Hewlett-Packard is targeting the brand-new ML110 specifically at the small-business market--and if it isn't quite a bull's-eye, it's close. HP's idea was to make a ProLiant server available for the price of a good desktop PC, with strong expandability and the company's proven support. Though HP could have made setup easier, this new machine offers a price point, a feature set, and service options that are all well worth considering.
HP has a somewhat unusual policy when it comes to entry-level servers: Unlike many other vendors who include their own software to handle management and configuration chores, HP lets the operating system take care of all that. This arrangement saves you some money, but you'll spend some extra time getting the ProLiant up and running.
That's because you'll have to begin your life with your server configuring whatever OS you've chosen to install. We've standardized here on Windows 2003 Small Business Server (SBS), and we're assuming you've ordered your machine with the OS preinstalled; thus, you'll start by powering on the ProLiant and working your way through the SBS configuration wizards. We're reviewing the hardware here--and not the operating system--but be warned that Microsoft assumes networking know-how that many first-time server owners might not have.
The process can require several hours of your time, and you'll have to read numerous help files, which are indeed informative, but you'll be glad to reach the end of it. Once you're finished, you'll have a multiuser system in place with whatever services--Web server, mail server, FTP server, application server, and more--you've specified. But again, any credits or demerits for the setup belong properly to Microsoft, not HP. However, HP could have made it easier.
With so many small businesses choosing broadband Internet connections and presumably using their servers as gateways, HP should also have considered including a second Ethernet NIC standard. Without such a card, you have to run the ML110 as well as all your client PCs into the network switch, with all machines using a private IP number. That makes setup that much more difficult, especially when it comes to configuring the Web connections for some of SBS's services.
If your server will be sitting out and not tucked away in a closet somewhere, the ML110's dark-gray-and-black color scheme looks appropriately professional, and the unit is small enough to be unobtrusive. More importantly, you can open the box via setscrews, eliminating the need for a screwdriver. You won't need any tools to add or remove peripheral cards, either; plastic holders keep these firmly in place, letting you simply pop the cards in and out.
The ML110 tower gives you two bays for removable drives, as well as four nonremovable bays. You can configure the system with a total of four SCSI or four ATA drives, for a total capacity of 288GB of SCSI storage or 320GB ATA. The ample 320-watt power supply will handle these drives as well as whatever else you choose to slide into the five available PCI slots, two of which are standard 32-bit PCI, while the other three are 64-bit PCI-X.
Since the ML110 comes with an 8MB ATI Rage XL graphics subsystem integrated into the motherboard, you won't need a separate video card. You'll also find the Broadcom 5705 PCI Gigabit Ethernet controller (with Wake On LAN capabilities) on the motherboard.
The ML110 ships with the equally brand-new Intel E7210 chipset (formerly known as the Canterwood-ES), which has been optimized for Pentium 4 processors on a server platform. Aside from support for the PCI-X bus, which the expansion slots take advantage of, what you're really getting here is a good chipset at a good cost, although not one as server-specific as the ServerWorks sets found in more-expensive machines.
In our tests, the ML110 delivered consistent data-transfer times to and from the server, with transfer rates not slowing much, if any, as more and more users transferred files simultaneously. A 1.5GB folder uploaded in just a bit more than seven minutes from one network client; the same folder took 20 seconds longer to transfer simultaneously to the server from two connected PCs, and almost the same time from three PCs.
Two identical 850MB folders containing 267 files transferred in exactly 3.5 minutes from both two and three connected clients. When the ML110 performed an 18GB download from the Internet while accepting these uploads, the three-machine upload process slowed by only a little over 30 seconds in total, but it did affect simultaneous Internet downloads from the client PCs. With the server set up as the gateway, download times to the client increased by about 10 percent.
Logging on to the domain from any client took roughly 10 seconds, and connecting to the Outlook 2003 Web client required about 20 seconds--both completely acceptable times.
The ML110 comes with lifetime, toll-free, telephone technical support for the hardware itself, available 24/7, as well as a one-year limited warranty that includes parts, labor, and onsite support. You also get 90 days of telephone support for software, whether HP's or a third party's. A full range of additional support packages is available at extra cost, with options such as same-day (6-hour) repair and a 24-hour, proactive monitoring service.