When you need a new (or a first) basic small business server, thoughts tend to turn first to major hardware vendors such as Dell, HP, and perhaps Lenovo. These companies offer lots of great products from which to choose, but they're by no means the only game in town. Another viable option is to purchase from a smaller local or regional reseller/distributor. While they don't necessarily provide all the frills of the big guys, they usually offer competitive products with comparable core features and myriad flexible and affordable configuration options.
Case in point is SuperMicro, a company best known as a manufacturer of core system components and which also makes its own line of servers. It's new SuperServer 5037C-T is an entry-level, desktop chassis server built around one of the company's home-grown motherboards and offers plenty of room for customization and expansion.
Under the Hood
The 5037C-T's midsize tower case is both sturdy and spacious. On the front bezel, beneath a pair of externally-accessible 5 .25-inch drive bays, sit network activity and system overheat indicator lights alongside a pair of USB 2.0 ports. Removing the 5037C-T's side panel, which unfortunately involves first removing two small screws, reveals the 5037T-C's cavern-like interior. The case is large enough to accommodate up to seven full-length, full-height expansion cards (though our 5037C-T's motherboard included only five slots--three 32-bit PCI, two PCI-E x8, and one PCI-E x16). The 5037C-T's drive cage houses up to four 3.5-inch SAS/SATA drives, which can be installed and removed from plastic trays sans tools. Even better, a latch mechanism allows the entire cage to swing out at a 90-degree angle from the case for easy access to drives. (A 2.5-inch cage suitable for SSD drives is available as an option.)
The 5037C-T's Super X9SCA motherboard provides a single H2 (LGA 1155) processor socket that works with Intel CPUs ranging from the quad-core Xeon E3-1220 series to lesser chips such as the second-generation Core i3 and Pentium G families. Four UDIMM sockets support up to 32 GB of 1333 MHz, ECC DDR3 RAM, and there are two integrated Gigabit Ethernet ports, something you don't always see in entry-level servers. One thing we would have liked to see more of is motherboard-integrated USB ports at the rear of the system, as there are only two. Six more--including the two aforementioned front facing pair--are available via headers, however.
Our evaluation 5037C-T system had a fairly basic configuration consisting of a 3.1 GHz E3-1220, 4 GB of RAM, and a 500 GB Constellation ES Enterprise SATA hard drive. The system didn't include a stand-alone RAID controller, but the motherboard based SATA chipset provides six SATA 2.0 ports, four of which support 3 Gbps data transfer and RAID 0, 1, 5, and 10. The remaining two offer 6 Gbps speeds but only RAID levels 0 or 1.
Quiet and Compatible
The first thing we noticed upon firing up the 5037C-T was how remarkably quiet it was, especially considering its hefty 500-watt power supply and multiple cooling fans (three in all, including large one atop the CPU). Although we couldn't confirm the figure, the 5037C-T claims a "whisper-quiet" noise level of 21 dB.
The SuperMicro 5037C-T (or more specifically, it's motherboard) claims compatibility with myriad 32- and 64-bit server (as well as desktop) operating systems, including Windows Server 2008 and 2008 R2, and recent versions of many Linux variants, including Fedora, RedHat, SuSE and Ubuntu. We successfully installed both Windows Server 2008 R2 and Ubuntu 7.04 Server on the 5037C-T, although we did it via a USB Flash drive rather than CD/DVD since our sparsely configured system lacked an optical drive.
The SuperMicro 5037C-T comes with a Web-based remote server management and monitoring application called Super Doctor III. The software, which runs under Windows, isn't quite in the same league as the Dell's iDRAC or HP's iLO tools (which are OS-independent and run off a separate add-in module). However, it does provide a good overall set of features, including console redirection and e-mail alerts.
Pricing for the 5037C-T varies depending on how it is configured and where it is purchased, as the company doesn't sell direct. The server is available from a host of resellers and distributors. Newegg, for example, offers the 5037C-T in barebones form (i.e., without a CPU, RAM, or internal storage) for $399. SuperMicro's repertoire isn't just limited to tower severs; the company's vast catalog also includes a host of rack-mounted units in sizes ranging from 1U to 5U.
If you're looking for a solid entry-level server and prefer dealing with a smaller reseller rather than the big vendors, check out the SuperMicro SuperServer 5037C-T.
Joseph Moran is a longtime technology writer and co-author of Getting StartED with Windows 7 from Friends of Ed.