Sunday, July 14, 2019

My new HP Microserver G10

Hi All,

My name is Epsilon, from Adelaide, South Australia.

I decided to start a new blog called Virtualised!

This blog is covering my adventures with modern systems, servers and more.

Today for my first blog entry I want introduce myself a bit and to look at my newest purchase, a HPE Microserver G10.

But to understand why I bought this, it helps to first know a bit about me - maybe more than you want to know. Hopefully this is not too boring!

I have been working in IT for over 20 years, and seen a lot of change in that time. Upskilling is a constant task if you want to remain useful in this industry long term. Systems like the HPE Microserver G10 can really help with that process.

Back in 1998 when I started working in the IT industry here in Adelaide, the IT landscape was very different to today.

Growing up as a kid I played with Intellivision, played and programmed in BASIC and assembly on Commodore 64, Commodore 128 and Commodore Amiga 1000/500/2000/1200 systems, before moving to IBM PC systems. I knew very young as a kid that I wanted to work in IT!

I studied and got a Computer Science degree in the mid-late 1990's, while also playing around with lots of different Linux, DOS, OS/2 Warp, Novell, MacOS System 7,8,9, Windows for Workgroups 3.11, Windows 95, Windows NT4 and even Amiga systems (using ported Unix development tools). I learned to program in C, C++, ADA, Cobol, Assembly, Pascal, AMOS and more!

I still get involved today in the Amiga scene (as a hobby) doing beta testing of new AmigaOS 4 versions on NextGen AmigaOne X1000, X5000 and A1222 systems (and Classic Amigas too) which is still very much alive. There is a special place in my heart for Amiga systems. You can see more about all things Amiga on my other blog here:

Moving on to the mainstream desktop front, I migrated on to PowerPC/Intel Mac and PC systems journeying through Windows 95/98, 2000, XP, Windows 7, Windows 8, MacOS X (10.2-10.14) - now running the latest Windows 10 Pro and MacOS Mojave on my current systems, an Alienware 15R4 and the latest Mac Pro.

I was initially employed in the IT industry in 1998 as a systems administrator, supporting MS-DOS 6.22 and Windows for Workgroups 3.11 desktop clients (later Windows 98/NT4 desktops) with Office 95/97. As well as this I was building new Windows NT4 servers and Red Hat Linux servers for ERP systems like Pronto and Pick.

I even fixed up creaky old Symantec Q&A database software for the Year 2000 bug fixes!

I also dabbled in network builds and setups with HP switches and networked office setups across Australia, and Windows NT4 Terminal Server setups.

I moved on from that to a new employer setting up an in-house primary regional Data centre for the Asia Pacific region right here in Adelaide, and building IT infrastructure, servers and global networking to connect to new sites I helped build across Asia including Australia, Singapore, Malaysia, Japan, China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and South Korea.

Photos by the way are included from sites and IT infrastructure I built (or helped to), used, decommissioned and all no longer exist today - in case you were wondering. Such is the rate of progress in IT!

At that time IT was all about large numbers of physical servers, onsite big data centre rooms across multiple regions, large regional IT teams.

Windows Server 2000/2003, Windows XP, Office XP/2003, Sage CS3 (now Sage line 500), IBM AS/400, Citrix Metaframe XP, Cisco routers, HP & Cisco switching, BackupExec Tape backup systems, Robotic tape libraries and Checkpoint firewalls.

The company pivoted to a new centralised global IT model with outsourced data centres, and I  helped build a new regional Data centre in Japan (Tokyo) to service the region (with a backup node in Adelaide). I thoroughly enjoyed this job and designed and personally built hundreds of servers, applications and networks in that time.

I built things like Citrix XenApp, global connected multiple Exchange 2003/2010 environments, Lotus Domino (Lotus Notes) groupware and email migrations, Active Directory, file servers, SQL servers, fault tolerant load balancing web servers, multiple ERP and EDI servers, WSUS, and many specific business application servers. Simple and complex EIGRP and BGP regional and global networks with MPLS with COS and QOS, Frame relay, Dark fibre, ISDN, Riverbed network accelerators too!

I saw the shift going away from physical servers to virtualised infrastructure using VMWare GSX/ESX (later ESXi) and Microsoft Hyper-V hypervisors and the need to reskill in these technologies (which I did) as part of designing and building out virtualised systems in the new Data centre in Japan.

Moving to Windows Server 2003R2, 2008/2008R2 32bit and starting into 64bit versions too. Tape backup systems moving to hybrid disk and tape backups by this time - de-duplication backup technologies like Veeam coming into the picture.

With the shift from regional teams to a true Global IT model and moving of my role to another area it was needed to reskill again to fit into the new organisation. I decided to learn new IT skills in Cisco Voice over IP phone systems, which I then designed and rolled out across Asia Pacific.

These new systems were interconnected and integrated with global phone systems using the global network MPLS and VPN links using multiple centralised Cisco UCCX Call Centres, Call Manager and Unity Connection deployments, on Cisco MCS physical servers, H323 voice gateways, SRST support, utilising ISDN and later SIP technologies.

For a while I was involved in building and maintaining a mixed hybrid outsourced Data centre and in-house Data centre for another 2 employers, which involved reskilling in fabric SAN's, higher end Cisco network devices and newer versions of Citrix XenApp 5, Citrix Netscalers, ESX Vsphere 4/5 with SAN DRS replication, site recovery services, Powershell, Microsoft MDT 2012, Windows 7, and more!

Ultimately I moved again to another employer where I reskilled in the use of modern day cloud technologies such as Microsoft Azure, Amazon Web Services, Office 365, Exchange Online, ERP PAAS and Payroll SAAS where the servers and services are not hosted on physical hardware we own, but instead hosted overseas by Microsoft/Amazon and large managed service providers in Australian located Data Centres in a pay for what you use model.

I also upskilled in rolling out Windows 10 for desktop clients locally using newer 2019 Microsoft MDT and newer Cisco Call Manager / Unity phone system versions running on ESXi in voice gateways, and newer technology solutions like Software Defined Networking (eg. Fortinet) SD-WAN which remove the vendor lock-in for multiple wide area network connections and take best of breed solutions regionally instead.

Whew - listing this out (and this list is very far from exhaustive) makes me realise how much I have done already, but there is so much more to do and learn!

I still like working in IT and get a real buzz analysing business needs and creating new IT solutions!

With that said, I feel with this latest shift to cloud technologies I am starting to lose the important current skills to understand the functionality improvements in new versions of Windows Server 2016/2019, VMware ESXi, Linux Debian 18/19, Citrix Virtual Apps and Desktop (formerly Xenapp/XenDesktop), Citrix Hypervisor (XenServer), and many more, to be able to leverage new systems to best advantage for business.

I decided to help myself to reskill in newer technology by purchasing a personal HPE Microserver for myself, which brings me to the point of this blog entry.

Given I am paying for the server myself, I am concerned about not spending too much, but enough to make the unit useful for upskilling, without drawing a lot of power at home!

Yes I know I could use Azure/AWS for this, but hitting the bare metal and building myself is part of the fun for me! I make mistakes and learn how to fix things along the way - a valuable skill since IT is rarely perfect and things do go wrong.

This blog entry is not really intended for people unfamiliar with servers, virtualisation and network concepts, and I don't intend to explain them here.

Hopefully it is useful for other IT people, but if not, then it is useful for me!

I bought a HPE Microserver G10 from Sydney based, base model AMD X3216 2-core 1.6-3.0Ghz CPU, loaded with 32GB memory (maximum amount) and 4x4TB SATA disks.

PCLAN installed the disks and memory for me (as I requested) to avoid multiple boxes and having to do it myself since it was no charge to do it. Here is the box it came in:

Why didn't I buy the faster 4-core model I hear you ask? One reason really - the price.

I am not planning to run production systems on this. It is purely for trying stuff out at home to upskill. I can't justify the extra spend for that usage scenario. This is the same reason for choosing the lower 5400rpm disks rather than the faster ones.

Here is the unit out of the box - front view:

This is not the first Microserver I have bought though!

Previously I had a HP Microserver N36L I bought back in 2012 to learn more about ESXi 5/5.5, Windows Server 2012/2012R2 and Citrix XenApp 6/XenDesktop on my own time.

It was very useful back then, but after 7 years it is no longer useful for modern operating systems due to 8GB memory, 2x512GB disk and CPU core restrictions.

The N36L experience provides a useful comparison to the new one though!

Back to the new Microserver G10, the inside cover reveals 4 SATA bays, similar to the N36L but the door is no longer a swing door with a lockable key - it detaches. You can see the two USB ports at the front at the bottom left.

As mentioned I bought 4x4TB hard disks to put in it - these are not HPE branded ones so they don't come with the huge HPE markup:

On the downside it means I don't get ClearOS to play with. If you order the G10 with a HPE hard disk they include ClearOS on it for "free". Without that, you have to pay from $245.99 for ClearOS on HPE's website!

Bugger that, I intend to use ESXi anyway and I am quite capable of installing a hypervisor or OS by myself. I don't need ClearOS to run "network and application services" from a marketplace...

If you are interested though, you can download ClearOS 7 from ClearOS website for free if you choose the community version:

You can also download ClearOS Home or Business version to try eval for 30 days.

Moving on, here is the rear of the unit - you can see the USB ports, two gigabit ethernet ports, 4 USB ports, 2 display port connectors and VGA out:

Opening up the unit cover using the hand tightened screws on the back reveals a very tidy unit inside:

Looking a bit closer you can see an internal USB 2.0 port (which I will use for loading ESXi Hypervisor onto a USB stick), a PCI-e half height graphics port expansion and a PCI-e half height port. I could add extra NIC card here to gain VMNICS for additional network capacity to ESXi, or physical separation of Internet facing DMZ ports to present to ESXi. Plenty of options:

Turning the unit around you can see the 2 fully populated memory expansion ports - 2x16GB memory chips - these are cheaper third party ram sticks rather than the inflated price official HPE part numbers:

As mentioned I plan to load ESXi 6.7 Update 2 (the latest version of VSphere as I write this) on to the Microserver so I can run a number of different Virtual Machines on it.

I picked up a 32GB USB stick for the task of installing the software onto, and installed it into the internal USB port:

I realise that technically I only need a 4GB USB stick for ESXi 6.7 (actually 1/2GB is possible too I know without logs, etc), but I like future proofing for new versions and besides, the 32GB stick only cost $19!

I remember paying that much for 10x3.5 inch 720k PC floppy disks (7.2MB total capacity combined) back in the 1990' moves forward all the time. Interestingly how we all still use the floppy disk icon for saving documents in MS Office 2019! A nice nod to the past there :-)

I hooked up the Microserver G10 with a USB keyboard and mouse I had lying around from another system, and booted it up - pleased to say it worked:

I pressed F2 to enter into the UEFI BIOS:

Looking at the firmware it is ZA10A330 from January 2018, so I suspect there is a later version I want to load onto it so it is running the latest version.

A quick inspection of the HPE website reveals there is indeed a newer version, ZA10A360 (13th July 2018) for the Microserver G10.

It also mentions this latest upgrade from the current version of the BIOS will wipe my values for a number of areas as detailed in this snippet below:

When updating the System BIOS from version ZA10A320 (or earlier) to version ZA10A330 (or later), the following system BIOS configuration settings will revert to their factory default values:
  • System time and date
  • Hard drive configuration
  • Boot device sequence
  • System passwords
  • Security setup
Before performing the BIOS update, manually record the user customized values for these listed BIOS settings so they can be restored after completing the BIOS update.

Nice, thanks for that HPE. Fortunately I am running ZA10A330 already so hopefully it won't happen for me.

Annoyingly, downloading the updated firmware needs registration of my system on their website first also, so I will load it a bit later as I want to dive in a bit and play with the new hardware now. What can I say, I am an IT person after all!

Here is the Advanced screen in the BIOS:

Note that RAID for the SATA devices cannot be set here. We need to access the SATA controller setup to do this. It mentions something about UEFI Shell? I need to find out some more about that!

I also checked the Boot section of the BIOS, and confirmed the 4x4TB hard disks are detected, and the USB flash drive too. I changed the boot order so the USB flash drive is first because it will be the one booting ESXi 6.7 update 2 once I have installed it.

Next I set the BIOS mode from UEFI only to Legacy BIOS. Perhaps I didn't need to do this to access the RAID controller BIOS or boot from USB CD but I did anyway.

I think it is just a instant reaction from dealing with Windows and Linux versions that needed the BIOS set to legacy mode to work...maybe I need to adjust my thinking here as most modern OS uses UEFI boot but perhaps I might load older stuff on here too. Hmm..anyway, it is set that way for now.

After saving I hit CTRL-M when the SATA controller briefly flashes up on boot so I can configure the RAID setup for the 4x4TB hard disks - here is the initial display in the setup screen:

I suspect this BIOS/Firmware version is not the latest either..I'll check it a bit later as well.

For now though, I'll work with it.

I hit Enter to start the setup wizard to select the drives to belong to the new RAID set - They appear with an asterisk next to them:

I then set the RAID level, which is RAID10 of course!

It then shows the summary before I execute the change. I'll end up with just 7451GB (7.5TB) of usable space after the RAID10 setup operation on the four 4TB disks is completed.

Yikes - lose almost half the potential capacity of the combined disks individually (14.9TB) by using RAID10!

Next I say Sure, go ahead and create the virtual disk set:

Now I can see the new Virtual disk set, ready for use:

I intend to use this storage as disk storage for my ESXi instance, since I don't have a NAS.

I might try playing around with multiple RAID sets, but to be honest the small performance advantage is not really worth it given the slow disks I have (5400rpm). Splitting drive space up can also create plenty of annoyance with space sizing considerations for VM's under ESXi as the disks fill up.

I also could have split it up a bit to allow a file server to access the disk directly for better performance rather than as a vm created disk, but such a setup it is not transportable to another ESXi server easily if I do that.

I am thinking about getting another Microserver G10 server to play around with VCentre, Vmotion testing on new versions, etc. Would need additional NICS via a 2 port network card in that case.

I could build the extra server with FreeNAS and iSCSI to connect to this server for VM's and file storage...

Maybe even get a dedicated iSCSI NAS appliance to offload the storage with dedicated VLANS on a Cisco switch but I can see this is getting expensive real fast!

Again - this is just for trying stuff out at home for use in work environments at some future point.

In any case I have used SRS, DRS and Vmotion before in production environments of ESXi VSphere v4/5 so it is hopefully just a minor upskill to learn it in the latest v6.7 version for new changes, etc.

So for cost reasons I wanted to make use of a single server first and then consider that later if there are new features I want to learn how to use.

With the RAID changes done, I saved and rebooted the server.

I then went into the server BIOS again and accessed the Boot tab as I need to check the boot order now that the RAID is implemented. I made sure the USB stick is still first and the new RAID virtual disk appears instead of 4 separate disks - all good, it worked as expected:

That done, I am ready to start installation of ESX 6.7 Update 2 on the HPE Microserver G10. I will tackle this in my next blog entry!

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