Cobalt Networks, a Division of Sun Microsystems
In a Nutshell
- Easy setup and network configuration via DHCP and external LCD control panel
- Easy administration via responsive Web-management interface
- Simplified software updates and notification via BlueLinQ service
- RAID-1 drive mirroring with professional model
- Web-based e-mail client
- External SCSI port with Professional model
- Runs all X86 Linux binaries
- No multi-domain hosting on the Qube, only available on the more expensive RaQ
Tested Model: $2,099
- 450 MHz, 128 MB RAM, RAID-1 mirrored 20 GB disks, external SCSI
Entry-level Model: $1,149
- 300 MHz, 32 MB RAM, single 10.2 GB disk
Cobalt Networks has always been a pioneer in the server appliance market. They have consistently set the standard for ease of use and functionality that all other server appliances aspire to. In fact, late last year, Cobalt’s success caught the eye of Sun Microsystems, which decided to purchase the company (for $2 billion) as part of their push to offer customers a more versatile and accessible product line. Fortunately, Sun has decided not to tamper with much, and the first post-acquisition Cobalt product to be released has all the makings of yet another reference-standard server appliance.
Like its predecessor (the Qube 2), the Qube 3 is a general-purpose Linux server appliance, offering a file server, e-mail server, Internet connection sharing, and Web caching/serving capabilities. All of this functionality is controlled via a Web-accessible management console from an eight-inch blue plastic cube.
New Processor and Features
The fact that Cobalt picked the MIPS processor as the basis of their original Qube’s hardware platform made it somewhat difficult to run regular Linux server software without recompilation. Once again, however, Cobalt Networks comes up on top. This latest Qube offering is X86-based. It also includes hardware redundancy via RAID-1 using dual 20 GB hard drives (it’s the first SOHO Linux server appliance to provide this capability) and a new software update service that is called “BluelinQ.”
BluelinQ automatically checks Cobalt’s FTP servers for security and functionality enhancements, and notifies the server administrator of any updates via e-mail. Using the Web-management interface, the administrator simply has to click on a Web link to automatically install the software on the Qube over the Internet. Given the frequency of Unix and Linux security exploits and their required updates, such a service is a real lifesaver.
Installation and Configuration
Installation of the Qube3 is a breeze — simply unpack, plug it in, and connect it to the network via its two Ethernet 10/100 interfaces. The unit is pre-configured to work as a DHCP client and server, so it will immediately configure its TCP/IP settings if your broadband device provides it with a leased address. The Qube 3 will then auto-configure your Windows, Linux, and Mac workstations for Internet access if they have DHCP auto-configuration enabled. If you need to set the unit to a static IP address, the Qube 3 provides a control panel and LCD display (which is hidden in the rear of the Qube) for just this purpose.
The Web-management interface is responsive and well organized. It includes a Web-based e-mail client (so users don’t have to install an e-mail client on their machines) and allows for remote viewing of e-mail if your Qube is on the Internet. Of course, the Qube 3 is also a full-blown Linux server that’s Telnet and FTP accessible and will run X86 Linux console-mode applications as well as PHP, Perl/CGI scripts, and open source databases like MySQL and Postgres.
If you know of a SOHO environment that needs a do-all server with hardware redundancy and a plethora of features that even a child could administer, the Qube 3 is a no-brainer. It is the best server appliance we’ve seen to date.