First Look: Sun's Cobalt RaQ 550

By SmallBusinessComputing Staff | Posted May 29, 2002
by Alex Goldman

The market for inexpensive webhosting appliances has been heating up recently as IBM, the big blue behemoth, and Xoasis Networks, a plucky startup, entered the market. Xoasis builds boxes from components supplied by recognized brand name manufacturers at a price it hopes will intrigue buyers, while IBM used branding muscle to place a large number of applications on its server, including Red Hat Linux and Sphera's Hosting Director.

So Sun Cobalt is fighting back with the RaQ 550. Features start with a new processor, either a 1.0 GHz or 1.26 GHz Pentium III, depending on configuration. The box also has either 256 K or 512 K of level 2 memory, up to 2 GB of RAM, and either one or two hard drives of up to 80 GB capacity.

The software is based on the Linux 2.4 kernel, and features Apache 1.3, Active Server Pages, CGI, Perl support, and PHP.

Steve Rogoschewsky, vice president and cofounder of Canadian webhosting provider Blacksun, was notably impressed with one Microsoft-related feature Sun chose to include: FrontPage 2002 extensions, which are new to market.

JAVA, of course
As this is a Sun product, it naturally sports serious Java: Java 2 Standard Edition 1.3.0 (also known as J2SE 1.3.0), Apache Tomcat including JavaServer Pages 1.1, and Java Servlet 2.2. Other software of note includes a Majordomo mailing list server, Interbase 6 SQL, MySQL (yes, it's freeware, but it comes on the box), Postgre SQL, BIND 9 DNS server with automatic configuration, and two backup utilities, Legato Networker and Knox Arkeia. An XFS journaling file system should speed recovery. Glenn Jacklyn, product manager for the RaQ 550, told us that the XFS avoids file check delays during startup after shutdown by being able to ensure in real time that the files are not harmed.

Security features include not only SSL and PAM/Shadow passwords, but also new port scan detection and buffer overflow protection.

The box comes with one software development kit (SDK) for the Cobalt environment and one for Java (JDK).

What does it all add up to? Bill Roth, Sun Cobalt marketing manager, says, "We provide plug-and-play webhosting right out of the box, with all applications accessible through a browser-based GUI. In addition, our chassis is now tool-free." Look, Ma, no tools . . .
The "tool free" chassis, explained Rogoschewsky, means that it's relatively easy to open the RaQ 550 to make changes or check that everything's okay. "In addition," he says, "they've cleaned up the inside so it's easier to see what's what at a glance. In some situations, each minute down is bad. Quick snaps make it easy to open, and a better layout of the internals is a big deal for maintenance folks."

Rogoschewsky is enthusiastic about the possibilities of the new product. "We've had a pre-release box to test, and we like it. We expect that many of our RaQ XTR customers will want to upgrade because of the superior performance it offers. In addition, a good price makes this box easy to move. For this kind of performance, you're talking about a price drop from about $5,000 [Canadian dollars for the XTR] to about $2,850 [Canadian]. It could change the direction of the entire dedicated server market."

The very comprehensive software bundle included with the RaQ 500 makes it clear that Sun is looking for new markets for its Cobalt products, even as it intends to defend its traditional Web server niche, which is being invaded by competitors large and small.

In a press release dated February 7, 2002, Sun reiterated its commitment to providing cheap Linux appliances, and to rapidly expanding the Sun Cobalt product line. We'd guess that after expanding the top of the line with the RaQ 550, Sun will look to the bottom of the line to offer a product at $1,000 or less, sometime this summer.

Pricing and availability
The RaQ 550 will ship worldwide on June 10, 2002. Pricing (in U.S. dollars) is as follows:

1.0GHz, 256MB, 1 x 40GB $1,699
1.0GHz, 256MB, 2 x 40GB $1,849
1.26GHz, 256MB, 1 x 80GB $1,999
1.26GHz, 512MB, 2 x 80GB $2,399
1.26GHz, 1GB, 2 x 80GB $2,899

Reprinted from ISP-Planet.

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