Core Competence, Inc. Internet @ppliance Industry Report:
A Guide to Technology,
Products, and Deployment
David Strom, Inc.

Cobalt Qube 2700

Workgroup/SOHO Internet Applications and Web Server emphasizes workgroup and employee collaboration by supporting web, email, cross-platform file services and discussion groups. Use alone for Intranet services or with a router or communications appliance for Internet or Extranet services.

Price:
Qube 2700, as tested $1249; options range from $999 to $1449 Cobalt RaQ rack-mountable for ISPs $1299 CacheQube also available

Contact:
Cobalt Networks, Inc.
440 Clyde Avenue, Building B
Mountain View, CA 94043
Phone: (888) 70-COBALT, (650) 930-2500
Fax: (650) 930-2501
Web: www.cobaltnet.com

Reviewed:
September 1998

Cobalt Qube 2700

The first thing you notice about the Cobalt Qube 2700 is its distinctive styling. The form factor is, appropriately, a cobalt blue cube. A green neon light graces the front of the unit, making this as much an object d'art as an appliance.

The second thing you notice about the Cobalt Qube is its concise manual of roughly 30 pages which contains everything you need to know to configure and use it.

What's inside?

The Cobalt Qube contains a LINUX operating system running on a 150 Mhz RISC processor. You can use Telnet to directly access the command line operations of the microserver, or you can disable this access totally by one of the administrative options. The model we tested has 16 megabytes of memory and a 2.1 gigabyte hard disk, others have 32 megabytes of memory and a 6.4 gigabyte hard disk.

Setting up the Cobalt Qube 2700

By default, the Cobalt Qube will attempt to obtain an address from an addressing server. If it cannot find a server, you must manually configure it. To do so is very easy. First, you connect power and network cables. Next, you use its small LCD console and cursor control buttons to set up three parameters (network mask, gateway, and its own IP address). If you can set the time on your VCR, you can set up your Cobalt Qube. (And so can anyone else, so be sure to put your microserver in a safe place!)

You manage the microserver through any standard web browser. Cobalt recommends that you use versions 3.0 or later of Internet Explorer or Netscape Navigator. The first time you connect to the Cobalt Qube, enter the URL http://<ip-address-of-qube> in your browser. You'll see a setup wizard that will help walk you through seven screens.

The setup wizard takes care of the following items:

Once these screens are completed, you can make changes to your setup or add new users and groups by using the administrator site, accessible from the microserver's home page. Click here to view a larger image
Click on this image to view a larger one

We'll illustrate how easy the Cobalt Qube is to setup with this last series of screens for users and groups. Context-sensitive help appears whenever you move your mouse over an operator button.

Group Configuration

Access to collaborative tools is very intuitive. Click the View Groups button on the Home Page, and from the View Groups screen, you can access the public or private web site of a group, send email to the entire group's membership, or, as a member, join threaded discussions.

Each user has a Personal Profile , a combination configuration panel and web document management system. Even the most novice of users will be able to modify mail and web preferences, monitor personal web site activity, and perform document maintenance (file backup and restoration) here.

Web and File Sharing Services

Once setup is completed, users can begin to store documents on the Cobalt Qube's built-in web site. Built-in search and automatic document indexing features make it easy for visitors to locate information they seek from the multiple personal and group web pages hosted on the microserver. Searches return the title, URL, and summary information of all pages that meet the search criteria entered. There is also a document organizer utility called InfoPlace to help users organize documents they place on their web sites so that visitors can easily locate information.

User Configuration

Use the View Users button to access the View User List screen. This screen acts a portal to a registered user's web site, and it can also be used to send email to a user.

The built-in web page builder doesn't have all the bells and whistles of desktop web publishing tools, but it's fine for a novice, and convenient. You can, of course, use any standards web development application or HTML editor, and the microserver supports a broad range of developer tools for jazzing up web sites, including scripts written in Perl and UNIX shell, HTMLscript, and other XML compatible scripting languages.

The Cobalt Qube supports three different methods for file sharing. It can be configured to appear in your Windows 95/NT Network Neighborhood, or as an AppleShare host from your Macintosh Chooser. You can also transfer files using any File Transfer Protocol application. This is the most robust set of file sharing services we've seen on an Internet application or web appliance.

Communication Services and Collaborative Tools

In addition to web services, the Cobalt Qube also comes with various communication and collaboration tools. We particularly appreciate the value-add features supported for electronic mail. Using the Personal Profile, you can auto-forward email to another user or set up an auto-response that tells anyone you are on vacation or some other pre-set reply. These services are more extensive than the kinds most client email software offer. The model we tested did not relay email to users outside the local LAN, although this capability is present in LINUX and could be enabled.

The Cobalt Qube's threaded discussion groups are a convenient means of communicating ideas among groups of individuals working on the same project. Any registered user can begin an email discussion. All related email replies form a thread, so each member of the group can follow the conversation.

Other Notable Features

The Cobalt Qube can be used to run a Domain Name Server (DNS) for your company. DNS lets you use names of computers, e.g., qube.example.com, instead of harder to remember IP addresses (e.g., 200.100.152.167). DNS configuration is a very simple matter of entering human-readable names the administrator associates with IP addresses. This is a particularly helpful feature for companies that don't run Windows NT or UNIX systems.

Final Word

The Cobalt Qube is a smart appliance, both in looks and features. It's an excellent choice for companies that want to improve collaboration and information distribution among co-workers, and an optimal solution for shops that can't justify the cost and complexity of operating NT or UNIX servers for web or Internet applications.


Copyright © 1998 1999 Core Competence, Inc. and David Strom, Inc.
All Rights Reserved

No part of this report may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publishers.