Open Source

In a nutshell: The Cobalt Qube 2

Have you ever heard of the Cobalt Qube? No, its not that thing Apple recently released. As a matter of fact, it's been out much longer. Come take a visual tour of this interesting little Linux server that could take over your entire network!

Surely by now you’ve heard of Apple’s new computer, known as the Power Mac G4 Cube. Well, long before Apple even began developing this machine, there was already a cube-shaped computer out there, created by Cobalt. They call it the Qube.

Presenting the Cobalt Qube: Just a little larger than a soda can.

What is the Qube?
Cobalt defines the Qube as a server appliance and the heart of an intranet or Internet network. However, the Cobalt Cube isn’t your father’s network server. The key difference between a standard server and the Qube is what the Qube doesn’t have.

Unlike your run-of-the-mill server, the Qube doesn’t require what Cobalt refers to as “unnecessary general purpose computer hardware.” So what does that mean, exactly? It’s simple. You won’t find things such as a keyboard, mouse, monitor, or sound cards attached to this machine. Only a small user interface and two Ethernet ports are needed to run the Qube.

If you’re hoping to hook a keyboard and mouse into this machine, think again. This is your primary user interface.

The operating system may surprise you. Instead of developing an OS specifically for the Qube, Cobalt went with Linux. That’s right, the Qube is running a modified version of Linux. Of course, the version of Linux that your Qube runs depends on how often you update your machine.

The Qube runs off a 64-bit processor and comes with anywhere from 16 to 64 MB of EDO RAM. However, the machine can be upgraded to 256 MB of RAM. It carries an internal Ultra ATA hard drive, a dual 10/100BaseT network interface, a PCI slot for expansion, and a high-speed serial port. All the hardware—and the power supply, fan, and cords—fit into a box that is roughly 7.25 x 7.25 x 7.75 inches.

So how does it work?
Don’t worry, you don’t have to press those little buttons to get the Qube to work. You actually interact with the Qube using a Web browser. That’s right, you run the Qube by typing a URL or IP address in your Web browser.

The following images show how the Public Site Web-based interface looks and works on the Cobalt Qube.

As you can see, the Qube uses a Web-based interface to control it. This allows for the Qube to work without a keyboard, mouse, and monitor.

How do you move around in the Web-based interface? By using the navigation links on the left of the Web page, you can tell the Qube where you want to go.

Want to see who has access to the Qube? Click the View Users tab in the navigation link.

Want to see which users belong in a particular grouping? Click the View Groups tab in the navigation link.

When you need to find something on the Qube, click the Search tab in the navigation link and type the item or person you’re looking for.

Would you like to change your user profile on the Qube? It’s very simple: Click on Personal Profile in the navigation link.

By clicking on the Programs link, you can see what programs the system administrator has installed on the Qube.

Perhaps you want to add a user to the Qube? If you have the correct permissions set, click Add User in the navigation link to add to your heart’s content.

The Administrator site
System administrators, this part is just for you. The following set of images show the Administrator Web-based interface and demonstrate how easy it is to run the Cobalt Qube on your network.

As you can tell, the navigation links have changed a bit now that we have entered the Administrator site.

Our first option in the navigation link, Users, lets us choose between User Management or Administrative Management. We’ll start off with User Management.

You can add and remove as many users on the Qube as you want. The User Management area allows the administrator to set up specific user accounts and their respective e-mail accounts.

Clicking Add New User in the User Management screen takes us to a page where the administrator can add a specific user to the Qube. Notice that the administrator can grant space on the Qube, as well as a specific e-mail address for the user.

Want to add your newly created users to a specific group? You can do so by clicking Groups in the navigation link.

Clicking the Add Group button in the Groups page will take you to a page that allows you to create a specific group. Notice how you can choose from members who have already been entered into the Qube database.

Clicking the Set Group Defaults button in the Groups page will take you to a page that allows you to set the maximum allowed disk space for groups.

Want to create a mailing list with specific people on or off the Qube? You can easily set up a list by clicking Mailing Lists in the navigation link.

Clicking Add Mailing Lists will take you to a page where you can add a specific mailing list, along with the users that it will contain.

Want to have more control of the network setup on your Qube? Click Network to access the Qube’s Hostname, Domain Name, DNS addresses, Gateway, and more. You can also set up the Ethernet ports on the Qube in this area.

You also have an option to set up a dial-up modem, which can be connected to the serial port in the back of the Qube.

By clicking the Control Panel link on the left, you can gain access to the services on the Qube. From this point, you can control the E-mail Server, the FTP Server, the DNS Server, and the DHCP Server.

Clicking Access Rights in the Control Panel enables you to change the access rights of end users with specific services on the Qube.

To control which IP addresses have access to the Qube, click IP Firewall in the Control Panel.

Do you want to change the time on your Qube? Click Time in the Control Panel, and you can set the time and time zone on the Qube.

The Maintenance tab includes options to help you keep your Qube running optimally.

The Backup option lets you back up all files contained on the Qube—handy, in case something causes the server to go down.

So you backed up a file the other day and now you need to restore it? By clicking on Restore, you have the option of restoring specific files that have been lost.

Cobalt regularly provides updates and third-party support for the Qube. How do you install them? Simply click Install Software and upload it to the Qube. The Qube will then list all software that has been installed.

Interested in finding out how your Qube is operating? By clicking System Status, you can get a detailed description of how your Qube is doing.

You have the Qube up and running, but how can you tell how many hits it’s receiving? Just click Service Status on the left of the Web page.

You have the option to see how every Web service is doing on your Qube. Care to see how your e-mail server is doing? Click Email and find out.

If something isn’t working right, it’s nice to know about it! By clicking the Active Monitor button in the lower-left corner of the Web page, you can bring up the Active Monitor page. It tells you which components and services are running and lets you know if there is a problem with a specific area.

Final thoughts
If I had to sum up my thoughts on this machine with a single word, it would be “amazing.” I’ve been running this little server in my office for roughly two months now, and I’ve experienced only a few slight problems with it from time to time.

I had a failure of the FTP server, but after a quick restart the server was back and running, as fully operational as the day I pulled it from the box. The only other problem was interference between the DHCP servers of the Qube on the TechRepublic network, which I resolved by simply turning off the DHCP service on the Qube.

The final question is this: Would I actually purchase a Qube and use it for a server on my own network? The answer: Yes, I would. As a matter of fact, I have suggested that TechRepublic purchase some Qubes to run a few specific services on our own network.
Have you had a Qube placed on your network? If so, we want to know what you think about it. Post your opinion below or send us a note.

Ed Engelking is a Web editor for TechRepublic’s Support and NetAdmin Republics. In his spare time he works as a Webmaster for, a Web site he cofounded with another TechRepublic contributor, Kyle Harmon.

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