The ProLiant ML10v2 is a tower server that places at the basis of the offering by HP Enterprise and has a very appealing price/features ratio. One of the possible uses for a product of this kind is making of a virtual lab based on VMware vSphere. With less than 500€, here’s how to make a small lab to try vSphere without sacrificing good performances.

Hardware and equipment

This server belongs to the single-socket typology in tower format (4U rackmount size). It’s available with different hardware configurations that differ mainly for the CPU: Intel Core i3-4150, Pentium G3240, or Xeon with versions E3-1220v3 o 1241v3 with 8MB third tier L3 cache memory. It comes with a default 4GByte of RAM which can be increased up to 32GByte, disk management (in some configurations a 1TByte disk is available) is provided by a SmartArray B210i controller. Speaking about networking, we can find a dual Gigabit 332i Ethernet card with Broadcom Nextreme BCM5730 chipset. HPE iLO 4 is present (it can be upgraded to the Advanced release) but without a dedicated network port.

ml10 interno

Expansion opportunities are remarkable: the motherboard offers four slots to install up to 32GByte of DDR3 Unbuffered ECC RAM, two PCIe x8 slots, one PCIe x16 slot and one PCIe x4 slot for additional cards like disk controllers, network interface cards, etc.. The unit comes with a SAS-SATA cable with 4 connectors (with power supply). The chassis of the ML10v2 has a slightly different (from the usual) solution for disks installation (HD and SSD): they must be placed in a dedicated metallic cage which is placed in the frontal panel, after removing a plastic covering.
The motherboard also offers two 6GBps SATA ports.

cage

Overall, there are 6 slots for disks, and in the upper part of the frontal part there’s place for two 5.25” bays for burners. It’s interesting to note that, unlike other products within the same tier (like the Fujitsu 1310 we have reviewed in the January issue), power supply is in ATX format which allows, albeit not having a redundant supply at disposal, to easily intervene on the main unity in case of a failure.

External connectivity is essential: two USB 2.0 ports on the frontal panel and two USB 3.0, two Gigabit Ethernet and a VGA port (to connect a monitor) on the back. On the front there’s also place for three LEDs: network state, machine state and UID (a blue led used to identify the machine should it placed in a multiple installation setting).

To conclude the hardware and chassis analysis, the back hosts a 120mm fan for internal cooling and the processor’s heatsink (fanless), which is equipped with a plastic quick-release support. As usual with tower servers by HP, inside there’s a transparent plastic structure that is shaped to let the air flow and protect inner components.

ml10 paratia

The structure is simple and tidy, noise once the boot phase is over is bearable, comparable (if not even minor) to a regular desktop.

Speaking about the device we tested, we used the configuration with the Pentium G processor and 4GByte of RAM (which we increased with two modules by Crucial), available for 200€, VAT excluded. Storage was provided by two 250GByte Samsung 850 EVO SSD units (not recommended for server production settings, but suitable for a lab usage) in a RAID 1 configuration with the onboard SmartArray controller.
In this configuration we measured an average consume of 35W, with a peak of more than 50W while booting.

The case adopts the new graphical aspect of HPE servers
On the MoBo, a SAS port and two SATA ports
4 expansion slots available
A fanless heatsink contributes to lower the overall noise
The power supply is in ATX format
The back panel is quite essential
On the back, the correspondent PCIex slots
The back of the metallic cage hosts SATA connectors for HD and/or SSD units
The unusual disk displacement system

Installing ESXi

The use of the ML10v2 as a virtualization host is simplified by the fact that it finds a place within the VMware Compatibility List with the support up to ESXi 6.0 U2 (link here) and doesn’t have any compatibility problem during the installation phase. Moreover, the HPE website hosts drivers, firmware and management software for all the main server Operating Systems (from Windows Server 2008 to 2012 R2, RHEL 7, SUSE 11 and 12) and hypervisors (ESXi from 5.1 to 6.0).

The only problem we’ve encountered while installing ESXi is the limited amount of RAM (4GByte installed and only 3,84 effectively available - in part shared with the graphical chipset): it's not enough to complete the ESXi setup and it's also really not enough even for a small lab. We upgraded it using with compatible modules by Crucial. Configuring storage required a procedure different from the usual: those who already work with SmartArray controllers know that, during the boot phase, the management utility can be started to configure disks and RAID configurations (pressing F5).
However, the ML10v2 requires a slightly different method: pressing F5 during boot doesn’t start any utility at all regardless of the confirmation message that is normally prompted, you need to proceed manually using the HPE Service Pack for ProLiant (SPP) or Smart Storage Administrator (SSA) tools. Loaded from CD or ISO image from virtual media, these software allow to load the configuration utility, in our case to configure a RAID1 array with two SSD units.

Once started, we checked the health state of the machine (accessing the dedicated Health Status menu item, which can be used to monitor hardware) in a complete way thanks to the total support of the hardware sensors by the hypervisor, and the connection state of the network controller. The following step was adding internal storage: using the onboard controller the logical volume has been identified as SSD storage.

ml10 ssd ok

hp ok

We made a quick test with CrystalDisk Mark inside a Windows 7 PRO virtual machine measuring some good values in both reading and writing (keep in mind that the controller doesn't have any cache!), albeit quite distant from the best ones achievable with the used SSD units in RAID1 configuration, which should bring substantial improvements in particular in reading mode.

 

ibm ok

In order to have a more complete vision of achievable performances, we tried a more powerful controller: an IBM ServeRaid M5015 with a 512MB cache and on-board battery for the protection of data in write operation (you can easily find it on ebay for a price arount 150 euros). In this case too we opted for a RAID1 storage configuration and we measured an overall increase in reading speeds (from 320MBps to 1200MBps) despite a decrease in writing speeds which lowers from 300MBps in the previous configuration to 220MBps.

A great product, not just for virtualization

The ML10v2 proved to be a very interesting server under multiple aspects and not just suitable for virtualization. Low price, many expansion slots and overall consume, physical dimensions and noise characteristics make it an great solution for a small office scenario, in particular where the reliability of a higher-tier solutions is to be coupled with the advantages and comforts of a desktop.
If used for a virtualization lab, ESXi support and the basic equipment with a dedicated disk controller and two Gigabit Ethernet cards make it a great starting point, in particular the configuration with Xeon processor, which is available with a street price of less than 500€.

Technical specsHPE ML10v2
ProcessorIntel G3240 - Dual Core, 3.10 GHz, no HyperThreading, 3MB cache L3
Installed/Max RAMtwo 8GB modules/32GB
Type of installable RAMDDR3 Unbuffered ECC
Number of RAM slots4
Disks equipment-
Internal 3.5" disk slots4 + 2
Frontal access 3.5" disk slots - 6 Gbit/s Sata0
Frontal access 3.5" disk slots - 3 Gbit/s Sata0
CD-Rom slot (8,5 mm depth)2
Disk controllerSmartArrai B210i
Supported RAID configurations0/1/10
Supported disk typesSATA
On-board controller cache-
Extra SATA ports2
Remote management controliLO 4
Available processors on other modelsCore i3, Xeon E3-1220-1241v3
Officially supported Operating SystemsWindows 2008 R2, 2012, 2012 R2, Red Hat Enterprise Linux (5,6 and 7), SUSE Linux Enterprise Server (11 e 12), Microsoft Hyper-V Server 2012 and 2012 R2, ESXi 5.1 to 6.0
Frontal Usb 3.0-
Back Usb 2.0-
Back Usb 3.02
Internal Usb 3.0-
Gbit Ethernet ports2
Management dedicated Ethernet port1-shared
Micro SD slot-
Max power consumption measured55W

About the Author

Lorenzo Bedin

Lorenzo graduated in Telecommunication Engineering and works as freelance IT consultant, after a period of training as systems analyst. Currently he provides hardware solutions, virtualized infrastructures and websites.

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