Sun Beefs Up Management, Hardware Features of Cobalt

The low-cost raq 550 offers complete web hosting package for small, medium-size companies.

Sun Microsystems Inc.s latest server appliance, the Cobalt Raq 550, is an inexpensive and easy-to-use product that provides Web hosting and application services for small to medium-size sites in a compact 1U (1.75-inch) form factor.

The Raq 550 is the Cobalt product lines first major new release since Suns acquisition of Cobalt Networks Inc. in the fall of 2000. The Raq 550 is the fifth-generation Cobalt server appliance and boasts hardware upgrades and advanced software features over its predecessor, the Cobalt Raq 4. The new product, for example, uses an Intel Corp. 1.26GHz Pentium III processor compared with the Advanced Micro Devices Inc. 450MHz processor used in the Raq 4. In addition, the Raq 550 runs the latest Linux 2.4 kernel release.

The Raq 550 integrates all the hardware, applications and management tools necessary to roll out a complete Web hosting solution. Besides appealing to small and medium-size companies, the Raq 550 targets ISPs and ASPs (application service providers) because of its ease of use and manageability. Service providers can save on management costs by allowing customers the option of managing their own Web systems.

Shipping since last month, the Raq 550 comes in four models with different hardware configurations. They are priced from $1,699 to $2,899. The Large Raq 550 that eWeek Labs tested has a single 1.26GHz Pentium III processor, 512MB of error-correcting code synchronous dynamic RAM, two 80GB ATA IDE hard drives with software RAID support and dual 10/100M-bps Ethernet for $2,399. The entry-level Raq 550 has a 1GHz processor, 256MB of RAM, a single 40GB hard drive and dual 10/100M-bps Ethernet ports.

The Raq 550 is priced competitively compared with other Linux-based Web hosting appliances from vendors such as IBM and Hewlett-Packard Co. IBMs Xseries Hosting Appliance is a 1U rack-mount server with a 950MHz Intel Celeron processor, 256MB of RAM with a 40GB hard drive and an integrated 10/100M-bps Ethernet port. The Xseries appliance runs Red Hat Inc.s Red Hat Linux 7.1 and features Sphera Corp.s Hosting Director, a robust software hosting and management solution. It starts at $2,500. The Raq 550, with a faster processor, dual hard drives and Ethernet, beats the Xseries in terms of hardware, but both systems feature impressive management tools and applications.

The Raq 550 runs the Cobalt operating system based on the Linux 2.4 kernel and comes pre-installed with a comprehensive set of Web hosting and other applications such as e-mail, Domain Name System and FTP services.

The Raq 550 runs the Apache 1.3 Web server and provides scripting support for Common Gateway Interface, Perl and PHP. It also features Suns ChiliSoft ASP Web server plug-in for supporting Active Server Pages. The Raq 550 provides e-mail services by supporting SMTP, IMAP4 and Post Office Protocol 3 protocols.

The Raq 550 can be easily managed using the Sun Cobalt Server Desktop, a Web-based GUI that allows administrators to perform configuration and management tasks (see screen). It can also be managed through the serial port using desktop tools such as Hyper- Terminal or via Secure Shell.

In our tests, we were impressed by how easy it is to set up the Raq 550. We had the system up and running in less than 15 minutes. We used the LCD console in front of the Raq 550 to configure network settings. Once we gave the Raq 550 a static IP address on our test network, we used Internet Explorer 5.0 to log in to the Server Desktop and run the initial configuration wizard. The wizard allowed us to set up the domain name, RAID configuration and initial system settings.

The Sun Cobalt BlueLinq application delivery service also provides the Raq 550 with an easy way to download software updates and operating system patches. Using the BlueLinq tab in the Raq 550 Server Desktop GUI, administrators can configure the appliance to perform daily, weekly or monthly queries to the BlueLinq server at Sun for product updates.

Once enabled, the BlueLinq feature automatically notifies administrators when software updates are available. Update packages can then be downloaded and installed with a few mouse clicks.

The Raq 550 provides limited redundancy features such as RAID 1 support and a Linux journaling file system. It also supports Web backup with clients from Arkeia Corp.s Knox Arkeia and Legato Systems Inc.s Legato Networker. We were disappointed, however, that the Raq 550 lacks redundant power supplies. IT managers will need to purchase additional Raq 550 appliances for redundancy and failover.

Technical Analyst Francis Chu can be reached at