Upgrading the HPE Microserver Gen 8 and putting it into service

A year and a half after my original write-up of the Ivy Bridge-based Gen8 Microserver, I’m finally doing a last round of pre-launch updates and documenting the upgrades I made.

You can read the original write-up (as updated to December 2018) here: Warming up the HP Microserver Gen8 and PS1810-8G switch

More links at the end of this post. Pricing has been updated as of 2019-08-15, but is still subject to change without notice.

Where do we start?

The HPE Microserver Gen8 as I received it had the Intel Pentium G2020T processor, a dual core, dual thread, 2.5 GHz processor with integrated Intel HD Graphics. For an ultra-low-end workgroup or SOHO server, that’s not too bad, and it’s better than the Celeron G1610T option.

gen8-cpus

Stock processor options for the HP Microserver Gen8

But since we’re not worried about the warranty and do want a bit more power, we looked at the following options for a CPU upgrade.

Xeon Processor CPU speed C/T TDP Integrated graphics? eBay price/link
August 2019 (December 2018)
E3-1230 v2 3.30 – 3.70 4/8 69 No 49.00 (was 75.00)
E3-1260L (v1) 2.40 – 3.30 4/8 45 HD2000 34.30 (was 57.00)
E3-1265L v2 2.50 – 3.50 4/8 45 HD2500 99.00 (was 100.00)

Since we didn’t have a use case in mind for this, we went for the E3-1265L v2 processor. CPU speed is reasonable, power is within the envelope for this system’s cooling capacity, and the price didn’t turn out too bad (although it was almost twice as much a year and a half ago).

The system arrived with 16GB of memory, which is the maximum supported with this generation of processor and a two-DIMM-slot motherboard (the CPU will handle 32GB but no more than 8GB per DIMM, and the Memphis Electronics 16GB DDR3 DIMMs require a newer generation of CPU).

The system also shipped with a single 500GB SATA drive and three empty trays for expansion, connected to the onboard B120i storage controller. There’s a low profile slot at the top suitable for an optical drive, or a hard drive carrier. According to the specs, the first two bays are 6gbit SATA and the last two bays are 3gbit SATA. You can add a P222 Smart Controller to provide battery-backed cache and expanded RAID options; these can be had for as low as $25 on eBay.

I installed a 32GB Micro-SD card for OS boot. Like the previous Microservers, the Gen8 offers an internal USB port, but Gen8 adds a MicroSD slot which may be less likely to snap off during maintenance. If I were running a heavy duty Windows or Linux server on this machine, I’d probably either put an SSD on a PCIe carrier card or use the optical drive SATA connector on the board to mount a boot drive in the optical bay. But for VMware or appliance-type platforms, or for light use Linux, the MicroSD should be enough.

Bringing the Microserver Gen8 up to date

One of the first things I do when building or populating a system is to upgrade any applicable firmware on the system. This could include the lights-out management, the system BIOS itself, drive controllers, optical drives, etc.

This gets complicated with HPE gear, as they decided to restrict all but “critical” BIOS update to customers with active support contracts or warranties. There are dubious workarounds, but it’s more of a pain than for any other mainstream vendor. Luckily (and I say that sadly), some of the critical vulnerabilities around Intel microcode in the past year led to the most recent Microserver Gen8 BIOS being considered critical.

So I gathered the latest BIOS, the ILO 4 firmware for out-of-band management, and the latest firmware for the PS1810-8G switch that this system will be connected to. (Unlike the computer systems, HPE’s networking gear carries a lifetime limited warranty and free access to firmware updates.)

With the switch connected to our upstream POE switch and the Microserver’s three network ports (two gigabit LAN, one ILO) connected to the switch, I upgraded the firmware on all three components and installed CentOS 7 from the latest ISO image via external USB flash drive. Additionally, I got a free 60-day trial license for ILO 4 Advanced from HPE.

One quirk I ran into was with regard to the .NET-based remote console and Chrome browser. In short, it doesn’t work unless you install a plugin to handle the .NET launching. I didn’t want to bother with Java either, so I accessed ILO from Microsoft Edge and used the .NET option from there.

Where do we go from here?

In the near term, I’m planning to install the Aquantia AQN-107 10GBase-T/NBase-T adapter and use it to test a couple of new devices in the home lab. Linux with iPerf or the like should be a good endpoint, and with a Thunderbolt 3-to-NBase-T adapter and an economical NBase-T/10G switch to work with, it should be compact and functional.

Longer term, with the former VMware “$25 server” being converted to EdgeLinux (from the makers of the Antsle servers we wrote about here and here), I will probably have this box serve as my in-home vSphere / ESXi system.

There’s a very small chance that I’ll break down and get the new Gen10 machine, but with as many spare computers as I have in the home lab now, it’s not a high priority.

What have you done with your Microserver recently? Share in the comments, or join the conversation on Facebook or Twitter.

For more information on the Microserver Gen 8 (especially around expandability):

HomeServerShow.com has an exhaustive page on Gen8 upgrades and other features and functions.

ServeTheHome has their release-time update on the Gen8 system here: HP ProLiant Microserver Gen8 Updated Specs and Pricing

And if you want the latest and greatest, the Microserver Gen10 came out a year ago with AMD Opteron X3000 processors.

Test-driving third party optics from StarTech in the RSTS11 labs

Disclosures at the end, as usual.

This fall John Obeto asked if I’d be willing to try out some third party optical modules in some of the varied and random switches I have around the rsts11 home lab. Always willing to help a friend and try some new gadgets, I accepted the challenge. Today I’ll give you an idea of why you might consider third party optics for your switching, why you might not, and how the compatible modules from StarTech.com impressed me.

2018-12-01 14.02.27WHAT ARE OPTICAL MODULES?

First, a word on optical modules. For decades, switch manufacturers have made two kinds of ports on their switches, a fixed port and a modular port. Fixed ports were long popular on line cards, where you wanted to get 24-48 (or more) optical ports for fiber cabling into a small amount of space, and you knew your customer was not going to change their optical requirements on the fly.

Modular (or “pluggable”) ports, however, made it possible to sell switches at a lower initial cost and allow the uplinks to be populated later. It also enabled customers to use different connection lengths and media with the commensurate power considerations.

In Gigabit Ethernet (and 1/2/4 gigabit Fibre Channel), the standard has been the Small Formfactor Pluggable, or SFP, module. About the size of a AA battery or a small USB flash drive, it connects to a small blade port inside the switch, and “translates” the connection to short (SR), long, (LR), or extended/extreme (XR) range optics, or even to 1000Base-T copper.

For 10 Gigabit Ethernet (and 8/16 gigabit Fibre Channel), the standard is an extension of the same module called SFP+. Many installations within a rack or in adjacent racks will use copper SFP+ cabling (with no fiber involved), sometimes called Direct Attach Copper or DAC cabling. Continue reading

Warming up the HP Microserver Gen8 and PS1810-8G switch

gen8 front 2018-12-04 17.03.32

Microserver Gen8 with PS1810-8G switch, Hershey bar for scale.

[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 will follow later this month.]

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. Continue reading

Looking back on InteropITX 2017 – the good, the bad, and the future

My fifth Interop conference is in the books now. Let’s take a look back and see how it turned out, and where I think it will go next year. See disclosures at the end if you’re into that sort of thing.

Ch-ch-ch-changes…

The event scaled down this year, moving down the strip to the MGM Grand Conference Center after several years at Mandalay Bay. With the introduction of a 30-member advisory board from industry and community to support the content tracks, Interop moved toward a stronger content focus than I’d perceived in past events.

The metrics provided by Meghan Reilly (Interop general manager) and Susan Fogarty (head of content) showed some interesting dynamics in this year’s attendance.

The most represented companies had 6-7 attendees each, as I recall from the opening callouts, with an average of about 2 people per company. More than half of the attendees were experiencing Interop for the first time, and nearly two thirds were management as opposed to practitioners.

The focus on IT leadership, from the keynotes to the leadership and professional development track for sessions, was definitely front and center.

How about that content?

Keynotes brought some of the big names and interesting stories to InteropITX. There wasn’t always a direct correlation, but there was some interesting context to be experienced, from Cisco’s Susie Wee talking about code and programmability in an application world (and getting the audience to do live API calls from their phones), to Kevin Mandia of Fireeye talking about real world security postures and threat landscapes. Andrew McAfee brought the acronym of the year to the stage, noting that often the decisions in companies are not made by the right person, but the HiPPOs — Highest Paid Person’s Opinion.

With five active tracks, there was content for everyone in the breakouts this year as well. Some tracks will need larger rooms next year (like the Packet Pushers Future Of Networking, which seemed to demand software-defined seating when I tried to get in) and others may need some heavier recruiting.

Attendees can access the presentations they missed (check your Interop emails), and some presentations may have been posted separately by the presenters (i.e. to Slideshare or their own web properties) for general access. Alas, or perhaps luckily, the sessions were not recorded, so if you haven’t heard Stephen Foskett’s storage joke, you’ll have to find him in person to experience it.

Panic at the Expo?

But the traditional draw of Interop, its expo floor (now called the Business Hall), was still noteworthy. With over a hundred exhibitors, from large IT organizations like VMware to startups and niche suppliers, you could see almost anything there (except wireless technology, as @wirelessnerd will tell you about here). American Express OPEN was even there again as well, and while they couldn’t help with fixing Amex’s limited retort to Chase Sapphire Reserve (read more about that on rsts11travel if you like), they were there to help business owners get charge card applications and swag processed.

The mega-theatre booths of past years were gone, and this year’s largest booths were 30×30 for VMware and Cylance among others.

Some of the big infrastructure names were scaled way back (like Cisco, with a 10×10 along with a Viptela 10×10 and a Meraki presence at the NBASET Alliance booth) or absent (like Dell, whose only presence was in an OEM appliance reference, and HPE, who seem to have been completely absent).

These two noteworthy changes to the expo scene were probably good for the ecosystem as a whole, with a caveat. With a more leveled playing field in terms of scale and scope, a wider range of exhibitors were able to get noticed, and it seemed that the booth theatre model and the predatory scanner tactics were mostly sidelined in favor of paying attention to people who were genuinely interested.

The caveat, and a definite downside to the loss of the big names, was that Interop was one of the last shows that gave you a chance to see what the “Monsters of IT Infrastructure” were doing, side by side, in a relatively neutral environment. For this year at least, VMworld is probably as close as you will get to the big picture.

Some of this may have to do with the conference ecosystem itself; Dell EMC World was the previous week in Las Vegas, with HPE Discover the first full week of June and Cisco Live US the last full week of June. These events often occupy speakers and exhibition staffs for weeks if not months beforehand, and the big players also had events like Strata Hadoop World in London to cope with as well. (See Stephen Foskett’s Enterprise IT Calendar for a sense of the schedule.)

Will the “Monsters of IT” come back next year?

I’d like to see them return, as fresh interest and opportunity is a good way to sustain growth, but I have a feeling that focusing on their owned-and-operated events and away from the few (one?) remaining general IT infrastructure event is likely to continue. They may just field speakers for the content tracks and assume that people will come to them anyway.

Meanwhile,  smaller players will continue to grow. While they appear to just be nipping at the heels of the big players, they’re building a base and a reputation in the community, and they don’t need to beat the Cisco/Dell/HPE scale vendors to succeed. So maybe everyone wins.

But what about InteropNet?

The earliest memory I have of Interop, from my 2013 visit, was finding a pair of Nortel Passport (nee Avaya ERS) 8600 routing switches in the InteropNet network. InteropNet has been a demonstration platform that brought together a wide range of vendors including routing and switching, wireless, and software layers (monitoring and management in particular), and it was noticeably absent this year as well.

Part of this may be due to the smaller size of the Business Hall, but part is also due to the cost (time and money at least) of setting up and operating the multivendor environment. The absence of most of the enterprise network hardware vendors may also have played into it, although I don’t know if that was a cause or an effect. As fascinating as Extremo the Monkey was, I don’t think an all-Extreme Networks InteropNet would have really demonstrated interoperability that well.

I didn’t talk to any of the network vendors who weren’t there, but some of the software layer vendors were unabashedly disappointed by the loss of InteropNet. It’s one thing to show a video recording or demo over VPN back to a lab somewhere, but it’s a much more convincing story to show how your product or service would react to a real world environment that your prospective customer is a part of, at that moment.

There were a number of OEM/ODM type network (and server) manufacturers, as well as software-defined networking companies like Cumulus and 128 Networks, but I think at least one big name would have to be there to make InteropNet work. Two or three would make it even better.

One interesting thought to make InteropNet more interesting and practical would be for a hardware refurbisher or reseller to bring in gear from the big names and set it up. Whether it’s ServerMonkey or another vendor of that class, or even a broad spectrum integrator like Redapt, it would be a good way to show a less-than-bleeding-edge production-grade environment that might appeal more to the half of the attendees whose companies are smaller than 1000 people. It would be a great opportunity for companies like that to showcase their consulting and services offerings as well.

Looking into the rsts11 crystal ball…

I don’t remember any mention of venue for next year, but I would guess some rooms and locations would be tweaked to optimize MGM Grand for InteropITX 2018. It’s very convenient for economical rooms and minimal leaving-the-hotel-complex requirements for attendees.

The new tracks structure worked, for the most part, although I expect adjustment and evolution in the content. Don’t be surprised if more hands-on sessions come around. Even though wireless tech was in short supply in the Business Hall, it was very popular in the breakouts.

I’m not expecting the Monsters of IT to have a resurgence in 2018, although it might be a good thing if they did. More security, management and automation, and some surprising new startups, are more likely to find their way into the Business Hall.

Where do we go from here?

I was asked at Interop for suggestions on how to make InteropNet more practical next year. I had some ideas above, but I could use some help. Do you feel that it was an unfortunate omission, or were you more inclined toward “I wouldn’t say I was missing it, Bob” ??

We’ll have some more coverage in the next couple of weeks, including another update on NBase-T network technology (which made a much more substantial showing in terms of available-to-buy-today offerings this year), so stay tuned to our “interop” tag for the latest.

And of course, while it’s too early for me to apply for media credentials, it’s not too early to start thinking about InteropITX 2018.

Registration isn’t quite ready yet, but you can sign up to be notified (and get updates on submitting to present next year as well!). Click above or visit interop.com to join the notification list today!

Disclosure: I attend InteropITX as independent media, unrelated to and unaffiliated with my day job. Neither UBM/InteropITX nor any vendor covered have influence over or responsibility for any of my coverage.

What verse are we on? The fifth! Back at Interop ITX Las Vegas

I’m back in Las Vegas for my fourth time this MLife season, and my fifth time at Interop (now Interop ITX). And it’s a little bit different this year. [Disclosures below]

Quick takes:

The most obvious change is the venue; they announced at the end of Interop 2016 that the event would move to MGM Grand’s Conference Center, one  Las Vegas block down the Strip from its previous home at Mandalay Bay. This means a smaller, more focused event, as MGM has a smaller facility than Mandalay, but it likely also means more affordable accommodations at the event hotels. (I would have enjoyed an extra Amex FHR stay at Delano, but Signature at MGM is good enough.)

Some staff changes have happened, particularly Meghan Reilly taking the reins of the event from Jennifer “JJ” Jessup, who moved on to a different company and role after last year’s event. JJ and the team encouraged me to stay involved with the event even after going to the Dark Side, and I’m grateful for her influence over the past few years. But I haven’t seen any fallout from the transition yet. The staff keeps things going, even with the traditional Monday hiccups on food and beverage logistics.

There also seems to be more of a focus on the educational content as opposed to the expo floor. Well over a dozen in-depths events will occupy each day Monday and Tuesday, with prominent names from various corners of the IT ecosystem. The “Business Hall” is still there, and will have about a hundred exhibitors according to the Interop website, but people have noticed many of the big names of past years scaled back or passing on the event altogether.  I’ve also seen some of my perennial favorites sit this one out.

I would say both of these items are good, for various reasons. While it was beneficial to have the Monsters of IT(tm) on the floor pitching their latest wares, I would expect this year to allow more of a focus on new, more agile, more adaptable players in the market. And with what seems (to me at least) to be a stronger focus on content vs exhibitors, the event becomes even more of a unique, substantially community-driven, substantially vendor-independent tech conference.

It’s true that if you want to see Cisco, Dell, and HP side by side, you’re mostly out of luck unless you find a third party proprietary conference (like VMworld or SAP Sapphire), but I expect that increased exposure to the new and rising players will have a positive effect on some of the larger companies. As each of the giants realizes they can’t differentiate based on their own true believers alone–and to be honest, that’s the core of each vendor’s own conference–perhaps they’ll come back to the table.

It’s also true that, if you are looking for more general IT and technology coverage than the USENIX events offer, especially around the business and culture side of IT, Interop ITX is pretty much the only game left in town.

Where do we go from here?

I’ll be heading into some content today and tomorrow, in between working on some other slides and writing. If you’re brave, follow me on Twitter at @gallifreyan for realtime observations, or if you’re attending Interop ITX, follow me on the app.

Disclosure: I attend Interop as independent media, on personal vacation time, not under the auspices of my day job. Tech Field Day generously brought me here my first two years, but for the past three years inclusive, I have attended on my own dime (although Interop does provide media attendees with lunch and coffee as well as full access to the conference). Any opinions in my coverage of the event are mine alone, and have not seen prior review by anyone involved in the event.

Further disclosure: autocorrect is being religious as I write this on my iPad. JJ’s last name became Jesus quite often, and apparently Apple wants Interop to have a stronger focus on convent. I’ll have nun of that, thank you.