What’s a good microserver for virtualization?

My HP Microservers are getting on a bit. I need some high performance, small form factor server(s) for virtualization testing.

The key features for me would be:

  1. Lots of RAM. They must come with or be upgradable to 32GB 16GB, but ideally 32GB.
  2. Small form factor, like the Intel NUC.
  3. Lots of cores. I’m loving the Intel Avoton 8-core Atom, but it looks like no one is building systems with these yet.

Suggestions most welcome!



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24 responses to “What’s a good microserver for virtualization?

  1. inkvizitor68sl

    Hi. Why not HP Microserver Gen8 ) ?
    It can be upgraded even to Xeon E3-1230V2 (4 cores + HT). Also this cpu supports 32GB ram, but probably you cannot install more then 16G to Gen8 motherboard.

    Also Acer AC100 can be shipped with Xeon E3, but it is sucks.

    • rich

      Sounds good. Shame about the RAM only going to 16 GB. The trouble is that for about the same money I could get a NUC, which is about 1/3rd of the size.

      For this application I don’t care about fitting more than a single 2.5″ HDD, so the relatively large case on the microserver isn’t that useful.

      • inkvizitor68sl

        Even if it can (i can’t find official info about that) 32GB of RAM – it will cost $600 or omething around for 2x16GB ECC.

        If you need only one storage device, than, probably you need ZENO NT-TX3000BK + something like ASRock Q1900M (16 GB RAM) – it should be cheap.

        32 GB you can take with something like GIGABYTE GA-Z87N + i7-4765T and ZENO NT-TX3000BK (4765T is 35W tdp only, so it should work fine with passive cooling). But again – 2×16 GB RAM (even non-ECC) costs much more, then 2×8. And seems there are no mini-ITX with 4 RAM slots after supermicro’s atom-shipped MBs

      • rich

        Unfortunately once we move up the micro ATX-sized hardware it becomes quite a lot (physically) bigger.

      • inkvizitor68sl

        all my examples is about mini-itx =)

  2. Stephen Smoogen

    I am also in the market for this. Please post a summary article if you find things (I have found multiple which go up to 16 GB slow ram but nothing 32GB yet)

    • rich

      I will.

      I’m looking at NUCs now. Interesting how suddenly Intel are making useful hardware now they have to actually compete with someone (ie. ARM).

      • Indeed this is one reason I am particularly excited about ARM- good to push intel around a bit 🙂

        FYI: the NUC’s don’t come with RAM, you have to order it separately. I think you have to add storage as well. My understanding is that it supports an mSATA chip, or a 2.5″ SATA drive, but would like confirmation of this.

      • rich

        The NUCs that I’ve seen all require you to purchase RAM and mSATA separately. There are a bewildering variety of models too (all with obscure model numbers — please learn from Apple!). Some models have space for a 2.5″ hard disk or SDD, but most do not.

        More seriously some of the more recent models won’t boot without being attached to a monitor. Join the failboat.

  3. Conrad


    I use the same system (microserver N40L) and I have also noticed it is getting on in age lately.

    Since I don’t do a bunch of virtualization and don’t want to spend a lot of money, I am just upgrading the ram (to 4GB — although max is 16GB), installing an SSD (120GB intel), putting root, swap, and my VM on SSD, as well as a big bcache partition. I think that should help improve the avg latency of that machine (less swapping to spinning rust), and the total parts cost was $115 USD ($25 for 1x2GB HP ram, $90 for 120GB intel 530 ssd), which is far less than buying any new device.

    But, I mostly use it for NAS, so I want the 4 HDDs, and only run one VM (which is low CPU use, just needs to be responsive (not swapped out)).

  4. fabiand

    I am actually looking for some AMD GX 420 based NUC sized boards … They cna only have up to 16GB of RAM, but might otherwise be fine, not major beefy, but that’s fine for me.

  5. Joop

    Try the Shuttle XH61V. It can accomodate upto core i7 (sandy bridge), 16G Ram, msata+2xhd or ssd and has 2 Nics. There is also a newer DS81 which uses Haswell cpus but is a little smaller (height 43mm instead of 72mm). I’m using a set of these and they are very nice in combo with oVirt.

    • rich

      240x200mm (10×8″) makes it a little on the large side. Also .. 16GB of RAM is about 6-8 VMs realistically. The price is good however so it’s worth considering.

      I just wish someone would hurry up and start building Intel Avocet/C2000-based systems …

      • Joop

        I’m contemplating building a six node cluster with these with 2 hosts and 4 gluster hosts using ssd’s. Total build costs would be between 4000-6000 depending on redundancy (2 1Tb ssd versus one). Current system is core i7 with 16G and 120G ssd cost €525 =~$600 systems below are starting at $600+ without memory and disk so they are quite a value for money, quiet too, little big? much smaller than most systems out there. You could go for a total custom build which will probably be a trade off between size and costs.

  6. Gene Czarcinski

    I also have a need for some virtualization microservers. I have two solutions which I am currently using:
    1: a i5/i7-4770s system from http://www.mitxpc.com/ and 2: a Shuttle SZ87R6.

    From http://www.mitxpc.com/ I suggest the http://www.mitxpc.com/proddetail.asp?prod=EKGBZ87T3500 and the http://www.mitxpc.com/proddetail.asp?prod=EKAH87M350. While these are limited to 16GB memory, in all other respects they are good microservers (especially when using SSDs instead of regular round-and-brown).

    The Shuttle SZ87R6 is a lot more capable and can have up to 32GB memory. It also supports one or more SSDs and/or multiple hard disks.

    These systems support the Haswell i5-4770S and i7-4770S processors.

    • rich

      Those mitx systems do look good, thanks.

      • Gene Czarcinski

        I originally purchased a http://www.mitxpc.com/proddetail.asp?prod=EKGBZ87T3500 as a bit of speculation. It has the i5-4770S processor, 16GB memory and twin 250GB SSDs. I found its proformance to bit of a pleasant surpruse as it did very well and handled running KVM virtuals well.

        The system runs Fedora 20 with the twin SSDs as a single BTRFS filesystem with data=RAID0 and metadata=RAID1. Using the chattr command, I disable COW for files in the /var/lib/libvirt/images directory/subvolume.

        The only resaon I did not get another of these with a i7-4770S processor for my new primary development system is that the Shuttle SZ87R6 provided for more (future) expansion while costing about the same as the MitxPC unit would.

      • rich

        Pretty daring using btrfs on your main system! One of my colleagues has been trying it for over a year and has suffered several catastrophes in that time, although it’s getting better now.

  7. Jeffrey Plum

    Newegg carries a ” SUPERMICRO MBD-A1SRi-2758F-O Mini ITX Server Motherboard ” with an 8 core atom processor. IXsystems uses something like it in their Freenas Mini server. I believe they both have IPMI support, on a dedicated Ethernet port. IXsystems is famous for their made to fit solutions. Contact them and they may have a way to package the supermicro board without the disk bay of the Freenas Mini.

  8. F.Mansmann

    I am running an ASUS P8Z77-I Deluxe with 16GB, 60GB SSD for OS, 240 GB PCI SSD (OCZ) and a Seagate 3TB disk in a very small case, the most important factor for VMs is the SSD on the PCI bus…. => reboot an 2012 R2 – Exchange 2013 server (8 cores assigned) is around 30 sec….
    in addition 2 DCs and a member server….
    CPU is i7-3770S, if you compare against current 4770 CPUS, there is no big difference in performance…
    Added a watercooling (e.g. Corsair) and overclock (104%) a liittle…
    Absolutely happy with the performance….

  9. Arthur

    I have 6 x i7-3770S running inside Ikea Helmer cabinet using Renderpockets as cases. I mainly use it for 3D Rendering, but I guess you can use those for server virtualization as well. Maybe I should market them for the IT crowd more. http://www.renderpockets.com

    • James Keller

      You are FoS Arthur, Renderpockets are not even out yet and the hardware is still being worked on. Care to show us your setup?

  10. Did you ever decide on a direction? I’m in the market to replace my aging 2U system with something MUCH quieter, but the research has been all over the place. There’s been some excellent suggestions here, but not everything is currently supported by VMWare (HP Microservers, for example, require a lot of tuning and a custom ISO in order for ESXi to even run on it.)

    Has there been anyone here who’s actually run something like ESXi on any of the suggestions with success?

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