Pimping an HP MicroServer

A couple of weeks ago, I got a new toy to play with for the office – an HP ProLiant MicroServer Gen 8! Since then, I’ve been collecting parts and working on getting it ready. It will replace our existing file server, take over virtualization duties, and should be able to handle just about anything else that we throw at it.

c03760147HP released these last summer, in a variety of configurations, and they are perfect for home and small business use. I had looked at the Gen7 version of these previously, and while perfect as a small business server, the weak processor and max of 8 GB of RAM meant that it would not be a very good VM host. This version, however, supports 16GB of RAM, and has an upgradable processor.

I started with the base version of the server available from NewEgg, which has 2 GB of RAM, a Pentium G2020T 2.5GHz (Dual Core Processor), and no hard drives or optical drives. (In hindsight, I should have gone for the Celeron version and saved $70, considering what I wound up doing). A little weak to start with, but an excellent base to build on.

The original plan was to upgrade to 16GB of RAM and add four 3TB drives to to create a 12TB storage pool. The Pentium processor was capable of virtualization, if a little weak, as it only had 2 cores and no hyperthreading, but it would have to do.

So, that’s what I started off with. I added the four 3TB Seagate Red hard drives and went to install Windows Server 2012 R2 Essentials on the server. Unfortunately, I ran into a big problem: The automatic provisioning tool did not want to format the drive as GPT, so Windows couldn’t take advantage of the full 3TB. So, my only option was to install Windows manually. After some reflection and further research, I decided to do what many others had done with this server and picked up an SSD to run as my system drive.

This, of course, caused another problem. HP, in their infinite wisdom, decided to use a 9.5mm super slim optical drive bay instead of the more typical 12.7mm slim optical drive bay. This along with the use of a 4-pin, floppy-like power connector meant that dropping an adapter tray in there was right out. Fortunately, just under the optical drive bay, there was something that plugged into a standard molex connector that could be tapped into, and there was an open SATA port on the motherboard that I could use. This meant that I could use a splitter, a SATA cable, and a zap strap and secure the hard drive in like so:

2014-01-29 19.45.33With the new system drive installed, I pulled the other 4 out so that they would not interfere with the installation and installed Windows. Everything went smoothly, so I shut down the system and popped the other 4 drives back in. After that, the system wouldn’t boot.

It turns out that the MicroServer’s BIOS will not let you specify the boot order of the hard drives, so it will always attempt to boot off the drive in slot 1. Fortunately, however, it also has an internal MicroSD slot (and internal USB port), which is considered by the BIOS to be a USB drive for the purposes of booting. This means that the bootloader can be moved to a flash drive or MicroSD Card, and that set as the first boot option, to keep it off the storage drives. TheBiggerMan over on the HomeServerShow forums put together an excellent tutorial.

With the system booting again, and after disabling the RAID controller, I set up the 3TB drives as a storage pool with parity in Windows, giving me a 12 TB storage array. This left only one thing left to do: upgrade the processor. After purchasing the server, I did some additional reading and learned that the processor can be successfully upgraded to a Xeon E3-1230V2. This removes the limitation of a weak processor, replacing the Dual-Core (non-hyperthreading) 2.5GHz Pentium with a Quad-Core hyperthreading 3.3 GHz Xeon – much better for virtualization!

The processor install went smoothly, and, with that, the build was done, leaving us with a pimped out MicroServer with a 3.3 GHz Xeon Processor, 16GB of RAM, a 12 TB storage array that will survive the failure of one drive, and a 256GB Samsung SSD as a boot drive – a pretty nice upgrade when all is said and done! Right now, it’s sitting under my desk copying files off the old server – soon it will be ready to replace it.

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