[This post was started in April 2017 and, like the gear it describes, the post was shelved for a while. I recently took the Microserver and its matching switch out of the dark recesses of the home office closet and brought it up to date. The upgrade report has been posted.]
Quite a while back, I acquired a HP Microserver Gen8 – the Ivy Bridge-based successor to the very popular N40L and N56L models. is model has been replaced by the Gen 10 model, but is still quite serviceable in its own right, and can be found on eBay for $500 and up depending on configuration.
The Gen8 Microserver comes with one of four dual-core CPU options (pictured below from the spec sheet; see Intel ARK for comparison); if you care about PCIe 3.0 vs 2.0, you’ll want the configure-to-order Xeon option or a warranty-voiding aftermarket upgrade. Folks on various home server forums have validated the E3-1230v2 ($75 on eBay), 1260L (from $57), and 1265Lv2 (from $100) processor upgrades (Intel ARK comparison), although the latter may push the cooling envelope a bit.
This model does away with the 5.25″ HH drive bay (which some users had deployed with a multi-2.5″ drive bay enclosure paired with a third party SAS controller card), but offers a low profile optical drive bay (which can take a modular adapter with a 2.5″ drive or an m.2 SSD). Four standard 3.5″ drive bays with pluggable (but labeled as non-hotswap) trays sit behind the front hinged bezel.
Also new to Gen8 is the mandate for ECC DDR3 SDRAM, which was optional in older models. There’s an iLO 4 port dedicated for out-of-band management, although you can set the first of two Gigabit Ethernet ports to operate in a shared mode instead if you prefer. USB 2.0 and 3.0 ports abound, and a PCIe x16 low profile slot allows for various expansion options including a HP storage controller with capacitor-backed cache. And in addition to the internal USB port (which has a bit more space around it than the N40L’s did), there’s a bootable MicroSD slot for non-Windows operating systems (VMware vSphere and Linux in particular).
However, it appears that the Intel vulnerabilities made recent updates “CRITICAL” and I was able to download the newest server BIOS (2018.05.21) and iLO 4 firmware (2.61) without entitlement. Your mileage may vary, of course.
Let’s switch things up a bit
When I went to look at options for this server, I saw something I hadn’t really expected: A form factor matched Ethernet switch. The PS1810-8G (J9833A) switch has eight 10/100/1000 Ethernet ports, and has the same footprint as the Microserver itself (albeit much shorter–a touch over an inch in height). It’s powered by a wall adapter, or optionally via Power over Ethernet when connected to the first port.
The switch has some web management functionality including VLANs, trunking, LLPD, green features like automatic port power-down, and iLO discovery when connected to Proliant servers (including the Microserver).
Switch firmware updates should be available without a contract through the My Networking portal, since HPE’s network gear is blessed with a limited lifetime warranty, and it’s easy to upgrade through the switch’s web interface.
This is definitely a small-business switch at best, but has good features, low power usage, pretty much no audio impact, and originally a very manageable price (I got mine on eBay for about $114 in 2015, but they seem harder to find in 2018.
Note that there’s also a PS1810-24G available, but it’s a typical 1U rackmount form factor switch. It might fit a larger network need, but if you’re going for cute and complementary to the Microserver, it’s not your best bet. There are also some other 8-port 1810 models that look like a typical desktop switch. Again, they’ll work as Ethernet switches but they don’t match the Microserver Gen 8.
But wait, there’s VPN
Now when I went to review the options a while back, I found another unexpected option. Also in the Microserver form factor, HP released a PS110 VPN router/firewall/access point option. This option offers dual-band 802.11n wireless access as well as a four-port switch with the same iLO awareness that the PS1810 has.
On the downside, the spec sheet rates VPN throughput at 30 megabits per second, so you may not find it so useful on that front. It’s powered by a traditional adapter, with no PoE option inbound or outbound. I could see it being useful for a very small SOHO/ROBO environment, or for fully demarcating a lab environment, and I will admit the form factor almost has me wanting one. However, seeing as they’re over $300 used and $1,000 new on Amazon as of this writing, I will be able to resist with ease [Editor’s note: He didn’t resist, but that’s a story for another day].
Where do we go from here?
I’ve had a N40L in service as a standalone vSphere server in my shop for a few years now. I expect that after some testing, and a possible CPU upgrade to 4-core, this machine will get vSphere installed onto the MicroSD card (currently a Samsung EVO 32GB card), and FreeNAS in a VM serving out a couple of 2-4TB SATA drives. [Spoiler: The system was upgraded earlier this year, so you’ll learn soon what was added and how it went.]
I also have a couple of drive trays that put two 2.5″ drives with optional mirroring/striping into a 3.5″ drive bay. Something like this would let me bulk up the system with lower-cost SSDs or laptop drives to get a bit of extra performance. I’ll have to see how the testing goes, and how many drives I discover when reorganizing my boxes of gear. Figuring out what to do with the PCIe slot, if anything, is another story though.
Have you made use of the HPE Microserver Gen8? What have you enjoyed or lamented about it, and what sort of surgery have you done to it? Share in the comments!
Pseudo-disclosure: Some of you may be wondering why I’m talking about HPE gear, considering who I work for in my day job. Well, the Microserver and its accessories, in the sub-$1,000 price range with desktop-type specs and dimensions, aren’t in a space that my employer plays in, so there’s no actual competition or comparison. And for a smaller home lab and spouse/roommate acceptance factors, this is a good solution, so I’m comfortable saying so. Do I expect Microserver roadmap briefings, or eval units from HPE? Of course not (I’d accept a Gen10 bundle if they want a review, of course). But what I get on my own I’m willing and able to write about.