HP ProLiant MicroServer Flexibility

I’ve been meaning to put some of my thoughts on the HP MicroServer N40L for quite some time and just haven’t made the time to do it, so here goes.

Long ago I was searching for a reason to purchase and play with HP’s MicroServers and got my chance when a client asked for an affordable backup device. I jumped at the chance and ordered one of the N40L’s. These units are listed as part of the ProLiant family of servers which sounded promising, but being the skeptic that I am, I didn’t expect much for the seemingly measly $350 price tag.

The unit comes with an AMD dual core CPU, 2GB of RAM, 250GB HDD, and a 1Gbps NIC. The system has a mini-PCIe slot for a remote access/iLO/DRAC type card, and a second standard PCIe slot. Although the system ships with only a single drive, all four bays have “hot swap” trays/carriers, making adding additional disks no problem. I say “hot swap” because I am pretty sure that the backplane/controller do not allow actual hot swapping in its true sense, YMMV. Another note on the hardware; the motherboard can be easily removed from the system by disconnecting a few cables and backing out two thumb screws. The board is on a simple and quite brilliant tray assembly which makes removal, upgrade, and insertion simple. Do yourself a favor when you purchase the system by maxing out the RAM at 8GB(DDR3/ECC) and adding the optional iLO/remote access card. For basic NAS and low end Linux server duties the 2GB will work fine and you will have no regrets, but going to 8GB really opens the doors, more on that next.

Before I jump into exactly what it can do, it is worth mentioning what YOU should not do with it. For instance, don’t try and be a hero to your clients by touting this as an ultra affordable server solution. I have read of several people putting SBS on this box and then using it as the primary file and mail server for 20+ users. Don’t be a dummy, if you’re trying to service your clients properly get them a truly redundant system with hardware RAID, dual PSU’s and things of that nature. You are providing a disservice to your clients if you use this in a place it should not be used. Responsibility rant over…

With the remote access card, 8GB of RAM, and a couple of SATA drives, you are ready to play. This is the little server that could and it shows. The thing runs VMware ESXi5, Linux, Windows, FreeBSD(FreeNAS) and many other things. An important thing to remember is that the included disk controller uses fake RAID/driver assisted RAID so don’t expect RAID support outside of Windows. With that limitation in mind, this makes the ideal small business backup device, home virtualization lab, or any other number of roles you can through at it.

Fast forward to today and the device has served me and many others quite nicely. Although not a comprehensive list of installs, I can confirm successful installation on the following operating systems:

  • Debian Lenny (i386/AMD64)
  • Debian Squeeze (i386/AMD64) Currently Debian stable release
  • Debian Wheezy (i386/AMD64) Currently Debian testing release
  • Ubuntu 10.04 (i386/AMD64)
  • FreeNAS 0.7 (i386)
  • FreeNAS 8 (i386/AMD64)
  • VMware ESXi 4.1
  • VMware ESXi 5.0
  • Windows Server 2008 R2
  • Windows Small Business Server 2011
  • Whew! What a list and that just touches the surface of what you can run. Those just happen to be the configurations that I have tested with success. My current configuration consists of the base system running 8GB of RAM, iLO card, 1x64GB SSD and 4x1TB RAID edition drives. I’ve got Debian stable AMD64 running on / and have 4x1TB RE drives using Linux md RAID in level 5 mounted on /home. This acts as my internal NFS server and virtualization lab. The system runs vm guests well through KVM although you will have to watch the CPU. Being a dual core 1.5GHz, the system will usually run out of CPU before you hit any other bottlenecks.

    In conclusion, if you need a flexible and affordable storage device for most small business or home needs, a cheap virtualization lab in a box, or similar configuration, you will not be disappointed by this device.

    –himuraken

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