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.


    How To Test Inbound & Outbound Faxes

    Ever needed to test your ability to send or receive faxes? Usually, no one is around to send you a test, or you’d prefer not to bother a client with testing your equipment. HP has a little known service that you can use to test faxing in both directions for free. Simply send a one page text only fax to 1-888-hpfaxme (1-888-473-2963) and wait a few minutes. After a short while, you should receive a fax back from HP.

    The official HP page for this service can be found by clicking this link.

    Ubuntu Maverick Meerkat 10.10 Netbook Performance Issues

    Being that it is my job and my nature to keep systems running, I generally don’t upgrade OS’ quickly. Doing so introduces change which in turn breaks things. After performing an install of the latest version of Ubuntu Netbook 10.10 I found the performance to quite poor. After a quick Google search I found that I was far from the only one with the issue. You can follow more on that here. It is worth mentioning that I had this installed on an HP Mini 311 which is one of the faster netbooks available at the time of this writing. I went back to 10.04 and it is now a useful system again.


    HP LaserJet 3005 Series Nightmares!

    If you haven’t had the pleasure of working with HP’s LaserJet P3005 series of printers, do yourself a favor and never go near them. I have a customer in the banking industry that has an office full of these, and each one is more fun than the next. The issues range from overall system performance degradation during printing, to long pauses between pages. For the most part reinstalling the original software makes little or no difference. So far I have seen the majority of issues come from printers attached to systems via USB, but please note that I have seen issues on network and parallel models as well. Regardless of how you connect to your printer the following steps should get you headed in the right direction.Step 1: Remove current drivers

    This step is pretty self explanatory, unplug the USB cable and then go into Add/Remove Programs and uninstall all software related to your printer. Once this is completed reboot your system and make sure that the printer is no longer listed in Printers & Faxes.

    Note: Sometimes all issues are resolved in step 2 so uninstalling is just a precautionary step. In some cases I would recommend performing step 2 prior to step 1.

    Step 2: Update the printers firmware

    Most if not all of the issues with these printers are caused by their earlier firmware revisions. Go to the product page for the P3005 series printers here and get the latest firmware for your respective printer model. Extract the download and read over the instructions provided. There are several different ways to transfer the firmware to your device depending on the model:

    Method 1: If your printer has a network jack, you can FTP to the device’s IP address and use the Put command to transfer the firmware file to the device. Once the transfer is complete the printer will restart and eventually display Ready on the display.

    Method 2: Another way to send the firmware update is to open up your browser and enter in the device’s IP address. From the main screen click on the print option in the lower left hand corner. This should take you to a page that is normally used to upload print jobs directly to the printer. Click on browse and choose the firmware file and start the upload. Once again the printer should restart after several seconds and go to the Ready status.

    Method 3: If your best or only choice is to use your parallel port don’t fret, it is quite simple. Copy the firmware to the root of your C:\ drive. Open up the command prompt and use the CD \ command to traverse to the root of the drive. Use the following command to transfer the firmware to your printer:

    copy /b yourfirmwarehere.fru lpt1 and press enter.

    Step 3: Reinstall Drivers / Software

    Download the latest drivers for your printer here and then begin the install. Choose the basic install and then accept all of the default setup prompts. After the install has completed, restart the computer and test the printer.

    Special Note: While upgrading a P3005dn using the file upload method, the printer froze, gave some random error code and restarted. After power cycling the device numerous times, I kept getting an error stating that I should download the firmware to the printer again. The difficulty in this situation was that the unit had two interfaces: USB and Ethernet. The Ethernet interface was not loading due to the corrupt firmware load and doing the firmware update via USB was not detailed anywhere that I could find. In this scenario the printer was not uninstalled prior to attempting the upgrade. Share your printer if it isn’t already, write down your computer name and the printer share name. From this point forward just use a slightly different command similar to the lpt1 method mentioned in step 3 by running this from the command line:

    copy /b yourfirmwarehere.fru \\computername\printersharename

    This should take care of re-sending the firmware to the printer.