I run a mixture of white-box and entry level HP Proliant servers in my VMware vSphere home lab environment. I have been running a number of HP Proliant Microservers in the past 18 months as they have offered exception value for money at £100 (approx. after cash back), as at this price-point you’d be hard pushed to even build a PC/server white-box. For more information on the HP MicroServer check out my hands on review here. A number of people have emailed me asking whether it is possible to take the HP MicroServer past the “official HP” 8GB memory limit so I have put together this post that I hope helps answer this question.
Despite not having the fastest CPU (AMD based dual core 1.3 – 1.5GHz) in the world, only taking a maximum of 8GB memory and not having any hardware based RAID (which would be highly unlikely for such an entry level server or micro-PC), the HP MicroServer has been adopted by many for use as home media centers, file servers and home/work lab servers. In my VMware vSphere lab environment I predominantly run Microsoft Server VMs, with later versions of this popular OS consuming more memory than ever. I generally don’t run CPU intensive workloads on any of my VMs so physical memory on the ESXi host is generally the first to be consumed before CPU and disk capacity/throughput resource. This has meant that without wishing to experience too much memory paging down to disk, and the subsequent hit to VM and ESXi host performance, I have had to limit the number of VMs I run on my MicroServers before consuming all of the 8GB of physical memory. VMware technologies such as Transparent Page Sharing (TPS) and memory ballooning definitely help in oversubscribing the memory and allow me to run more VMs, though this only goes so far before all of the modest 8GB of physical memory is consumed and paging to disk does start to occur.
The following is a quick video I put together that demonstrates the installation and running of VMware ESXi 5.1 on the HP MicroServer (N36L model running BIOS 041 – 27/07/2010) with 16GB of memory. As I mention in the video I have found a particular brand (Kingston) and model (KVR1333D3E9SK2/16GB) of memory to work well (which I buy my tried and tested supplier of lab kit, ServersPlus).
IMPORTANT: Before outlaying your hard earned money on some 8GB DIMMS make sure they are of the correct specification (ie: DDR3 240-pin ECC PC3 10600 or 1333) and most importantly ONLY try memory that others have reported working ok. I have used the Kingston DIMMs mentioned in the video and personally found them to work just fine. Though be careful as it can be something of a minefield, as some people have reported a particular make/model of DIMM to work in their MicroServer whilst someone else has found it not to work in theirs. My advice is to do your homework first and a quick search of forums, etc for any threads where people are discussing which particular make/model of DIMM has worked for them, and to buy your memory from a reputable seller who you can go back to in case you find the memory doesn’t work and you want to swap it out for another set.
I hope you found this post of use, there are more VMware vSphere and lab videos and posts to follow …. Have you tried a different memory make or model, why not let us know by leaving a comment below?