Enter the Server – Part Two

HP Proliant MicroServers Gen 8
Yes, there is a kit with 3 exchangeable faceplates for the Gen8.

After I got the Gen 8, it was testing time. I knew the roles I wanted for my new server:

  • File Sharing
  • Backup
  • Plex
  • Private Cloud
  • Download Management
  • SFTP Server
  • VPN Server

When the hardware arrived I had to improvise a bit, since the budget I had, was not enough for the “perfect configuration”, so I had to settle with what I bought and with what I already had.

The “perfect configuration” I mentioned before would be IMHO, to upgrade the CPU for a Intel Xeon E3-1265LV2, 16GB of RAM, 4x 4TB WD RED, a 250GB SSD for the OS or a 64GB Micro SD to boot VMWare ESXi, running an entire virtualized solution.

The bundled CPU is a Celeron G1610T, and it’s not very powerful (2 cores @ 2.3 GHz) to run VMs, but enough to run the roles I had in mind. I just needed a few more gigs of RAM and my father got me an 8GB DIMM he had laying arround that luckily was compatible with the Gen8.

So from 2GB I was now sporting 10GB of RAM which, BTW, helps a lot with the HP B120i Controller. It’s not a great controller, but for the price I don’t think it could get better. Still, if you want, there’s a PCI-E expansion slot inside the server that you can use to add another controller (or anything else).

As for the storage, I got 2x 3TB WD Red drives, I managed to scavenge some WD Green drives I had lying around. So, my current storage configuration is:

  • 1 TB drive for the OS
  • 2 TB drive for laptop backups, guest file sharing, private cloud and downloads
  • 2 x 3TB drives in RAID 1 for the main storage (photos, documents, movies, tv series, music, etc…)

As for the OS, I tried a few. FreeNAS was the first. It resembled a lot of the NAS OSs you can find in regular NAS, but a bit behind QNAP and Synology OSs. It’s very powerful and robust, it’s based on FreeBSD, but the configuration is not very user-friendly. The Plex server configuration didn’t go as smooth as it should. Still, it’s on my top 10.

Second was CentOS 7. It all ran smoothly, with an exception (very big exception that also happened with FreeNAS): the Gen8 has only on big fan for the entire system. With CentOS, the fan would not lower from 16% and the temperature sensors on the server ILO reported temperature a bit higher than expected. This is probably related with how CentOS handles the Gen8 ACPI or some drivers… either way, I didn’t have time or the patience to look for a solution.

For Synology fans, there’s also a hack of the Synology OS for X86 machines – XPEnology – but maybe because I was trying to install and boot it from the MicroSD, I didn’t have success installing it 🙁 Also, it seemed a bit too much of a hack and by then I was trying to use the Gen 8 as a full server and not just as a NAS.

I then realized that I had my Technet copy of Windows Server 2012 R2 unused 🙂 and like I work with W2k12 on a daily basis… why the hell not?

Every piece of software I need is available on Windows. As an added layer of data protection, online backup plans like Crashplan and Backblaze also run on Windows (still Backblaze doesn’t run on Windows Server or Linux). HP drivers usually are very well optimized for Windows Server, so I went ahead.

The setup was very smooth. After I installed the OS, I ran the Service Pack DVD with the latest drivers and firmware from HP and some Windows Updates later, I noticed that the temperature readings dropped a lot compared with CentOS 7. When idle, the fan doesn’t go beyond 7% even when my office is at the peak of the heat and I don’t have Air Conditioning over here, just a window. The server is very silent, and notice, that my QNAP NAS was fanless!

So, now I have my Gen8 running all the services and roles I need. Is it perfect? No, not yet, there’s still room for improvement. Perhaps when I have the time and money I might try to carry out more and transform this into a VMWare server. Right now the most important for me is that I got full fledge server that suits my needs, cheaper than a NAS, and you can’t beat a good deal like that 😀

Tips for the Gen 8
  • The best site you can go to for info on the Gen8, is this forum on the HomeServerShow site. The info they have there is precious and it was a deal breaker for me when I was considering to buy the Gen8.
  • The Gen8 has a micro sd slot on the board that you can use to boot OSs like VMWare ESXi and FreeNAS. If you don’t want to use it to boot the OS, you can still use it to keep files normally. Get a 64GB or more MicroSD and you got another storage place on your Gen 8.
  • The entry-level Gen8 I got does not come with an optical drive. Although you can get one, with all the USB ports on the server, you can boot anything from a USB pen or HDD. Besides that, you still have the virtual drives on the ILO.  Skip the optical drive and get an SSD to put there instead and boot the OS.

Feel free to ask me anything about the Gen 8, here in the comments on Twitter. I’ll be glad to share more info on this with you.

Update: Here’s part three.

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