Choosing a tower server for a small office or workgroup installation boils down to answering a few questions. What will be the primary use for the system? Who will be using the system, and where will it be located?
You could expand the list to include the when and why questions, but they probably don't figure in as much as the first three. And if you have an IT budget like many organizations, you'll more than likely get the "How much will it cost?" question as well.
The SuperMicro SYS-5038A-IL answers most of these questions in a way that will fit just about any situation. It definitely answers the cost question in a positive light, as the bare-bones version retails for just $448.
You can get the system with a wide range of CPU and memory options to handle a variety of use cases to answer the "what for" question. The system runs quiet enough to sit beside a desk in a small office, or it would work just as well confined to a closet.
Our review unit came equipped with an Intel Xeon E3-1285 V3 CPU running at 3.6 GHz plus 32 GB of memory. That configuration provides solid performance for running multiple virtual machines and providing other services.
The X10SAE motherboard has a wide range of connectivity options, including six USB 3.0 and ten USB 2.0 ports, eight SATA 3.0 ports and two Firewire ports. Two Gigabit Ethernet ports provide a dual network path to get traffic in and out of the system and can be configured to use NIC teaming if needed.
The case has a tool-less disk cage for mounting up to four full-size 3.5" hard drives, with additional room to mount small form factor 2.5" drives as well. For our testing we used two Western Digital 4 TB drives and two STEC SSD drives in order to try out the storage tiering features in Windows Server 2012 R2.
A 500W high efficiency power supply delivers plenty of juice for the disk drives and more. While our unit did not come equipped with a DVD drive, the system has two 5.25" device slots available.
While the unit wasn't necessarily designed as a Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) platform, it does have features you would need for VDI such as room for two full-height PCIe x16 slots to accommodate two large GPU boards. Three PCIe 2.0 links in x4 slots could support additional NICs if you wanted to expand the networking capacity.
Add to that mix an additional two 32-bit PCI slots and you have lots of peripheral card options. It also has the power supply to support multiple boards along with a large number of disk drives.
To get a feel for how the system handled the typical tasks of a workgroup server we installed the datacenter version of Windows Server 2012 R2. We enabled the Hyper-V role and imported a number of virtual machines (VMs), taking advantage of the ability to dynamically adjust memory for each VM. This made it possible to set up as many as sixteen VMs running a combination of Windows 7, Windows Server 2008 R2 and Windows Server 2012.
Windows Sever 2012 R2 makes a great storage system for all kinds of workloads. With support for iSCSI, NFS and SMB 3.0 you'll get the best of all worlds. We tested the system as an iSCSI and NFS target for a VMware ESXi host, and it connected with no issues.
Figure 1 shows the physical disks and single virtual disk as displayed by Server Manager. Performance of the system as a file server was more than respectable with the inclusion of the SSD drives.
The X10SAE motherboard supports the Intel AMT vPro 9.0 standard for remote assistance and management. You will have to configure this during boot up by pressing the Ctrl and P keys.
This will launch a menu requiring the default password. You'll also have to change that password the first time you enter the configuration menu. Once in, you'll have a list of options to configure the Intel AMT feature to include network and security settings.
To access the machine remotely you'll need to download the Intel Manageability Developer Took Kit Binary that is available on the Intel software site. Once you have this tool installed you'll have the ability to remotely control the system, including use of a remote keyboard, video and mouse (KVM) function.
Basic system monitoring happens through a web browser as shown in Figure 2. It is possible to disable this feature completely should you not need the ability to remotely connect and want to lock the system down.
The SuperMicroSYS-5038A-IL packs a whole lot of features into a single tower case with the flexibility to configure it for a wide range of jobs. The low cost makes it a great choice for tight budgets without sacrificing features such as remote management.
Paul Ferrill, based in Chelsea, Alabama, has been writing about computers and software for almost 20 years. He has programmed in more languages than he cares to count, but now leans toward Visual Basic and C#.