HP Proliant Microserver G8: Powerful features in a small, stylish package

HP's new Proliant Microserver Gen8 is an SMB, home, or branch office/retail server

The Proliant has actual industrial beauty and there's even a choice of different colored front bezels. And the Proliant Microserver has a reasonable amount of speed. As we're prone to lifting and heaving 80-pound monstrosities into large racks, we wondered how could this comparatively tiny appliance be useful?

The MicroServer G8 has an Intel i3 chipset, which can be found on discounted notebooks, as the i7 and soon Haswell chipset currently rules the state-of-the-art roosts. On the plus side, the unit we were sent had nearly 2Tbytes of fast disk, lots of memory, an OEM version of Windows Server 2012.

Bottom line:  It's a small, fast, server.

The engineers at Apple once made servers that were fast and beautiful. Windows-based whitebox servers were rectangular boxes with aesthetics so awful that they were tucked away from wincing eyes. The MicroServer Gen8 is a box that would look fine in an art gallery.

iLO management app

HP put the same iLO management app (v4.5) into the BIOS of the MicroServer Gen8 that they put in their most powerful servers. Booting this beast is about a five-minute process, should everything behave. This does not count the load time for Windows Server 2012, which takes another minute or so.

Our patience was rewarded in the following way: iLO allows the machine to be remotely deployed, monitored, reconfigured and administrated from another site, perhaps a value-added reseller, corporate systems deployment engineer, and so forth.

A civilian unboxing the Microserver G8 has precious little to do, in terms of assembly. Once installed physically, an end user has a reasonable chance (if they can find the local broadband connection) of making the unit connect to the point where someone else -- now connected to the server via the Internet -- can likely login and take control.

The iLO software included runs in realtime, so it can be checked as a process-within-the-server-frame. Application deployments and other day-to-day software switches can be flipped to automate backups, get notices about errors, set and reset user and access policies. The minutae of day-to-day admin work can be done remotely through Windows 2012 (or Linux, which we did not test).

The entire server comes apart with included tools. Nothing special is required to change out nearly all parts. Spilled a pitcher of ice tea on the unit? With luck, a rapid diagnosis can be made and parts that are user installable as replacements can be shipped out overnight. They're all modular and the tool needed is attached to the back of the machine as shipped. Cost of a remote deployment should be reduced, as a result.

This very fact goes against the grain of every notebook we've seen in the past five years. Except for changing memory, perhaps the disk, and with luck, the keyboard, they're all proprietary and finding the parts for notebooks can be a genuine chore in our experience (this means you, Toshiba). The modularity of the Microserver G8, and the lack of bizarre Torx screw sizes and obtuse hold-it-like-this-to-remove instructions thrilled us.

8-port switch

HP pairs the Microserver with an eight-port Gigabit Ethernet switch that's handily a part of the iLO information train. What we didn't like about the switch is that it can't be simply bolted or connected to the hardware that is the server. There can be eight or more cables running from the back of the switch, and the chances of something catching a cable and doing something to make the switch a flying object would have been helpful. We suggest two strips of Velcro are a good start. It's just too easy to make the server's connectivity into an OSHA problem.

From a performance perspective, we took a 1.2TB data set and transferred it over Gigabit Ethernet using a CIFS share. The drives in the Microserver G8 go like blazes. We clocked about 12Mbps with much CPU and disk channel time to spare, according to the performance sets we monitored through Windows Server 2012. We received five user CALs with 2012; HP says more are available. We wondered why just five, but there will be many possible deployment configurations available for this server.

We then asked, why is the older i3 Intel chipset used? HP responds that there's an AMD version available, but they'll be deployed in different markets where one or the other or both processors might be available. Stronger CPUs, an HP spokesperson said, might mean that the unit would require more and stronger fans, and additionally complicate user servicing. We did note that the unit is extraordinarily quiet. As the noise level in our test lab is overwhelming during some tests, it was nice to note that the level was hushed and notebook like, rather than our memory of Apple's Xserve servers, which were loud enough to makes us wonder about the ear protection worn by airline ramp agents.

Summary

The HP Proliant Microserver G8 thrilled us with its aesthetics, made us wonder about the trade-offs between quiet and processor speed, and concerned us with potential cable management problems. It has reasonable value, we feel, for a "corporate-edition" server, and those familiar with Windows 2012 and HP's iLO will enjoy the potential utility offered.

How We Tested HP MicroServer Gen8

We used the HP MicroServer Gen8 and switch on a Gigabit Ethernet network in our lab that consists of several Dell, Lenovo, HP and Apple servers. In turn, the Gigabit Ethernet network is connected to a Comcast Business Network via an ancient and ugly SMC cable modem. We accessed the MicroServer with Microsoft RDS and LogMeIn from Lenovo ThinkPad T520 and T530 notebooks.

Henderson is principal researcher for ExtremeLabs, of Bloomington, Ind. He can be reached at kitchen-sink@extremelabs.com. Lars Johnson is a researcher at ExtremeLabs.com.

Read more about data center in Network World's Data Center section.

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