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Comparing VMware Home Lab Solutions: HP ProLiant Microserver Gen8 vs HP ProLiant DL320e Gen8 v2

May 22, 2014

My lab environment is regularly revised with new lab equipment to demonstrate and test different products.  The one thing that has remained constant is my use of VMware ESXi.  When considering new equipment for the lab, I prefer to purchase equipment that is on VMware’s Hardware Compatibility List.  However there have been several occasions in the past where I opted for equipment that had become widely adopted by the community (e.g. Intel NUC and Apple Mac Mini).

This year, I had set the following goals for my new Home Lab environment:

  • Hardware should be on the VMware HCL or supported within the VMware Community
  • Energy Efficient, consuming no more than 80 WATTS per host.
  • Quiet, it will be located in a closet but I don’t want to hear it.
  • Lightweight, light enough to fit on the top of a Telco rack or be rack mounted.
  • Powerful, a minimum of an Intel XEON CPU and the ability to support a minimum 32 GB of RAM.
  • Affordable, less than $1200 per host.
  • Pre-built, out-of-the-box ready although I would be willing to upgrade memory or and hard disk drives.
  • Dual-nic Support, Must be able to support two NICs with at least one supporting WoL.

This review will focus on two solutions that are both currently listed on the HCL.  The two candidates I have identified for my new Home Lab include the HP ProLiant Microserver Gen8 Ultra Micro Tower Server System and the HP ProLiant DL320e Gen 8 v2 Rack Server System.

HP Proliant MicroServer Gen8

Screen Shot 2014-06-08 at 5.20.00 AM

The Microserver is an outstanding home lab candidate because of the amount of features it packs into it’s lightweight small footprint.  With low power consumption (150 watt power supply), an expansion slot for a PCIe card (albeit Low Profile), and support for four LFF SATA hard disk drives there is a lot to love about this little server.  Historically the problem has always been the use of low power CPUs, it was the sole reason that I retired the NL40 Microserver that was previously a member of my home lab.  Poor processing performance now appears to be a thing of the past!  The HP QuickSpecs Overview for the Gen8 model shows that the Intel Xeon E3-1220Lv2 (2.3Ghz/2-core/3MB/17W) Processor is officially supported which is why the Microserver made the VMware Hardware Compatibility list.

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Last year a gentleman named Benjamin Bryan took it a step further by upgrading to the more powerful Intel Xeon E3-1230v2 (3.3Ghz/4-core/8MB/69W) Processor and wrote the bLOG article Installed Xeon E3-1230v2 in Gen8 HP Microserver detailing the upgrade and his results. Although the Microserver architecture is passively cooled with a heatsink rated for a max TDP of 35W, Benjamin successfully used the more powerful Intel Xeon E3-1230v2 (3.3Ghz/4-core/8MB/69W) Processor.  At the time of this writing NewEgg offered the HP Proliant Microserver Gen8 Ultra Micro Tower Server System with an Intel Celeron G1610T CPU for $409.99 and the Intel Xeon E3-1230v2 Ivy Bridge 3.3Ghz CPU for $229.99.  With a little labor, and some thermal paste your new server base price comes in at $639.98.  Florian Grehl of Virten.net also put together a table of CPU options in addition to documenting the many features of the MicroServer in his bLOG article vSphere5 Homelab – ESXi on HP MicroServer Gen8. Remember that the Microserver’s passively cooled architecture will limit your CPU upgrade options so choose wisely.

With the processor selection made your next course of action would be to upgrade the standard 2GB of memory.  You will certainly want to discard the included 2GB DIMM because the MicroServer only has 2 DIMM slots (supporting max memory 16GB).  The limited number of DIMM slots and max memory of 16GB are the MicroServer’s Achilles heal, and will limit the total number of virtual machines you will be able to run on this server.

HP ProLiant DL320e Gen8 v2

Screen Shot 2014-06-08 at 5.21.18 AM

Although the DL320e Gen8 v2 uses a completely different form factor (1U Rack Mount), it is also offered in a very small lightweight footprint.  Measuring in at 17.1″W x 15.07″D x 1.7″H and weighing only 14.3 lbs this is certainly one of the smallest “pizza box” servers you can mount in a rack (see the HP QuickSpecs Overview).  Like the Microserver, you will also find the DL320e listed on the VMware Hardware Compatibility List.

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The base Smart Buy HP ProLiant DL320e G8 E3-1220V3 LFF US Server is currently offered at Provantage for $633.67 although you may want to consider purchasing the Smart Buy HP ProLiant DL320e G8 E3-1240V3 SFF US Server for $797.00 since the Intel Xeon E3-1220V3 CPU does not support HyperThreading.  The DL320e is ready to go out-of-the-box, no CPU upgrade required.  It also supports up to 32GB of RAM, four SFF hard disk drives, and has a dual port 1GB 332i Ethernet Adapter.

Here is a quick comparison of the two servers:

HP Proliant MicroServer Gen8 HP Proliant DL320e Gen8 v2
Form Factor Ultra Micro Tower 1U
Processor Intel Xeon E3-1200v3 Family Intel Xeon E3-1200v3 Family
Chipset Intel C204 Series Chipset Intel C204 Series Chipset
Memory Max 16GB; 2 DIMM slots ECC 32GB; 4 DIMM slots ECC
Storage (4) LFF SATA (2) LFF or (4) SFF
Storage Controller B120i B120i
Network 1GB 332i Ethernet Adapter 2 Ports 1GB 332i Ethernet Adapter 2 Ports
Graphics Integrated Maxtrox G200  Integrated Maxtrox G200
Expansion Slots (1) PCIe 2.0 x16 Low Profile (LP) (1) PCIe 2.0 x4 LP & (1) PCIe 3.0 x16
Power Supply 150W 300W
Dimensions (W x D x H) 9.06″ x 9.65″ x 9.15″ 17.1″ x 15.07″ x 1.7″
Weight 15.1 lb 14.3 lb
Server Management iLO4 iLO4
Warranty 1-year 1-year

The Winner!

Side-by-side there are many similarities between the internals of both servers, it is the form factor and memory support that represent the most significant differences.  Although I would have preferred the MicroServer form factor, I couldn’t overcome its memory limitation.  As a result I decided to purchase DL320e Gen8 v2.

Here is the itemized list of the components I ordered:

QTY Description Cost Vendor
1 Smart Buy HP ProLiant DL320e G8 E3-1220V3 LFF US Server 633.67 Provantage
1 Kingston KTH-PL316EK4/32G 32GB 1600MHZ ECC KIT 364.96 Provantage
1 HP 3.5″ Hard Drive Carrier (Part 691585-001) 93 eBay
1 Sandisk 8GB MicroSDHC Class 10 SDSDQU-008G-U46A 15.12 Provantage
Total $1,106.75

Within 24-hours my server arrived from Provantage, quite possibly the fastest ground shipping I have ever used! When I unboxed the server I was surprised to find that one of the drive bays did not include an empty drive carrier or blank cover.  This has become commonplace for HP and it is important for you to know that the drive carriers are difficult to source (at the time of this writing they were only available on eBay through a single vendor), and they are expensive ($93 each, shipped).

Hardware Installation

Upgrading the memory on this server was painless, I removed the included 4GB DIMM and installed the Kingston 32GB 1600MHz ECC Upgrade Kit KTH-PL316EK4/32G in a matter of minutes.  I am booting this server from the internal MicroSD slot with ESXi 5.5 U1 installed on a Sandisk 8GB MicroSDHC card.  You will want to download the Customized VMware ESXi for HP ProLiant Servers directly from HP if you also plan on installing ESXi.  The utility Unetbootin is a handy way to get the ISO image on the SD card.  I am also using a Samsung 512GB 840 Pro Series 2.5″ SSD to host a local VMFS datastore, although a bit tricky to install, I used the 2nd drive bay to plug this drive in without a carrier.  I placed a small square of 3M double-sided tape under the drive to ensure that the drive was level.  If you plan on adding a hard drive you will need to purchase the HP 3.5″ Hard Drive Carrier (Part 691585-001) for the ridiculous price of $93 with shipping. I purchased the hard drive carrier and am currently using it as a cover for the 2nd drive bay.  The blank cover is to large to cover the drive bay with the 2.5″ directly plugged in.

Once I had all of the hardware installed I plugged the server in and powered it up.  The first task was to configure the B120i controller to recognize the Samsung SSD.  You will need a keyboard AND mouse for this task.  For specific instructions see the HP Dynamic Smart Array RAID Controller User Guide.  Since I am using a single drive I configured a RAID0 Array, then again rebooted the server.  Boot time for the DL320e with ESXi 5.5 U1 is a staggering 6m 15s! If you plan on rebooting this server frequently it is certainly something worth considering.

Is it Noisy?

Noise is always a concern for me since my lab environment resides in my home.  It appears as though many owners are having a hard time keeping these servers quiet.  The community knowledge thread MicroServer Gen8 is noisy started on 8/18/2013 reveals that HP may not have resolved the issue.  Unfortunately I learned about this issue AFTER I had purchased my server.  Since the DL320e Gen8 v2 shares the same architecture as the MicroServer I was concerned.  My DL320e is bundled with firmware revision P80 (2014.03.27) and I am happy to report that with the temperature in my server closet currently at 78 degrees Fahrenheit, ESXi currently reports all three fans running at 6.27 percentage (62 decibels with my RadioShack Sound Level Meter hovering over the front face panel).  For me, this server is not quiet enough to sit in my office it is better suited for a server closet.  The DL320e is no match for the Mac Mini (15 dBA) or the Intel NUC (11 dBA) which are welcome office companions.  Word to the wise, if you place this server in a room close to where your significant other is sleeping I would not advise you to turn it on or reboot it at 1:30 AM. The sound of the fans in the DL320e at boot are as loud as any other rack mount server.  Quite honestly I was surprised that so much noise could come out of such a small server!

How many kWh?

Power Consumption is another factor I use in the decision making process for server purchases.  I had read that power consumption was fairly low on this server.  Using my P3 Kill A Watt P4400 Electricity Monitor I found that the DL320e consumes 32 watts powered on once it has started ESXi 5.5 U1 with an installed Samsung 840 Pro SSD. Note: Powered-off/Standby consumption was measured at 7 watts.  Although these numbers don’t compete with the Mac Mini (23 watts) or Intel NUC (11 watts) they are respectable for a server found on the VMware Hardware Compatibility List.

Conclusion

Overall, I am very happy with my decision to purchase the DL320e.  The only complaints that I have are the lack of included drive carriers and the lengthy startup time.  I am not currently experiencing any noise issues with my configuration, however it is certainly something worth investigating if you plan on purchasing this server.

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