HP introduces microserver for small businesses

The server bundles a number of server-specific features into a microtower

Hewlett-Packard on Wednesday announced a low-cost, entry-level server for small businesses that bundles advanced features in a small package.

HP's ProLiant MicroServer is targeted at small businesses and is an inexpensive alternative or even complementary product to blade or rack servers, said McLeod Glass, director of marketing in HP's Industry Standard Servers and Software group.

The server bundles a number of server-specific features into a microtower with dimensions of 10.5 by 10.2 by 8.3 inches (26.7 by 26.0 by 21.0 centimeters). The server is about half the size of entry-level servers and small enough to fit on or under a desk, Glass said.

The server can centralize operations and data over a small network, Glass said. Users will be able to access shared files, and the server will secure data.

The power-efficient server builds fewer components into the design, which could help cut electricity costs. With prices starting at US$329, the company is also delivering a server at the price of a PC, Glass said.

HP has put the product in a new category of servers called microservers, which Glass said is a big business opportunity for the company. Around 1.7 million businesses worldwide will buy their first server over the next five years, and the microserver will meet the computing needs of small businesses, McLeod said.

The microserver is configured to have attributes of a server and a traditional desktop. It runs on Advanced Micro Devices' Athlon II dual-core processor running at 1.3GHz, which is usually found in consumer desktops. But it also builds in server-like features such as more storage bays and remote management capabilities.

The system comes with a purpose-built motherboard designed by HP. It offers four storage bays in which four SATA hard drives can be plugged in, providing total storage of up to 8TB. It supports up to 8GB of RAM, and also comes with remote management capabilities through a card that can be plugged into the PCI Express slot. It also builds in features to detect and correct errors during data transmission.

The product falls more in the server category as opposed to desktops, said Richard Fichera, an analyst with Forrester Research.

"They seem to contain all of the ProLiant -- HP's enterprise server line -- management extensions and thus will fit into a ProLiant server management environment," Fichera said.

Hardware companies, including chip maker Intel, have talked about the microserver concept in the past. Intel showed at its Intel Developer Forum last year a prototype of a microserver that would be able to pack maximum computing power in a small, power-efficient package. Intel has provided reference designs to PC makers on how to build microservers.

The microserver category so far has been hard to define, said Reuben Miller, senior analyst at IDC. Until now, the focus has been on putting a lot of processors together without a lot of storage, with low-power servers scaling performance mostly through cores and memory in dense computing environments.

Miller said that a server that could fall into the category is SeaMicro's SM10000 server, which packs in 512 low-power Intel Atom processors on miniature motherboards the size of credit cards. The server is designed to include as few components as possible to save space and reduce power consumption.

HP's microserver may not fit under the traditional microserver definition, but the product could bring a new dimension to the category, Miller said.

"It does have some of the capabilities of a server," Miller said. "It's set up for small businesses to provide them with some type of server capability."

The server could be an initial step for companies to start building a server environment until they are ready to buy entry-level blade or rack servers, Miller said.

HP's Glass declined comment on whether the company would release microservers with Intel processors, saying the company didn't talk about future products.

HP's microserver also comes with Microsoft's Windows Server 2008 OS or Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5 OS. The server is available worldwide.

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