Before you decide to build your own server it is best to make a checklist of all of the tasks that you are expecting it to perform. There is no point in spending huge amounts of money on building a server just to get something that is more powerful than you need when you are never going to use that processing power.
When I first decided to build a server it was something that I had been contemplating for a while. In fact it was just a natural expansion of my home media network. I already had a several Terabytes of hard drives crammed into one of my Windows Vista computers to store all my media files and backups. Unfortunately it wasn’t the most reliable of machines and had a tendency to lose the network connection or reboot half way through watching a movie.
To be honest I wasn’t actively searching for a server at the time but I subscribe to several hardware newsletters and I saw an offer for a HP ProLiant Microserver with a £100 cashback offer. It was too good an offer to resist as these microservers are already cheap. After the discount I picked this beauty up for less than £140. Claiming the cashback offer was very easy and I had the cheque within the month. This was an offer in the UK but there are probably similar offers in the US and elsewhere.
You can also build your own server from component parts but personally I didn’t see the point when this computer was so cheap but I would probably have gone that route if the HP microserver hadn’t been on offer.
Build Your Own Server – Hardware
Build Your Own Server : HP ProLiant Athlon II Neo N36L MicroServer
From all the reviews that I’d read online this was a very capable server. Here are a few of the server specifications.
- Ultra micro tower (21 x 26 x 26.7cm)
- AMD Athlon II Neo N36L / 1.3GHz
- 1GB DDR3 SDRAM
- HDD 1x 250GB
- Gigabit Ethernet
- Four Internal Drive Bays & One Front Bay
It appears very well designed and robust. Four drive bay mounts are included, one already housed the standard 250GB drive that came with the system, and there is an hex tool and plenty of screws stored securly in the back of the door panel to use when mounting your drives.
Thanks to a large 12 inch cooling fan the microserver manages to remain virtually silent when in operation. This is thanks to the low power processor and 200w psu (non redundant power supply). When the server is fully running it should only draw around 70 watts.
Tip: Build your own server using large fans as they can shift the same amount of air but at a slower rpm which helps to make for a quieter PC.
There are two half height expansion slots available if you would like to add a more powerful graphics card but as I am running it headless there was no need for this. It wasn’t my intention to build a server that would sit on my desk. What I needed was a computer that I could hide out of sight and access remotely.
As standard the HP Proliant Microserver comes installed with 1GB DDR3 SDRAM installed in one of the two RAM slots. You’ll have to remove it if you want to install the full compliment of 8GB. It can run ecc or non ecc memory.
There was no optical drive installed and I didn’t require one but from all accounts they are very easy to install. It is also possible to use a drive tray and install another hard disk instead of the optical drive, or even use a combination mount so that you can fit a hard disk and slim optical drive together. I’m not planning on using a DVD drive on this server but may in the future fit a cache drive for unRaid software into this slot. The 250GB drive that came with the server would be perfect for this.
As already mentioned, the server comes with a 250MB drive installed in bay 1. The maximum capacity of the HP Microserver is 4 x 2TB. Four plastic caddies are provided with the system and although the drives is not hot swappable the caddies does make mounting them a cinch.
I removed the original 250GB hard drive that came with the server and installed three Western Digital 2.0TB ( WD Cavier “Green” Advanced format Drives) which can utilise 4k alignment sectors. One is the Parity Drive and the other two are data drives.
If you have a lot of hardware then you may want to check out some tips to build your own server rack
Build Your Own Server – Software
The HP Micro Server is capable of running a variety of operating systems including Windows 7 (64 bit), Windows SBS 2011, Red Hat Enterprise Linux, Ubuntu and VMware ESX/ESXi works.
I decided upon using unRAID, from Line Technology, as it was lightweight, free and could be run from a USB drive. It is specifically designed for digital media storage which is what I was after. One of the best qualities of an unRAID server is that you can easily add capacity over time, taking advantage of on-line hard disk sales and specials as they occur. My plan was to use the free version and evaluate it using my existing drives and when I was satisfied and required more storage capacity I would register and then add more hard drives and possible a cache drive to improve write performance.
The HP Microserver is no power house by any standards but running unRaid on the 1GB of RAM supplied is no problem. If you want to use a different operating system then it will also run Linux or Windows Home Server 2011 and even multiple o/s under VMware ESXi, although you’d be recommended to increase the RAM to it’s maximum of 8GB. So not only is it suited to the home environment but it equally adaptable to use for a small business or research department.
Building a Server
I purchased a 4GB HP USB key, formatted it and installed the latest version of unRAID. The flash drive I used was a HP v225w (4GB). It has a very small form factor and a metal design, which I though might disipate heat quicker.
With the unregistered version of unRAID you are allowed to run three disks which basically consists of one parity disk and two data disks. The Parity disk is there to provide redundancy to the data disks. A requirement of the unRAID system is that the capacity of the parity disk needs to be as large or larger than the capacity of the largest data disk
Formating and installing software to the USB drive couldn’t have been easier and only took a few minutes to complete. The HP Microserver has an internal USB port for just this reason and the Microserver booted first time round, so no messing with the bios settings.
If you build your own server to boot from USB then it’s a good idea to check on the available space surrounding the USB port first as other components may block or prevent access if your flash drive is too large or bulky.
Before I could start using the server all the hard drives needed to be checked (pre-checked) and formatted. This was the most frustrating part of the whole build, not because it was difficult but because of the time it took with the 2TB drives.
I Installed just two drives to begin with. One Parity drive, for data recovery should another drive fail, and a data disk.
It took 31 hours to preclear the discs before adding them to the array and although this isn’t essential it is recommended and doesn’t lose too much time as it reduces the time to format them considerably.
The third drive was added after the server was up and running, this was also precleared before formatting and it took another 30+ hours to complete. I did it this way because the third drive was being used in my old computer and I needed to transfer the data over to the new server before I could move the drive itself. This was done more as a precaution than anything else as I already had a backup of the data. But I’m thinking that I could have saved 30 hours if all three drives had been installed at the same time.
I then set up User Shares, which are basically shared directories across multiple drives. Now I can have a Music or Movies folder that automatically splits across multiple drives so that as I add extra capacity in the future the folder will expand with it, so there is no need to have multiple Music folders for example Music-1, Music-2 etc.. it remains just Music. This saves me having to make any changes to the streaming units around the house.
I’m very happy with my HP server. It’s small, quiet, cool, boots in about 70 seconds and if I need to shut it down or access its configuration then I can do so through my iPad. As a home media server this is perfect for my needs at the moment. It actually cost more for the hard drives than it did for the server itself.
Now, at least, my data has some level of protection against a single hard drive failure and it is more than capable at sharing media to several computers and media devices around the house without interruption. There are also several plugins available for unRAID that allow you to add extra functionality such as a torrent downloader, and Squeezebox Server.
I hope this article helps in your quest to Build Your Own Server .