Enterprise Class Home Server on a Hobby Budget

As companies grow and spend on the latest and greatest technology, they are basically giving their old servers away.  This is great for those of us who don’t have a big budget but still like to tinker with enterprise class hardware.  Old servers are the best deal going for those who need a little extra computing power but don’t have a lot of extra cash.  Some servers that cost thousands of dollars just a few years ago can be purchased for under $20 today.

Some features of these old servers are:

  • Redundant power supplies.
  • Hot swap hard drives.
  • Remote management such as power-on and off.
  • Hardware RAID controllers with battery backup.
  • Multiple processors

Two major drawbacks of running a home rack server are the noise and power consumption.  Rack servers are built to be in a server room and the designers did not pay much attention to reducing fan noise.  If you are OK with storing the server in a closet, attic, or garage, the noise is not such a deal breaker.

Here are the specs and costs of my 2 latest cheap servers:

HP Proliant DL380 G4

Purchsed on ebay for $60 including shipping.

  • Form factor:  2U Rack server
  • Processors:  2 64-bit Intel Xeon 3.6 GHz, 800 MHz Front Side Bus and 2 MB of L2 cache
  • Memory:  6GB 3200R Single Rank
  • Power Supplies:  2 575 watt hot-plug redundant power supplies
  • Hard Drives:  Up to 8 2.5″ SAS Hot Swap drives (Server initially came with 2 73 GB drives , but purchased 2 additional for $12 each).
  • RAID Controller:  HP Smart Array P600
  • Operating System:  Ubuntu 14.04

The DL380 G4 comes with either 6 3.5" or 8 2.5" hard drive bays.
The DL380 G4 comes with either 6 3.5″ or 8 2.5″ hard drive bays.

Pros:

  1. LOTS of storage capacity with 8 hot-swap drive bays.
  2. Built like a tank.
  3. Easy processor change-out.

Cons:

  1. Single core processors.  There are dual core processors available but make sure the model you have supports multiple-core processors.  Mine doesn’t.
  2. Fans are very loud even when running in dynamic power-savings mode.
The inside of the DL380 is all business.  Most components are hot-swappable and redundant.  The processors have enormous heat sinks and very fast fans to keep cool.
The inside of the DL380 is all business. Most components are hot-swappable and redundant. The processors have enormous heat sinks and very fast fans to keep cool.
Redundant power supplies can be changed out without even powering down.
Redundant power supplies can be changed out without even powering down.

HP Proliant DL360 G5

Purchased on ebay for $62 including shipping.  This is the one I use as my everyday home server since the fan noise is comparably low and the dynamic power savings mode is very effective.  The processors also support the latest virtual machine technology.

  • Form factor:  1U Rack server
  • Processors:  2 64-bit Intel Xeon 2.33 GHz Quad Core , 12 MB cache, 1333 MHZ FSB (Purchased 2nd processor and heat sink for an additional $25)
  • Memory:  4GB PC2-5300F (Purchased an additional 4 GB for $10).
  • Power Supplies:  2 700 watt hot-plug redundant power supplies
  • Hard Drives:  Up to 6 2.5″ SAS Hot Swap drives (Purchased 4 for $12 each).
  • RAID Controller:  HP Smart Array P400i
  • Operating Systems:  Ubuntu 14.04 (Host) and Windows Server 2012 R2 Evaluation VM (Guest)

Although the DL360 is smaller than the DL380, the processor and memory are definite upgrades.
Although the DL360 is smaller than the DL380, the processor and memory are definite upgrades.

Pros:

  1. Relatively low fan noise
  2. Dynamic Power Savings mode works well
  3. 8 cores of computing power along with 12MB of cache.
  4. Processors support Virtual Machines.

Cons:

  1. Still too loud to run in the living room or office.
This server originally came with one quad-core processor but I was able to find another one with a heat sink for $25.
This server originally came with one quad-core processor but I was able to find another one with a heat sink for $25.
Note the redundant power supplies.  It can run fine on one but running both doesn't consume much more power.
Note the redundant power supplies. It can run fine on one but running both doesn’t consume much more power.

5 Comments



  1. Dude:
    I’m doing the same!! Although I’m a little new to this, I’ll give it a try.
    I’m stuck on the install of Ubuntu server and configuring the RAID on a HP Proliant DL380 G4.

    Can you post how you did the install of Ubuntu on yours?
    Where did you get the drivers for the HDDs?

    Thanks

    Reply

    1. Hi Richard,

      I downloaded the HP Array Configuration utility, burned it to disk and then booted up with it. The interface is quite simple so it’s hard to mess up. But you basically take your disks and create RAID arrays out of them. Once they are set, you boot up normally and your operating system will see thm as regular disks.

      Sorry for the late reply. Hope you are having good luck with your setup!

      Reply

  2. Erik, this is very cool. I am planning a “semi-enterprise” configuration in my new home. Refurbish equipment is the way to go if you know what you are doing and obviously you do.

    I had a couple of quick questions for you, for your home network, are you using Samba or a domain controller on your unbuntu box? I was thinking of setting up a domain, but I am not willing to shell out big bucks to Microsoft for a Windows 2012 Server license.

    Reply

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