A multipurpose server in a minitower chassis

Perhaps you're ready to expand your LAN to accommodate more office space and employees, or your small business needs to upgrade its current peer-to-peer network to gain the benefits of an NT or NetWare environment. If you need a server that facilitates growth, is easy to use, and provides enterprise-level performance, the HP NetServer E 45 might be just the ticket. HP is targeting the NetServer E Series line at networks with 25 to 50 workstations, and the HP NetServer E 45 is the top-of-the-line offering within this series.

My first impression of the HP NetServer E 45 was a good one. Within minutes of opening the shipping box, I added the unit to the Windows NT Magazine Lab's network and ran applications for 25 users. I evaluated the HP NetServer E 45 by looking at four areas: hardware, software, documentation, and performance.

Sizing Up the Server
HP sent the NetServer E 45 preconfigured with Windows NT 4.0, Service Pack (SP) 3, a 266MHz Pentium II processor, 512KB L2 write-back cache, 128MB of RAM, one 3.5" floppy drive, a 24X IDE CD-ROM, and three 4GB SCSI hard disks. HP offers options for a 233MHz processor, up to 384MB of RAM, and different sizes and types of storage devices.

The chassis features the standard HP sliding case; you flip two catch levers on the sides and the case slides toward the front and off. The internal configuration was not what I had expected. I found a separate fan and cooling duct for the Pentium II CPU that you simply lift up and out of the chassis. From here, you can access the entire motherboard. You can easily remove the Pentium II CPU and the Voltage Regulator Module (VRM), or replace the RAM. The motherboard occupies only the top half of the chassis with the I/O slots on a back-plane bus that extends 90 degrees from the main board. Expansion cards are installed parallel to the main board. The lower half of the chassis contains the storage drive slots and power supply.

Hooking It Up
On the software side of the server is the HP NetServer Navigator CD-ROM, which comes standard with all HP NetServers and includes several integrated utility management tools. The Navigator CD-ROM is a bootable CD-ROM designed to get the Server up and running immediately. To test the Navigator CD-ROM, I reformatted the hard disks and started with a clean system. From the CD-ROM, the NetServer booted into MS-DOS and displayed the HP Navigator Window GUI. I followed the onscreen instructions and selected the Installation Assistant. The process then asked which network operating system (NOS) I wanted to install: OS/2, Microsoft, Novell, SCO, or other.

After selecting the Microsoft NOS, I chose the Automated NOS. I was using a beta version of HP NetServer Navigator and ran into a few glitches; but all things considered, the process worked fine. The HP Configuration Assistant 2.0 took me step-by-step through installing the NOS, selecting configuration parameters, and updating the system BIOS. HP NetServer Navigator created a DOS utility partition, and asked me for input information, such as the computer name, the Administrator's password, and the domain name. I also had to supply the NT Server CD-ROM.

The entire process of booting from the CD-ROM through installing and successfully joining the domain took fewer than 50 minutes. During that time, I took several coffee and email breaks, which left the system waiting for me to click Continue. After installation, the system ran flawlessly, including the management utilities available on the Navigator CD-ROM.

The Navigator CD-ROM includes a variety of support utilities. One important utility is HP NetServer Assistant, which includes the HP Support Anywhere agent, and other management tools that monitor the server for potential hardware problems. HP NetServer Assistant generates alerts for power supply failures, memory, disk capacity, and I/O slot failure, and you can customize the utility to allow control from a remote PC. HP Support Anywhere uses Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP) for communicating alerts and configuration information. Some additional utilities include Symantec's pcANYWHERE32, to remotely control the server; HP Information Assistant, which provides a GUI interface for system specifications, notes, accessories, configuration, and optimization; and HP Diagnostic Assistant, to confirm hardware configurations and test for common problems.

If the HP NetServer E 45 crashes, all the critical technical data you need is on the Navigator CD-ROM. However, you must install the HP Information Assistant, as shown in Screen 1, on a client PC to view the necessary data. Because of this requirement, you need a working PC next to the NetServer to reference the Navigator CD-ROM. Alternatively, you can print all 300 pages of the information.

HP offers several support options, including same-day, second-day, or 24-hour support packages for 3 years. Standard with the product is 1-year, on-site, next-business-day support, which your local reseller or HP's customer support delivers.

The Owner's Manual
The HP NetServer Navigator documentation is available in five languages and includes the Installation Roadmap, which is superb. The Roadmap steps you through installation in a well-documented, detailed manner and has diagrams for everything from installing expansion cards to setting SCSI jumpers.

The NetServer hardware documentation is adequate, but I take exception to the heavy emphasis on CD-ROM based content. A technician enjoys a printed manual with product descriptions, diagrams, and detailed technical information. A printed manual lets you fully repair and replace every major component, and troubleshoot the majority of system problems without having to scrounge up another PC just to read the documentation.

How It Performed
For my performance tests, I used the Lab's standard configuration: a set of client machines on a 100Mbps Ethernet network that simulates the workload of multiple users. (For details about the Lab's test environment, see the sidebar, "The Lab's Test Environment.") I used Bluecurve's Dynameasure for File Services 1.5 as the workload engine. (For information about this product, see Lab Reports, "Dynameasure Enterprise 1.5," September 1997.) The combination of Dynameasure and the Lab's test environment simulates typical user workloads and provides quantitative benchmarks that you can use to compare hardware and software performance.

For a comparison test system, I used a brand-name server with quad 166MHz Pentiums, 512MB of RAM, four SCSI hard disks, and an Intel EtherExpress Pro/100 Adapter running NT 4.0 and Service Pack (SP) 2. I selected the Copy All Bi-directional tests because of the random order of 16 different transactions that copy compressed data, uncompressed data, binary files, text files, and image files between the server and the clients. Because HP targets the HP NetServer E 45 for 25 to 50 workstation networks, I tested a range of 10 to 100 users. The results surprised me. With up to 40 users, the HP NetServer E 45 could perform as well, if not better, than a quad Pentium system.

Overall, the HP NetServer E 45 was impressive. It was easy to install and use across the network, and the performance was outstanding. Not bad for a system in a minitower chassis.

HP NetServer E 45
Contact: HP * 800-752-0900
Web: http://www.hp.com
Price: $5717
System Configuration: 2MB of video memory, PCI Ultra Narrow SCSI controller, HP 10/100TX PCI LAN adapter, 25-pin parallel, two 9-pin serials, video, mouse, and keyboard built-in ports