enterprise flavors of Red Hat and SUSE Linux, as well as VMWare ESXi. (In fact, the server’s motherboard offers internal MicroSD and USB ports to host the ESXi hypervisor so that you can dedicate main storage to virtual machines.)   

Small Business Server Storage Features

The MicroServer Gen 8’s storage bays are not hot-pluggable, meaning that you need to shut down the server before you can add or replace a hard drive.  What’s a bit more disappointing is that while the server offers built-in support for RAID 0, 1 and 10 (striping, mirroring, and striping plus mirroring, respectively), it offers none for RAID 5.

HP MicroServer Gen8 small business server

Figure 3: The server’s easy-to-remove cover provides access to internal components (including the internal drive bay lock).

The upshot of this is that data redundancy will cost 50 percent of your raw drive capacity rather than the 25 percent you’d lose with RAID 5 in a four-drive setup. Put another way, filling all four bays with 3 TB drives will net you only 6 TB of usable storage. You can add RAID 5 capability to the MicroServer Gen8 by installing an upgraded controller in the PCIe slot, though it costs as much as the server does.    

Simplified Monitoring and Management

Regardless of which version you choose, what sets the MicroServer Gen 8 apart from others of its ilk are features that streamline server deployment and maintenance, features that were heretofore found only on HP’s larger and more expensive servers.

Case in point:  iLO, HP’s dedicated interface for remote control and management. With it you can power the server on or off and monitor the status of virtually all server components. The MicroServer Gen8 includes a basic iLO license which omits features such as a remote console and the ability to mount virtual media (e.g. ISO files). Most small businesses probably won’t need these features, but if you do, you can add them by upgrading to an iLO Essentials license ($153 for three years).   

Next there’s Intelligent Provisioning, which greatly simplifies setting up the MicroServer Gen8 and its operating system. Upon powering up the server, we hit F10 to launch Intelligent Provisioning, and within a few clicks the server updated itself to the most recent firmware, which had been downloaded from HP’s website.

Then, we were able to automate the server OS installation (in our case, Windows Server 2012 Essentials) by specifying parameters in advance—including IP addresses and acceptance of the EULA—without having to feed the server DVDs containing hardware drivers or other software.

The HP PS1810-8G managed 8-port Gigabit switch

Figure 4: The HP PS1810-8G managed 8-port Gigabit switch shares a footprint with the MicroServer Gen8 so youu can stack it on top or beneath the server.

Although it’s sold separately from the MicroServer Gen8, its worth mentioning HP’s PS1810-8G, an 8-port, managed Gigabit Ethernet switch (switches connect servers to the PCs on a network). The PS1810-8G's footprint equals that of the MicroServer Gen8, so you can stack it on top or underneath. Plus it can auto-discover the MicroServer Gen8 (or any other HP Gen8 server) so you can monitor and manage both switch and server from one place. It can also receive its power from an upstream switch via PoE. The switch sells for about $150 from CDW.

Bottom Line

We would prefer the MicroServer Gen8 with built-in RAID 5 and perhaps a CPU with more oomph than a Pentium, such as a Xeon or even a Core i3. HP sells Core and Xeon-equipped MicroServers in other parts of the world, but not in North America yet. 

However, considering the server’s low starting price, broad OS support, and the iLO and Intelligent Provisioning, we think many small businesses will find the tradeoff worthwhile, making the HP MicroServer Gen8 a serious contender.  

Price: $449 to $929, depending on model

Pros: inexpensive, compact, and quiet; includes integrated remote management and automated OS setup; support for multiple operating systems

Cons: hard drives not hot-pluggable; no RAID 5 support

Joseph Moran is a veteran technology writer and co-author of Getting StartED with Windows 7, from Friends of ED.

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