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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
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
Home Server Build Guide: SFF Configurations
HTPC Home Server
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this article in the SPCR forums.
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