A lot of virtualization pros keep home labs so that they can practice their trade. While it's true that the world of IT is constantly changing, virtualization has taken the pace to a new level and the market is vast making it difficult to IT pros to stay current. HP recently released a brand spankin' new server aimed squarely at the SMB market but that might have some potential for very basic home labs, too. The HP Proliant MicroServer is a small server supporting an AMD Athlon dual core processor, up to 8 GB of RAM and up to four SATA hard drives (via a pluggable connection requiring no tools, although hot plugging is not supported). The embedded SATA controller supports RAID 0 and RAID 1 configurations and the server itself also sports two PCI-E slots: one x16 slot and one x1 slot. For additional storage, you can add additional storage via the eSATA port on the rear of the server.
The MicroServer is 10.5 inches tall, 8.3 inches wide and 10.2 inches deep and is whisper quiet… especially when compared to traditional servers. I have a pair of Dell PowerEdge 2950 servers in my basement and the sound is, well, loud.
The base configuration starts at a list price of $329 and includes 1 GB of RAM and an AMD NEO processor running at 1.3 GHz. Obviously, upgrading parts to get to a reasonable configuration will increase the price. 1 GB is hardly suitable for anything these days, especially virtual hosts. With two RAM sockets, you'll need two 4 GB DIMMs to fully populate the system. You'll also need a couple of hard drives installed if you want to really do much with the server, too. My minimally configured server with 4 GB of RAM and 2 x 160 GB drives as configured on HP's site ran more than $900, pushing the MicroServer to a little bit more than "cheap". On top of that, an additional 4 GB of RAM will add another $350 to $400 to the price. At those prices, you can do a lot better in Dell's refurb store. I just found a PowerEdge T110 servers with 8 GB of RAM, 2 x 500 GB drives and an Intel X3430 quad core processor for less than $1,000.
In closing, although the MicroServer, at first glance, appears to be a great fit for a home lab, it's seriously underpowered and overpriced for anything significant. If you need a server for a home lab, you can get a lot more horsepower for less money by looking around a bit. For its intended purpose – a first server for very small companies – the MicroServer might be a good fit, but for virtualization pros, it's not worth it.