Home Datacenter Endless possibilities for a MicroServer

Endless possibilities for a MicroServer

by Philip Sellers


Lots and lots of Possibilities

This weekend, I was able to get the Proliant MicroServer Gen8 setup and powered on in my lab.  Its currently burning in and I’m doing some testing with it.  What do I think?  Well, you’ll have to wait until I have had more time with it before I share my impressions.  But that hasn’t stopped me from thinking about use cases.

Use Case – Creating a Lab environment

Beyond the stylish exterior, the HP Proliant MicroServer Gen8 can fit into a lot of possible environments and use cases.  The first one that comes to mind is my own – the home lab.  As an IT professional, its become imperative that I have a lab environment at home where I can test software and solutions. I have gotten lots of offers for trials and software from blogging and for solving my problems at work.

Many of my peers build their own whitebox systems and I have attempted recently, too.  I hadn’t built a computer in close to a decade. And my first experience trying to build a whitebox has been bumpy.  I’ll admit, I have enjoyed using a soldering iron again, but it can be frustrating trying to piece together a compatible solution.  I’d prefer to buy something ready made and that makes the MicroServer Gen8 really compelling to me.  Time is valuable, so the time I’ve spent tinkering could have been more productive if I just bought a ready-made system.

Use Case – Networked Storage

With four drive bays, the Proliant MicroServer Gen8 is capable of up to 12TB of storage on board with 3TB drives in each bay.  That makes it a viable candidate as a NAS solution for home or business.  There are so many implementations like FreeNAS and Openfiler to turn the MicroServer into a NAS appliance.

In addition to just file sharing, these software storage solutions have lots of add-on functionality to take basic file storage and make it useful in the home for being your media repository of movies, TV shows and music and being the source for streaming to your TV-connected box, your Android or iPhone or even some home stereo systems.  Add-on a VPN solution and it becomes your personal media cloud when you’re away from home, too.   FreeNAS can also serve as a destination for TimeMachine or other backup software solutions, so now not only primary storage but backup of your PCs and Macs.

Even again in a home lab situation, NAS distributions support iSCSI and NFS, making the MicroServer a viable storage target for VMware and other virtualization in a lab environment.   The NAS proposition has uses in so many ways.  In a lot of ways, this use case of a Proliant MicroServer offers a better performing and possibly lower cost alternative to a Synology or Drobo NAS device.  And if your needs change, you can alway repurpose or hand-me-down this server, where the others are only ever capable of being a NAS.

Use Case – Virtual Host

Running a hypervisor on the MicroServer should just be reserved for the lab – its capable of prime time.  A lot of small businesses don’t have space or need for racks, rackmount hardware or even pedestal servers.  In many cases, these small businesses run on three to five physical servers anyways, so consolidating these aging physical servers to two or three MicroServers would allow the business to save power and footprint.

The Proliant MicroServer Gen8 has a remarkably small footprint, low power consumption and small heat output.    It can easily sit on a desktop or a shelf and is not nearly as obtrusive as a tower, pedestal or rackmount server.  While not as condensed as a blade, it could serve a similar purpose in a small business environment.

Use Case – Microbusiness

There are a lot of one and two person businesses and the number of micro businesses seems to have exploded in recent years.  Perhaps its a combination of the Internet lowering the barriers of entry and the terrible economy pushing people out of traditional jobs.  These businesses still have traditional needs and while many use the cloud, the Proliant MicroServer Gen8 offers a compelling self hosted solution at a price point that is competative to many cloud solutions.  A micro business may need to file or print share, have a VPN or prehaps run Remote Desktop to host a local accounting or line of business application.  And a MicroServer hosted onsite provides those features – along with the ability to access a Remote Desktop session from a mobile device on the road.

Use Case – App Server

A lot of small businesses who have either outgrown or need more tailored solutions than Quickbooks and those accounting packages usually require databases and other shared access.  This server is more than capable of running SQL Express or full Microsoft SQL and an application on bare metal along with the application.   Then there are all the customized line of business applications – from hotels, to legal, to doctor’s offices, restaurants and even mechanics.  While a lot of these have cloud solutions, many companies still rely on installed, local software to run their business and a MicroServer fits nicely.  Specifically thinking about point of sale in restaurants as a use case – having deployed several of those in my time – a compact server like this would be a welcome platform – especially at the price of these boxes.

Use Case – Policy, Accounts and Security in the Small Business

Then, there is always the business whose growing beyond the two or three person mark and needs to begin thinking about accounts, security and enforcing policy and automating some management.  The Proliant MicroServer is great for a basic AD implementation, too.  With a domain controller deployed, accounts and policy becomes possible, file shares can be more tightly secured and controlled and systems can be tied down to accounts that offer access from multiple devices.  I implemented so many of these small office when I was a consultant.  Managers or owners needed to lock down systems or ensure that only certain employees had access to some resources and AD makes that all possible.  Add solutions like WSUS and patch management becomes streamlined and managed.

The biggest competition for MicroServer

But the biggest competition for the Proliant MicroServer Gen8 is cloud, possibly more than the bigger Proliants in the portfolio.  Cloud adoption may be least resistant in the small business where the MicroServer aims for adoption.  There are certainly a lot of businesses who are abandoning their client-server applications in favor of cloud solutions, but its not for everyone.  But the days of client-server are far from over.

Disclaimer: HP provided me with both the HP Proliant MicroServer Gen8 for review at no charge.  The opinions and views of the hardware written here are entirely my own and have not been influenced or outlined by HP.  The hardware came with no strings attached.    

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