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device review

The HP ProLiant MicroServer Gen8 could be “baby’s first datacentre,” or the perfect starter server for startups or home offices

When a small business or branch office – or even a home office – gets to the stage when a computer server is on the agenda, things can get scary – and expensive. Most servers need to live in a specially climate controlled room, with special electrical power. That provides challenges on several fronts: space, cost, and, in many cases, system management expertise.

That's where the HP ProLiant MicroServer Gen8 comes in.

At HP's recent user conference, it was playfully described as "baby's first datacentre." It needs no special environment or power. It will sit quite happily in a corner, or on a reception desk, where its gentle blue glow (actually a system health indicator in disguise) and available decorator front door make it fit right in. Yes, to help it match any décor, the MicroServer's silver front door can be swapped for one in black, red, or blue. In addition, the server is tiny – roughly a nine inch cube – so it won't get in the way. And it's whisper quiet, even up close.

Naturally, a small package like this won't accommodate a lot of users. Ten to 15 is the recommended maximum number, although with an undemanding application such as file and print services, a fully-configured model should cope with a few more.

And the best part? The base model, without hard disks or operating system, starts at $597 (all prices in Canadian dollars). For that price, you get a dual core 2.3 GHz Intel Celeron processor, 2 GB RAM, dual Gigabit Ethernet ports (which can be aggregated to double throughput), HP's Integrated Lights Out (iLO) management card, and a storage controller, plus five USB 2.0 ports, and two USB 3.0 ports. A model with a 2.8 GHz Intel Core i3-3220T processor is also available; our review unit, with the Core i3, 8 GB RAM and 2 TB disk space, lists for $,1392. You can kick the RAM up to 16 GB, and add up to four SATA hard drives (for a maximum of 12 TB) and an optional DVD-RW drive.

The little guy will cheerfully run Windows Server – our review unit boasted Windows Server 2012 Express – or Linux, specifically either Red Hat Enterprise Linux or SuSE Enterprise Linux Server. HP says that VMware ESXi MN is coming soon. In a branch office, local users needn't even touch the box after they plug it in; head office IT can manage it through the iLO interface, which even lets you power the server on and off remotely. I don't even have a monitor attached to the review unit – I'm controlling it from a different area of the building, through a web browser on my PC.

If you also need a network switch, HP has designed an 8 port managed model, the PS1810-8G, priced at $194, that sits tidily in a depression on top of the MicroServer. Mind you, it's a shallow depression, so a bit of double-sided tape or Velcro may be in order to keep the switch in place once all of the wires are plugged in (the switch also fits under the server, if you prefer).

The switch has enough smarts to detect and list all MicroServers on its network, so administrators don't have to hop from iLO to iLO to manage them; they just click the name of the server they want to work on from within the switch's browser-based management interface. For larger offices, you can connect several switches, but there's also a $429 24 port model (it doesn't fit on top of the MicroServer, though). Both switches are covered by HP's enhanced lifetime warranty, which includes three years of 24/7 phone support. You get a year of warranty coverage on the server, and can purchase more if you like.

Hardware maintenance is mainly tool-free; HP includes the one tool you need to help you extract the motherboard if need be. A couple of thumbscrews secure the case, and most components are easily accessible and pop in and out easily – but are not hot swappable. If a disk fails, you turn the server off before changing it. There's also only one power supply; this is not a server for high availability applications which need redundant components!

Server setup is simple and quick – plug in network cables and power, and turn it on. HP's Intelligent Provisioning tools make initial configuration easy, and integrated management tools let the admin, whether onsite or remote, keep the MicroServer humming.

So whether it's for a small office, home office, or even a dorm startup, the HP ProLiant MicroServer Gen8 is a great choice. Its tiny footprint, undemanding environment needs, low price and manageability let it fit in virtually anywhere, and look good to boot.