HP Proliant MicroServer

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The HP MicroServer is an unsual product in many ways. Its size is unique among servers, and it is much closer to 4-drive bay NAS boxes in this regard. The latter usually run Atom or ARM processors, which do not have the processing power of the Athlon II Neo, even at its slower 1.3 GHz clock speed. The design and build quality are excellent, and it really is small enough to be tucked on a shelf, a corner of a desk, or in a closet. Its power profile is low enough that even with four 2TB drives and high system load, the AC power is unlikely to crest 60W peaks and average closer to 45W. Finally, its 120mm primary cooling fan and the little 40mm fan in the PSU are quiet enough that the choice of hard drives will have more effect on the perceived overall noise. It isn't quiet enough for us to blithely place atop a nearby desk, but in almost any small business office, it should be very unobtrusive.

The real question is whether the MicroServer really meets the needs of the intended small business market. The low entry price and small size are certainly attractive, but does it represent an ideal choice for a small business moving up to its first server?

Cheap servers are available from most of the major computer companies, but none are so small and very few start at $300, $350 or £109 (after cash back in the UK). The inclusion of a gig of RAM and a 250 GB drive seems silly, though; most users will end up dumping both, for 4GB RAM and a couple of 2 TB drives, at least.

The big issue for the small business target market is the absence of a user-friendly operating system. While something like Ubuntu Server might be a perfectly plausible option for a tech geek, most small businesses do not have the qualified personnel to tackle installation, setup and most importantly, maintenance of a Linux server. This might also be true of Windows Server 2008 R2, even the $200 entry-level 15-user Foundation edition. A new MS offering called Windows Small Business Server 2011 Essentials might be better suited, but its $250~300 online price for a 5-user license is close to that of the bare server.

Realistically, with a minimal setup of two 2TB drives (one for OS & data, the other a mirror or backup), 4GB ECC RAM and a familiar MS-based server OS, the real base price of a MicroServer in the small business role is around $800. This is for a server capable of running centralized software, serving multiple clients. It is getting close to a more powerful and expandable conventional server, which might be a better choice if rapid growth in needs is anticipated.

If the role is a simple, centralized, secure file server, a better choice might be a NAS box with a built-in, customized firmware OS that is simpler to use and maintain than a server. The 4-bay QNAP TS-419P, for example, sells for under $500; with dual 2TB HDDs, it should match the MicroServer in this file server role. Still, the open-source FreeNAS OS on a MicroServer may well outperform the Atom-based QNAP for tech-savvy users, except that the QNAP has RAID 5 functionality built in, not just the RAID 1 and 0 of the MicroServer.

All this is to say that while the MicroServer is a clever, well-engineered product that will please a lot of people, it's not a slam dunk choice for a small business. There are many factors to consider.

For the home geek, the HP MicroServer is a great toy or tool. It can be a more powerful Windows Home Server platform than the discontinued HP MediaSmart Servers. For the more adventurous, there are the many Linux variants, available free for download and experimentation. It can also be treated like a barebones SFF PC. There's the option of running the MicroServer as a combination file server and media PC. The HD4200 integrated video is good enough for HD video play, and the Neo CPU should be perfectly capable of HTPC duties. The two expansion slots give it expandability as well. You can even make it SPCR-quiet with a swap of that overzealous 120mm fan. For details continue reading. Note: Audio recordings are on the next page as well.


Answers to some questions sent off to HP arrived just as this article was being posted.

Q1. Is there anything in the US or Canada (or anywhere else) like the £100 cash back in the UK? If not why not? Why in the UK?

A1. Special promotions such as the £100 cash back in the UK are done at the country level and are typically in response to local market conditions.

Q2. It's been selling now for 4-5 mos. What is the typical buying pattern? Is the base configuration the most popular? Or are there more sales of more fully decked servers sold through resellers? I'm interested to know whether you hit your target market (small business <10 users) or whether the enthusiast market has been more responsive than expected.

A2. With the MicroServer, HP has created a new category and initial offering is a base model targeted at resellers. Basically, the MircoServer is sold primarily through resellers who perform configuration and installation based on customer needs. Anticipate resellers to fulfill the OS install function

Due to the large uptake in the base model, we are evaluating offering additional configurations targeted at different segments.

Q3. Why is the fan configuration non-standard? That is, if a fan burns out it cannot easily be replaced with one from normal outlets (ie Frys) due to the plug incompatibility.

A3. Because of its small form-factor and acoustic goals, the MicroServer requires a fan that is powerful yet quiet. This fan was selected because it met the MicroServers stringent system specifications

Our thanks to HP for providing us with the review sample.

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Articles of Related Interest
Silent Home Server Build Guide: SFF Configurations
HTPC Home Server
Mid-Tower Home Server Configurations

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