Setting up a server is something only the IT department can do, and you need a bachelor's degree in computer science to build an intranet. Is that the view at your company? With the newest advances in server appliances, this couldn't be further from the truth. These user-friendly, Linux-based servers offer the best of both worlds: ease of use and high-quality open-source software.
Cobalt Networks has just announced the Qube 2, the successor to the Qube 2700WG. This tiny blue box comes ready to roll as an intranet workgroup server. It includes a Web server (Apache 1.3), e-mail services (Sendmail 8.8.8), HTML authoring tools, cross-platform file sharing (Windows Server Message Block and AppleShare), document indexing, and even private discussion groups.
The Qube 2, with its workgroup functionality, is just one of several server appliances. On the low end is the Corel NetWinder WS, a Linux-based Web server appliance. On the high end are products, such as the Network Appliance F700 Web file server.
The greatest thing about the Qube 2 is that everything can be configured from a Web browser. Its administration menus are designed with the novice user in mind. There is help available for every option, and the default settings don't need to be changed for most uses. Even OS upgrades can be easily done from your Web browser.
The Qube 2 comes with a 250MHz 64-bit RISC processor, 16M bytes of RAM, and a 3.2G-byte hard drive. There are also models with as much as 64M bytes of RAM and a 10.2G-byte hard drive. The Qube 2 runs Linux 2.0 (kernel 2.0.34), and includes Adaptec SCSI drivers, so adding storage space is a breeze.
For network access, the Qube 2 can either be plugged in to an existing router, or it can serve as an Internet gateway complete with a serial port -- for dial-up Point to Point Protocol -- and dual 10/100Mbps Ethernet ports. The Qube 2 can also be configured to act as a domain name server and Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP) server.
Changes from the original Qube 2700WG include a faster processor, larger hard drives, and a built-in packet filter. Also, the Web server has been updated from Apache 1.2 to Apache 1.3, and includes Microsoft FrontPage extension support. E-mail services have been improved by supporting filtering and e-mail aliases, as well as adding a scheduled delivery option.
I plugged a Qube 2 into a standard workgroup hub. When I first powered on the box, the LCD screen on the back kept me informed as it went through the startup procedures. It scanned the hard drive, then checked the network for a DHCP server, and set up the IP address. The LCD screen displayed the IP address, so I could connect with my browser. If you do not have a DHCP server on your network, you enter the IP address for the Qube 2 through a set of buttons on the back of the unit.
I pointed a Web browser to the IP address of the Qube 2 and went through the step-by-step configuration screens. I proceeded through seven screens to configure the Qube 2: network configuration, administrator account setup, services, time/date, access rights, user account setup, and group setup. After completing these steps, the Qube 2 was ready for use.
I tested the raw HTTP and FTP throughput of the Qube 2 against a similarly configured PC running Red Hat Linux 5.2, and found the Qube 2 to perform comparably, even during a large download. Of course, with its dual 10/100M-bit-per-second Ethernet ports the Qube 2 should have no problem keeping up with network requests.
Overall, I was impressed with the Qube 2. It is a fine example of how Linux and other open-source tools can be used in a business environment. And it is just what many workgroups and small or remote offices need: a powerful server that is easy enough for nontechnical users to set up.
Kevin Railsback is a technology analyst at the InfoWorld Test Centre. He can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
THE BOTTOM LINE: EXCELLENT
This intranet workgroup server appliance offers a wealth of functionality in one easy-to-configure package. Its applications include a Web server, e-mail, file sharing, and discussion groups. It has been designed for even the most nontechnical of users.
Pros: Inexpensive; easy to set up; easy to administer; looks cool on your desk.
Cons: No built-in group calendar system.
Cobalt Networks, Mountain View, California; (650) 930-2500; www.cobaltnet.com.
Price: $US999 for Qube with 16M byte of RAM and a 3.2G-byte disk drive; $1,499 for 32M bytes of RAM and a 7.6G-byte disk drive; $1,799 for 64M bytes of RAM and a 10.2G-byte disk drive.
Platforms: Runs Linux 2.0; supports Windows, Macintosh, Unix, etc.