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Recommendations needed for setting up new Gen8 Microserver


Jadonr
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I just purchased HP's Gen8 Microserver and plan to install Windows server 2012 for use as a home server. I purchased from someone who had used it previously so it included a P222 RAID controller. The previous user also had a micro SD card with ESXI loaded on it.  I have 4 x 2TB hard drives that I plan to configure as a RAID 10. So I have a few questions:

 

  • Is there any benefit to using the P222 RAID controller over the onboard B120i?
  • My thought was to install Windows to the microSD card, leaving all of the remaining hard drive space for data. Will Windows perform slower if it is installed in this way?
  • Would it be better to use ESXI or Hyper-V on the micro sd and then install Windows as a virtual machine? I can't really think of a reason that I would need virtualization other than to have remote access when the computer is off-line. But I will have iLO for that.
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The P222 is much faster and supports more RAID levels than the B120i. Did the P222 come with a memory card on it? It is not recommended to run Windows server from a flash memory card, too many writes from the OS. ESXi or Hyper-V will run from the micro-SD card, but why would you want to? Not sure what virtualization has to do with remote access? With the equipment you have, I would buy a small SSD, floppy to SATA power cable and SFF8087 to SATA data cable. Connect the front four drive bays to the P222 and connect the SSD to the B120i. Put the SSD in the ODD area. Load Windows server on the SSD.

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And if I recall correctly, let the B120i run in RAID mode with only one disk. That means setting up your SSD prior installing WS2012.

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The only requirement evident from your intro. text is the need to store 4TB of data securely - so I'll assume that's all you want for now.

1. Nice hardware ... can we assume the G8 has a decent XEON cpu (and how much RAM have you got)?

2. If you ONLY want a storage server then you would be waaay over the top with Server 2012 and the P222 ... and missed an important architectural issue.

a. If you are building a storage server then you are going to pump data into it and extract a fraction of data from it, to and from other workstations on your LAN. Since GBE networking and HDD's work at around 100MB/s ... it doesn't matter how fast your CPU's are ... and it doesn't matter if your workstations have SSD's - the network and HDD's on the storage server can only work at 100MB/s.

b. For most home usage you are going to be operating on a fast workstation .. .and when you are finished with a piece of work send it to the storage server. Does it really have to go faster than 100MB/s?  No: while copying you will get on with something else. And what if you want to serve up a video file for real-time viewing? Doesn't need 100MB/s.

c. Most likely you will access data via shared folders e.g. /Work, /Photographs, /Videos. Do you need Server 2012 to operate with shared areas? No. Windows 10 Home would do. A LINUX distro would do, since it exports shared file systems via SMB.

d. The other thing you almost certainly want to do is maintain the server headless, so after the initial build use Windows Remote Desktop. Do you need iLO? No: but that doesn't mean you can't learn how to use it if you want to operate more professionally (than I do) and have extra functionality. So Windows Home + Teamviewer (or similar) would work ... or if you want Windows 10 Pro. Remote desktop to a LINUX machine with SMB shares via free XTeminal is also capable (I have a guide under the Hyper-V topic somewhere herein).

e. The only good reason I can see for the expense of Server 2012 is to exploit the security features of ReFS. (An experimental route might be the inclusion of ZFS in newer LINUX distros.)

f. But what if you need/want 200MB/s? The G8 has 2xGBE ports, so cable both up and take advantage of SMB Multichannel


Do your workstations have 2xGBE ports and SSD's? If not you are still limited to 100MB/s. If so ... then now I can see a use for the P222 in RAID 10 mode. Will it be capable of 200MB/s bandwidth (others on this forum  might know, not I. I would buy 3 low-end G8's rather than a single P222 card at list prices in the UK ... and SCALE OUT rather than UP).

g. The P222 has the advantage of an external SAS port ... worth considering for expanding into further attached storage bays (again others on this forum have explored this topic. Question for Schoodoggy et al; quantify how 'much faster' the P222 is over the B120i - 200MB/s, more?).

h. In your position I would:

- take out the SD card

- take out the P222 controller

- build a B120i RAID 1 volume to house an OS and a separate data partition using 2x2TB disks

- build another RAID 1 volume to house a data partition using the other 2x2TB disks (separate so that when you want to go to 2x4TB ... or 2X10TB you don't have to interfere with the OS partition, which on the G8 is limited to 2TB by BIOS)

- buy an OEM copy of Windows 10 Pro

- EITHER buy a 6-8TB external USB3 drive (the G8 has 2xUSB 3 ports out back) and enable File History (or similar) keeping the disk off-site (maybe buy that before tinkering with your existing disks if they have data on!!)

- OR use a cloud storage provider e.g. Backblaze Unlimited, which becomes better and better value as your storage volume increases

- virtualisation: no need (but you get Hyper-V with W10 Pro if you just want to play adn the G8 has a decent XEON cpu)

- spend more time thinking about how this is going to pan out in the future. If you'e not sure about buying W10Pro, use the evaluation copy of W10 Enterprise pro tem (easy to change so long as the OS partition is separate)

3. There are  lots of other options herein ... so how much data, when and what other jobs will the server have to do?

Did my waffle answer ANY of your questions ;-)

Edited by JackoUK
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Thanks for the great thoughts and ideas you guys. Just to provide some corrections to my hardware, I actually have a P212 rather than a P222. It includes a 256 MB memory chip. I believe the server has the 2.3 GHz Xeon processor and for sure 16 GB of RAM.

I will be mainly using it as a file server, but it will also be used as an app server for some client machines that I have. The company I work for is providing me with a free copy of server 2012. All my workstations have SSD hard drives and gigabit cards.

What I have learned so far:

  • P212 SAS controller not needed as I won't be able to realize the additional performance since the bottleneck will be my 7200K hard drives on my server. Use the B120i instead.
  • Virtualization will not be needed.

New questions that I now have:

  • Will I achieve more performance by "building a B120i RAID 1 volume to house an OS and a separate data partition using 2x2TB disks" or
  • installing the OS on a small SSD (I'm thinking a 64 GB or 128 GB drive would be sufficient)?
  • What is the advantage of setting up a RAID 1 volume for my OS if I only have a single SSD drive?
  • Would I really not get more performance by using a RAID 10 rather than a RAID 1? If not I guess I now get 8 TB of space rather than 4 TB.
  • Would there be any performance increase if I use both GBE ports on the server? I'm guessing not since I do not have the same on my workstations.

Note: I would definitely like to be able to expand to larger drives in the future without having to rebuild the RAID.

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"I will be mainly using it as a file server, but it will also be used as an app server for some client machines that I have."

Sounds like you have what I would call a 'single user network'. There is a world of difference between a single user system with lots of devices and a multi-user network with lots of devices: the latter needs more bandwidth and management control to handle concurrent use.

There are 2 potential bottlenecks: network bandwidth and HDD IO rate.

a. You can increase network  bandwidth by increasing network connections.

b. You can increase IO rate by using RAID 0 over 2 disks or RAID 10 over 4 disks (the latter will also give you resilience against a single disk failure). I have no figures for the B120i (which is a firmware solution) versus the P212 (which is hardware). I would expect the hardware to be faster.

 

"Will I achieve more performance by "building a B120i RAID 1 volume to house an OS and a separate data partition using 2x2TB disks" 

No. RAID 1 only gives you protection against an HDD failure. The reason I suggested two RAID 1 arrays is for when you decide to swap in bigger disks. If you use 4 by 2TB disks in a RAID 10 configuration you are snookered when you want to move up to (say) 6TB disks. If you have one RAID 1 array of 2 by 2TB  disks with an  OS parititon (say 64GB) and the remainder as data (so 2TB less 64GB) ... and another RAID 1 array with 2 by 2TB data only ... then you can replace the second array with 2 by 6TB disks leaving the first array alone. Now you have 2TB + 6TB = 8TB, doubling your storage space. If you go 4 disks as RAID 10 you have to replace them all at once. Further you cannot go above 2TB for the OS disk because the G8 is a BIOS machine.

 

"installing the OS on a small SSD (I'm thinking a 64 GB or 128 GB drive would be sufficient)? "

This will make the OS run faster but not moving data in and out of the machine. If you install all your target apps on this drive it will help too. The SSD needs to be large enough to run the OS and all apps with a bit to spare. I'd say at least 128GB.

The other benefit of installng the OS and apps on a single SSD in the ODD port is that it frees up all 4 of the 3.5" drive bays. Now you can have a nice configuration of:

- OS and apps running on an SSD

- data running in a 4 disk RAID 10 array

The only thing you are missing is resilience to an SSD failure.

 

"What is the advantage of setting up a RAID 1 volume for my OS if I only have a single SSD drive?"

No can do - you would need 2 SSD's which would destroy the options for HDD's.

 

"Would I really not get more performance by using a RAID 10 rather than a RAID 1? If not I guess I now get 8 TB of space rather than 4 TB."

Yes but I don't know how much (others on this forum might and there are various builds with IO rate figures already posted, so worth a search herein).

No - RAID 10 with 4 by 2TB HDD's is only 4TB.

 

"Would there be any performance increase if I use both GBE ports on the server? I'm guessing not since I do not have the same on my workstations."

Correct: the WS disks have to be capable of 200MBs, the WS network and the G8 network has to be capable of 200MBs and the disks on the receiving server have to be capable of 200MBs. Everything has to be balanced. 

However if a few of the worksations are operating concurrently (as they would be in a  small company) then though each would  never present a load of more than 100MBs ... since they are all talking to the server at once the data into the server could easily be 200MBs, so dual cabling the G8 would be beneficial.

 

Some test build suggestions (test = all data used considered expendable or backed up):

1. Build the server as: 2 by 2TB RAID 1 with an OS and data partition; 2 by 2TB RAID 0 using the B120i RAID feature .

Test the IO rate of RAID 1 and RAID 0.

2. Repeat using the P212 controller.

3. Build the server as 4 disks in RAID 10 using the B120i.

4. Same RAID 10 with P212.

Now you will be familiar with the system and know what the figures are for yourself!

That's the rest of Sunday afternoon sorted then ;-)
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The other advantage of fitting an SSD in the ODD bay is that it allows you to use any size HDD in all four bays (only the OS is limited to 2TB).

 

I'd think about a docking station for testing, backups and future migrations, if you have no existing solution.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/TeckNet-Docking-Cloning-Function-Tool-free/dp/B018EOZGU2/ref=sr_1_10?ie=UTF8&qid=1469351259&sr=8-10&keywords=hdd+usb+docking+station

 

If I can be blunt ... the questions you are asking indicate that running the tests I suggested are pretty much essential to get you up to speed.

Learning to manage Windows Server, both HP RAID controllers and the G8's peculiarities from scratch is no easy task.

I know because I've practiced screwing up big chunks of data! 

Edited by JackoUK
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Sounds like great advice. Without a doubt, the hard drives will be my bottleneck since I will likely only be accessing the server with a single user at a time. I'm going to go for a raid 10 and a single ssd. Upgrading the drives all at once is fine. I'm not concerned about ssd failure as I'll have an image that I can restore from if needed. The downtime shouldn't be a problem since it's a home environment. Since I'm planning on having the is on only a single ssd, do I need to do anything special with the raid controller for setup?

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The SSD will be on the ODD SATA port, in the RAID configuration tool setup the SSD as a single drive RAID0. I would install Windows Server on the SSD, before setting up the RAID10.

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Ok, it may be a week or so before I'll be ready to start. Thanks for all the great advice and I'll report back my progress.

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