First look: The Proliant DL320

Last Updated on September 30, 2010 by Dave Farquhar

I’ve had the opportunity the past two days to work with Compaq’s Proliant DL320, an impossibly thin 1U rack-mount server. All I can say is I’m impressed.
When I was in college, a couple of the nearby pizza joints sold oversized 20″ pizzas. The DL320 reminded me of the boxes these pizzas came in. The resemblance isn’t lost on IBM: In its early ads for a competing product, I remember IBM using an impossibly thin young female model holding a 1U server on a pizza-joint set.

HP announced last week that Compaq’s Proliant series will remain basically unchanged, it will just be re-branded with the HP name. HP had no product comparable to the DL320.

I evaluated the entry-level model. It’s a P3 1.13 GHz with 128 MB RAM, dual Intel 100-megabit NICs, and a single 40-gigabyte 7200-rpm Maxtor/Quantum IDE drive. It’s not a heavy-duty server, but it’s not designed to be. It’s designed for businesses that need to get a lot of CPU power into the smallest possible amount of rack space. And in that regard, the DL320 delivers.

Popping the hood reveals a well-designed layout. The P3 is near the front, with three small fans blowing right over it. Two more fans in the rear of the unit pull air out, and two fans in the power supply keep it cool. The unit has four DIMM sockets (one occupied). There’s room for one additional 3.5″ hard drive, and a single 64-bit PCI slot. Obvious applications for that slot include a gigabit Ethernet adapter or a high-end SCSI host adapter. The machine uses a ServerWorks chipset, augmented by a CMD 649 for UMDA-133 support. Compaq utilizes laptop-style floppy and CD-ROM drives to cram all of this into a 1U space.

The fit and finish is very good. The machine looks and feels solid, not flimsy, which is a bit surprising for a server in this price range. Looks-wise, it brings back memories of the old DEC Prioris line.

The rear of the machine has a fairly spartan number of ports: PS/2 keyboard and mouse, two RJ-45 jacks, VGA, one serial port, and two USB ports. There’s no room for luxuries, and such things as a parallel port are questionable in this type of server anyway.

Upon initial powerup, the DL320 asks a number of questions, including what OS you want to run. Directly supported are Windows NT 4.0, Windows 2000, Novell NetWare, and Linux.

Linux installs quickly and the 2.4.18 kernel directly supports the machine’s EtherExpress Pro/100 NICs, CMD 649 IDE, and ServerWorks chipset. A minimal installation of Debian 3.0 booted in 23 seconds, once the machine finished POST. After compiling and installing a kernel with support for all the hardware not in the DL320 removed, that boot time dropped to 15 seconds. That’s less time than it takes for the machine to POST.

Incidentally, that custom kernel was a scant 681K in size. It was befitting of a server with this kind of footprint.

As configured, the DL320 is more than up to the tasks asked of low-end servers, such as user authentication, DNS and DHCP, and mail, file and print services for small workgroups. It would also make a nice applications server, since the applications only need to load once. It would also be outstanding for clustering. For Web server duty or heavier-duty mail, file and print serving, it would be a good idea to upgrade to one of the higher-end DL320s that includes SCSI.

It’s hard to find fault with the DL320. At $1300 for an IDE configuration, it’s a steal. A SCSI-equipped version will run closer to $1900.

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2 thoughts on “First look: The Proliant DL320

  • March 11, 2003 at 12:24 am

    Our company just purchased a set of these DL320’s. The only problem I have is that the Red Hat 8.0 installer doesn’t recognize the RAID controller. What driver does Debian use to support this?

  • March 11, 2003 at 10:31 am

    We’ve got a DL320 with an LSI/Symbios/NCR 53c895a in it, so you could give that one a shot. I’m pretty sure that’s not a RAID chipset though.

    Supposedly there’s a special boot disk on the Red Hat CD for Compaq SmartArray controllers. You might give that a shot. (I haven’t used Red Hat since version 6, and never on a Compaq server, so I can’t give any firsthand tips.)

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