HP Proliant MicroServer G8 – A Decent Home Lab Server?

HP MicroServer G8 Review[6]There is a new HP Proliant MicroServer on the scene, and this time it is Intel based with more CPU clout and a few minor changes, some good and some not so much.  HP have aimed this new G8 MicroServer model at the small businesses (with 10 or less employees) market, but as with the previous models (AMD N36L/N40L/N54L), it leans itself nicely to being a decent home lab server, NAS or home media station.

The AMD based MicroServer models have proven to be popular little entry level home lab servers, ideal for anyone studying for an IT certification or just wanting a small cost effective test machine where only a handful of VMs need to be run.  Though much of its popularity, at least here in the UK, has been down to the £100 cash-back deal which has meant the MicroServer has been available sub £100. An attractive price in any currency.

Pricing aside, the AMD based HP MicroServer models do have their fair share of limitations, namely a low performance CPU and, in my opinion, a low performance storage controller which often struggles to keep up when only running a few VMs with moderate workloads from local disk.

The new MicroServer G8 would appear to overcome the slow(‘ish) CPU issue  found in the AMD models by offering more CPU horsepower, though what else is different?  The rest of this post is a summary of the Intel based G8 MicroServer’s key areas along with detail on any differences between it and the earlier AMD models.

Models:

There are currently two HP Proliant MicroServer G8 models on offer, both are identical apart from the CPU type that comes with each.  The G1610T is an Intel Ivy Bridge Celeron and the G2020T is an Ivy Bridge Pentium.

Neither model come with disks as standard, though this BYO disk configuration will provide the flexibility that many home lab users often prefer, though I’m not convinced that this lack of disk is truely reflected in HP’s initial pricing of the G8 models. See the “Final Thoughts” section at the bottom of this post for pricing (UK).

The following are the HP part numbers of the two models – the 2GB of memory that they come with will no doubt be swapped out straight away in most instances for higher capacity memory, eg: 2 x 4GB or 2 x 8GB:

712317-421  ProLiant MicroServer Gen8 G1610T 1P 2GB-U B120i NHP SATA 150W PS Server
712318-421  ProLiant MicroServer Gen8 G2020T 1P 2GB-U B120i NHP SATA 150W PS Server

Case & Form Factor:

The G8 model is a similar form factor (Ultra Micro Tower) though is slightly wider, not as deep and more squat than its AMD based MicroServer predecessors.  This is a form factor favourable to any home lab environment where space is often at a premium.

Unlike the AMD models of the MicroServer there is no key to lock the front door of the MicroServer, not that locking it on the older models really offered any decent form of security due to the flimsiness of the plastic door.  The front door is hinged and when opened displays the four non-hot pluggable SATA based disk caddies.

HP-MicroServer-G8-Home-Lab

The blue neon HP logo found on the AMD MicroServers has now been replaced with a blue neon strip towards the base of the Micro server.  The colour of this neon strip indicates the basic status of the hardware, ie: blue = everything is good with the world/server.

Tthe new HP Proliant G8 sports a silver facia, which looks rather nice in my opinion. In fact there has been mention of coloured facia options being made available, visit here for more details.

CPU:

The initial offering of the MicroServer G8 comes with two CPU models from the Intel Ivy Bridge family (LGA 1155 socket); the first is a dual core Intel Celeron and the second a dual core Intel Pentium, both are low power CPUs.

  • Intel® Celeron® G1610T (2.3Hz/2-core/2MB/35W) Processor
  • Intel® Pentium® G2020T (2.5GHz/2-core/3MB/35W) Processor

The good news is that the CPU is mounted on the system board via a socket, and not soldered, so there is potential for perhaps swapping the CPU out for something a little more high powered, e.g.: quad core, etc. I’ll have to look into this a little further.

For those of you running virtualization labs, the CPUs found in both models of the G8 have Intel VT-x functionality (though no HyperThreading (HT)).

The CPUs are low powered so we can also expect a low amount of heat generated which is ideal for a home lab environment where sound and heat generated, along with power consumption, are usually a major consideration.

Friendly Reminder:  If you are already a proud owner of one of the previous models of MicroServer, run your own VMware virtualization lab and are thinking of buying one of these new G8 models to integrate into your lab then the bad news is that since the new model’s CPU is Intel and the earlier models are AMD, then you won’t be able to add them into the same cluster and leverage the real value-add vSphere features such as DRS.

Disks & Controller:

HP Proliant MicroServer G8 - DrivesThe MicroServer G8 has four internal non-hot swap 3.5″ drive bays for SATA based disks. The first two drive bays (1 & 2) have 6Gbps connectivity and bays 3 & 4 the slower 3Gbps. This will have to be taken into consideration when planning out your drive layout when building your lab server (assuming you’ll be using multiple drives).

The onboard disk controller is an HP Smart Array B120i which can provide RAID0,1 and 1/0 protection (i.e.: no RAID5 offered). RAID 5 is available with optional FBWC module on selected HP Proliant server models, though unfortunately the MicroServer isn’t one of these, so no RAID5 unless you add a separate PCIe based array controller card. The B120i (at least according to the specification here: http://h18004.www1.hp.com/products/servers/proliantstorage/arraycontrollers/dynamicsmartarray/index.html ) has a throughput of 91.4K IOPS which will be more than sufficient for almost all virtualization lab environments.  So it’ll be highly unlikely that you’ll saturate the actual controller, even when using 4 x SSDs.*   I personally run the VMs in my lab off of a separate NAS device such as the Iomega (EMCLenovo) PX4-300 so I can provide shared storage between my ESXi hosts, though for a single virutalization lab box solution, running a virtual storage appliance (VSA) could be an attractive proposition also.

*Thanks to Matt for picking up my discrepancy re: IOPS.

Drive Capacity:

The official HP tech spec for the MicroServer G8 claims that 4 x 3TB SATA drives are the maximum configuration available to the MicroServer, so we’ll have to wait and see if the newer higher capacity 4TB SATA disks will work.

Memory:

Unfortunately when it comes to memory the MicroServer G8 is still limited to only 2 memory slots, which allows you to take its memory capacity up to a maximum of 16GB (although like the previous models of MicroServer it may be possible to take it past the “official” memory limit, ie: up to 32GB using 2 x 16GB UDIMMs – watch this space!). I personally would have liked to have seen 4 memory slots being made available and an upper memory limit of 32GB, to match that of the maximum memory limit of the free version of VMware ESXi aka VMware Hypervisor. That said, I would imagine at that point HP could potentially see the MicroServer G8 eat into the sales of its other entry level servers (eg: ML3xx series) that don’t have the same 16GB maximum memory limitation.  All is not lost however as the CPU and chipset (Intel C204) in the MicroServer can “technically” take more than 16GB of memory, though that is assuming HP haven’t applied some form of upper memory limit via the HP Server ROM or similar.

Networking:

The G8 has an additional 1Gb Ethernet port at the rear, along with a dedicated iLO 4 network port.  This brings the total number of network ports to three.  The two 1Gb (ie: non iLO 4) ports can be used for general network traffic, though one of them also shares some traffic with the onboard iLO.  This extra NIC port will come as good news to those of you looking to use the MicroServer G8 for a virtualization lab, as many of us on the older AMD models add a low profile (1,2 or 4 port) NIC into one of the MicroServer’s PCIe slots.  This now means one less expense to consider, as for a home virtualization lab two NIC ports will normally suffice.HP Proliant MicroServer G8 Rear View

USB, MicroSD & eSATA:

USB: There are two USB 2.0 ports on the front of the server, four on the rear (2 x USB 3.0 and 2 x USB 2.0) and one internally (USB 2.0) The internal USB port is great for booting VMware ESXi off of from a USB stick.  Overall there are still six USB ports, with two just moving from the front of the case to the back.  For a lab server I never found I needed four USB ports on the front anyway.  It’s nice to see the introduction of a couple of USB 3.0 ports.

MicroSD: HP have added a MicroSD slot to the system board which along with the internal USB 2.0 port mentioned above, could  be used to boot the ESXi hypervisor off of. Personally unless I had a spare 4GB+ MicroSD card laying around I wouldn’t bother and would usually use a standard USB stick as these are more readily available.  The only exception to this would be when looking at shipping, via courier, an HP MicroServer pre-configured to boot off ESXi or similar from a MicroSD or USB stick.  The USB sticks have been known to fall out in transit and then end up rattling around the internals of the case which could end up damaging a system board component(s).

eSATA:  The AMD based MicroServer had an external eSATA port on the rear of the case, this has now been removed in the G8 which will be a blow to some people wanting to attach some additional storage via a SATA based interface.  The addition of two USB 3.0 ports on the back of the G8 MicroServer may alleviate the lack of a eSATA port however, though this will come down to an individuals preference of port type.

CD/DVD Drive:

The 5.25” CD/DVD drive bay (for an optional 5.25” CD/DVD drive) found in the older MicroServer models has been replaced by a space for an optional small form factor/slim CD/DVD drive.  This no doubt helps make the G8 model more squat when compared to its AMD predecessors.  Using this smaller form factor CD/DVD drive means that there is no longer any space to insert an 3.5” SATA extra drive for the purposes of expanding the MicroServer past the standard 4 SATA drives.  This won’t be a popular decision for those looking at using the G8 MicroServer as a NAS box with 4+ drives., so as to maximise storage capacity.

Graphics:

The MicroServer out of the box isn’t intended to be a graphics powerhouse, though for home lab purposes the integrated Matrox G200 video capability (1280 x 1024 (32 bpp), 1920 x 1200 (16 bpp)) will be fine.  Home media enthusiasts will likely want to look at adding a dedicated PCIe based graphics card.

Power Supply:

The power supply used in the G8 model is still non-redundant 150W.

PCIe Expansion:

The G8 only has a single PCIe 2.0 (x16) low profile slot, unlike the previous models that had two expansion bays.  The loss of this extra PCIe slot is a shame as some home-media folks used both slots in the AMD MicroServer model for adding better graphics capabilities, encoder cards and/or a hardware based array/storage controller.

ILO:

The G8 has an ILO4 chip on the motherboard which shares one of the two network ports, with normal network traffic, at the rear of the chassis. As before, out of the box, you only receive basic ILO functionality (e.g.: remote reboot), with the more advanced features, such as remote control and virtual media, only being made available if you purchase an ILO pack.  The HP ILO essential pack would be a good fit for the SMB or home lab orientated MicroServer owners. For more details see:  http://www.hp.com/go/ilo

8 Port Switch Add-on:

HP PS810-8G switch HP MicroServerWith this iteration of the MicroServer it is obvious that HP are aiming at creating a more complete all-in-one small business type server solution, with not only the faster processors and the second NIC but also the ability to add a new optional stackable managed switch (HP PS810-8G). This stackable switch, like the MicroServer, will no doubt be an attractive option for the home lab enthusiast as it sits neatly on top of the MicroServer and offers 8 ports of HP PS810 Switch and MicroServerLayer 2 Gigabit switching. Note: the PS810-8G can optionally be powered by an upstream Power of Ethernet (PoE) switch. Other features of the PS810-8G include VLANS, Spanning Tree and link aggregation trunking.

The PS810-8G switch can also automatically discovers and monitor the health status of ProLiant Gen8 Servers via the iLO interface. This provides a single pane of glass view of the servers and switch from one interface for remote management, quite a nice feature and one I look forward to playing around with.

Warranty:

The usual one year warranty applies, so nothing new here.

Final Thoughts – Will it make a decent lab server?

The HP Proliant MicroServer G8 with its extra CPU horsepower will no doubt be an attractive prospect to many, and with it’s new high-tech looking case and facia will look the part in any home lab.  For a virtualization lab the MicroServer G8 with 16GB of maximum memory and higher spec CPU will fit the bill, though ultimately it is going to come down to the price-point HP will ultimately decide to sell the MicroServer G8 at.  Some of the pricing I have seen in the UK has the HP MicroServer in the region of £305 ex VAT for the Celeron G1610T model and £362 ex VAT for the Pentium G2020T model, keep in mind you still need to buy hard disks for this price and memory to boost the standard 2GB of memory that comes with these models.

Many virtualization lab enthusiasts for this sort of money will likely be wanting a server that they can take to 32GB of memory once individual 16GB DIMM prices start to fall. Building your own white-box server will also likely offer better bang for buck, though not in the nice small form factor of the MicroServer.

With the extra CPU capacity at the MicroServer’s disposal and with the extra “official” support for 32GB of memory, it will likely be the MicroServer’s onboard disk controller that is the bottle neck in many virtualization lab environments where the VMs are run off of local disk.  If this proves to be the case then may want to consider running your VMs off of a NAS type appliance or purchase a PCIe hardware based array controller and then run the local disks off of that.

Four disk bays will usually be enough for most use cases, though maybe not for those of you wanting to turn the MicroServer into a small NAS appliance, where maximising the number of drives offers a real raw disk capacity advantage.  The older model of MicroServer had a full sized 5.25” empty CD/DVD drive bay which could be used to insert an extra hard disk or two for added NAS disk capacity.  Many will question the value of having a CD/DVD drive at all, albeit slim form factor, as these days very little media still is distributed using CD/DVD, and backups are now usually performed “in the Cloud” or via an attached portable hard drive (for SMBs).

So to summarise… for me the HP MicroServer is, from a technical perspective, an attractive proposition as a virtualization lab server or NAS box.  Though the key to the MicroServer G8’s level of popularity and adoption will be its pricing.  Many are used to seeing HP’s entry level SMB servers (eg: ML110, ML115 and MicroServer) at highly competitive prices so hopefully HP will follow suit with some good deals (eg: cashback offer) on this new G8 MicroServer model.

I’d be interested to know your thoughts on the new MicroServer and whether you see it as a good fit for a virtualization lab environment.  Why not leave me a comment below.

Links:

HP QuickSpecs: http://h18000.www1.hp.com/products/quickspecs/productbulletin.html#spectype=north_america&type=html&docid=14565

HP PS1810-8G Switch Spec: http://www8.hp.com/au/en/products/switches/product-detail.html?oid=5385017#!tab=features

B120i Array Controller Spec: http://h18004.www1.hp.com/products/servers/proliantstorage/arraycontrollers/dynamicsmartarray/index.html

  • http://vmwaremine.com/ Artur Krzywdzinski

    good post Simon

    • http://techhead.co/ Simon Seagrave (TechHead)

      Thanks for the feedback Artur, glad you liked it. :)

      • http://vmwaremine.com/ Artur Krzywdzinski

        you mentioned that previous models non officially supports 32GB, do you have any details ? I’m asking because few on my blog readers asked me for

        • http://techhead.co/ Simon Seagrave (TechHead)

          Unfortunately not, the previous AMD based models only supported (at least to my knowledge) 16GB (2 x8GB) of memory. These earlier models only officially supported up to 8GB, though unofficially could be doubled to 16GB. I run this on my own AMD MicroServer N36L boxes and it works fine – though not all brands of memory work reliably in it.

          • Phil

            HI simon, what make of RAM did you put in your N36L ? I never realised 16 GB could go into it..

          • Phil

            oops just seen the other article..

          • http://techhead.co/ Simon Seagrave (TechHead)

            Glad you found the info Phil – hope your memory upgrade goes well. :)

            Simon

  • Alex Galbraith

    This is a great upgrade from the previous model, but the new price means they’re bigger, louder and more expensive than my Intel NUCs. If they can go to 32GB later, or do another cashback offer that would be a really interesting proposition however!

    • http://techhead.co/ Simon Seagrave (TechHead)

      Hi Alex,

      Agree, we just need increased availability and cost of 16GB UDIMM ECC memory to fall. I’m not sure these G8 units will ever drop to sub-£100 as we saw with the previous AMD based models – though I’d like to be proven wrong. :)

  • Chris

    Are the speeds of the drive bays governed by the disk backplane, or by the disk controller it is connected to?

    I’d be likely to install an LSI HBA if the HP controller was the limiting factor.

    • http://techhead.co/ Simon Seagrave (TechHead)

      In this case it would be the disk controller, and not the wire-speed of the disk IO over the backplane. I’m keen to try out the onboard controller, though suspect for moderate to heavy virtual IO workloads a PCIe based array controller card will be required.

      Thanks for the comment.

      • Chris

        I mainly want it for a home fileserver (ZFS) so really the limitation on 2 bays isn’t significant.

        All I’m waiting for now is for HP to start cashback offers for it :-)

  • Matt

    90k IOPS is a lot, remember a SATA disk can only manage 75-100 so I think the internal controller will do just fine, unless you have multiple SSD’s even then I doubt there is sufficient CPU to drive them hard enough to saturate the controller.

    • http://techhead.co/ Simon Seagrave (TechHead)

      Hi Matt,

      Good catch indeed – you’re right the 90K IOPS would be fine. I was finishing off the post late at night and got my IOPS a little mixed up. :)

      Thanks, I’ll amend the post accordingly.

      Simon

  • pjr99

    Please correct me if I’m wrong….just chk’d the specs at Hp and it looks like I could boot the OS from an SSD and still add 4-3tb drives……comments?????
    Thx,
    Phil R

  • loybuckz

    HI there! I currently own the G2020t version and plans to upgrade the memory. Have you tried using 32GB Memory? Which model/Part number will work. Thanks in advance.

    • http://techhead.co/ Simon Seagrave (TechHead)

      Hi there :)

      I haven’t tried, or heard, of anyone successfully running 2 x 16GGB ECC memory DIMMS in a MicroServer as yet. There are a few threads on other forums I have read where people have tried though with no luck so far unfortunately.

      That said, it may be possible at some point when the right compatible memory brand/model comes out (though it is possible there may be a BIOS level type limitation with running this much memory in the MicroServer). I know that running the ‘right’ memory brand/model type in the earlier MicroServers was important as some memory was flaky and either didn’t work or gave random issues/problems.

      Sorry I don’t have a better answer for you, though hope this helps. My advice would be to keep your ear to the ground, and I’ll be sure to post something if/when running 32GB is possible.

      Cheers,

      Simon

  • Duncan

    hp micro servers are horrible you won’t be able to test any enterprise features and will spend most of your time fighting the absolutely lack luster performance save your valuable time and buy something decent the price says it all, they are simply a gimmick so avoid at all costs.