Open Source

RaQ 3: An SP's best friend

Cobalt recently released an update (the RaQ 4r) of its popular RaQ 3 server appliance. The RaQ 3 allows Service Providers (SPs) to deploy applications and layered services over the Web. During this Guild Meeting, Ed Engelking discussed this technology.


Cobalt recently released an update (the RaQ 4r) of its popular RaQ 3 server appliance. The RaQ 3 allows Service Providers (SPs) to deploy applications and layered services over the Web. Wanna learn more? On September 6th, Ed Engelking gave TechProGuild members the latest on this technology. If you couldn’t join us then, enjoy the transcript and we hope to see you on our next live Guild Meeting. You can find a schedule of Guild Meetings in your weekly TechProGuild Notes TechMail, or on the Guild Meeting calendar.

Cobalt recently released an update (the RaQ 4r) of its popular RaQ 3 server appliance. The RaQ 3 allows Service Providers (SPs) to deploy applications and layered services over the Web. Wanna learn more? On September 6th, Ed Engelking gave TechProGuild members the latest on this technology. If you couldn’t join us then, enjoy the transcript and we hope to see you on our next live Guild Meeting. You can find a schedule of Guild Meetings in your weekly TechProGuild Notes TechMail, or on the Guild Meeting calendar.

Note: TechProGuild edits Guild Meeting transcripts for clarity.

Welcome to the meeting  
MODERATOR: Welcome to TechProGuild's weekly Guild Meeting. Today's speaker will be TechRepublic's own Ed Engleking. Ed will be discussing RaQ and how service providers can use it to improve service to their customers. And now...here's Ed!

ED ENGELKING: Good afternoon! Today, we're going to be discussing the Cobalt RaQ unit, and how it can make your life easier when it comes to Web hosting. The RaQ, currently in version 4 (which I have yet to use), allows an administrator to set up a Linux-based Apache Web server in as little as five to ten minutes. Despite being a Linux-based machine, users have access to ASP, thanks to Cobalt’s acquisition of Chilisoft.

Now, you may have heard of another item by Cobalt called the Qube. While it may seem to be a similar product, it isn't. The RaQ is designed specifically as a Web-based server. It is designed to host Web sites and run Perl scripts.

JCARLISLE: Only Perl? Or can you do server-side Java as well?

ED ENGELKING: You can do Java side as well, yes. However, I have yet to test if it comes loaded with Java.

JCARLISLE: What kinds of applications can you run from it?

ED ENGELKING: Any application can be run from the RaQ, as long as it’s designed to be used on the Web and can be run from a Linux-based machine.

Setting up RaQ
ED ENGELKING: Does anyone have any questions about the RaQ and how it works? If not, I can rant some more.

JCARLISLE: Rant away. I'll come up with something later!

ED ENGELKING: Okay, sounds like a deal. The RaQ is amazing when it comes to setup. I received two units from Cobalt, which consisted of two RaQs, two power supplies, two Ethernet cables, and one crossover cable. I was able to hook the units up to my network in my office, connect them to one another using the crossover, and power them up in roughly four minutes.

JCARLISLE: The power supplies are external to the unit?

ED ENGELKING: The power supplies are internal. I meant that it came with two power chords.

JCARLISLE: Oh, OK.

ED ENGELKING: After contacting the TechRepublic network administrator for a few IP addresses, I was able to set the machines to run on the network via an interface located on the front of each box. I was instructed to put in the IP address, the subnet, the gateway, and I was on my way. The RaQs, known throughout the building as Homer and Marge, have been up ever since. I had the IT department do some naming resolution to the IP addresses, as I hate typing in numbers all the time. Now, when I type in Homer or Marge in my Web browser, I can access the two RaQ unit's Web interface, which is the only way that you can change anything besides the IP, subnet, and gateway.

JCARLISLE: There are no local keyboards or monitors?

ED ENGELKING: There are none whatsoever. You access it over a network, from any computer in the office that has network access.

MIKKILUSA: Like the Qube, it’s all done from a browser, right?

ED ENGELKING: Exactly. The Qube and RaQ are very similar when it comes to administration.

JCARLISLE: Without an attached monitor, how can you tell that everything starts properly or diagnose any potential problems?

ED ENGELKING: You have two choices: you can use the Web interface, which will tell you what is wrong or if you know Linux well enough, you can Telnet into the box. However, with the Telnet, you won't have any GUI interface. The Web-based interface is much easier to work with. I’m looking for a demo as we speak where you can see the interface in action. Go to http://demo.cobalt.com/raq3en to see a demo of how the interface works.

JCARLISLE: Yeah, but the point is, if there's a problem on startup that doesn’t allow it to communicate with the network, how do you diagnose/resolve it?

ED ENGELKING: That's just the thing, Jcarlisle; this isn't your typical server. This thing always has network access. I have tried my hardest to crash the thing, and it just won’t happen.

JCARLISLE: Typical or not... nothing works perfectly.

ED ENGELKING: So far, this box has. Of course, if there is a problem, it can be re-formatted via a disk that comes with the RaQ.

JCARLISLE: What if there's a hardware problem that's not severe enough to keep it from attaching to a network, but not severe enough to keep it from booting? There must be some way to diagnose the thing.

ED ENGELKING: You hook it directly into a machine, turn it off, then turn it back on and use the software to connect to the box.

MIKKILUSA: Ed does it have a LCD box on the back like the Qube for setting the ip address, subnet, etc.?

ED ENGELKING: The LCD is actually on the front, mikkilusa.

JCARLISLE: Aha, so there is some communication with the outside world other than just telnetting. Got it.

ED ENGELKING: Right, you can start, stop, reboot, and other options from the LCD screen.

JCARLISLE: IBM routers and such always have these screwy LCD codes that appear. But they're always difficult/impossible to decipher without a manual.

ED ENGELKING: There are no codes involved here, Jcarlisle. You can configure a UPS, select a specific language, reboot, and shutdown the machine from the LCD.

JCARLISLE: Ok. Cool. I got it.

The specs
LINUXULA: Do you know the specs on these machines? The Qube is a MIPS processor, right? Are the RaQs?

ED ENGELKING: As far as the processor goes, this baby is running an AMD K6-2. I think it’s running at 300Mhz, but don’t take my word on that one.

MIKKILUSA: I have a Qube (I won from TechRepublic) running on a 12-computer network and running firewall for DSL. They are sweet boxes.

ED ENGELKING: Mikkilusa, yes, they are great machines.

MIKKILUSA: Do you have any snap servers, Jcarlisle? They are like this box all done from a browser.

JCARLISLE: Nope. I sure don’t. Not yet anyway. They seem a little pricey to me.

ED ENGELKING: These remind me of the snap server, Mikkilusa, but with one big difference—they never get hot. They’re always cool to the touch, which means they can be stacked on top of each other without worrying about them melting one another.

MIKKILUSA: It is high on a rack. I do not touch it.

ED ENGELKING: They keep cool using this little fan on the back. It’s roughly the same size as a fan on a laptop.

RaQ versus Qube
JCARLISLE: How hard are they to expand? Can you add memory or hard drive space?

ED ENGELKING: They have a USB port and what appears to be a SCSI interface, so you can actually add on quite a few things, once Linux supports USB.

JCARLISLE: USB? I was under the impression that USB support wasn't cooked yet in Linux.

ED ENGELKING: It’s not. It’s for future use.

MIKKILUSA: So Ed, they handle firewall and Web hosting, email, and what else?

ED ENGELKING: Actually, they don't do firewall, Mikkilusa.

MIKKILUSA: The Qube does very well as a firewall.

ED ENGELKING: That is what the Qube was designed for though, as an inter-office server. The RaQ is only a Web server.

JCARLISLE: Sounds like there's a lot of overlap. What's the difference between the Qube and RaQ?

ED ENGELKING: The Qube is designed to handle small office traffic, setting up DNS and DHCP, and other things like so. The RaQ's main purpose is just to serve up Web pages. It’s good for intranets or Internet. One thing that the RaQ and Qube do have in common is the E-mail server. Oh, and they both support FTP.

MIKKILUSA: It must be way cheaper than the Qube then?

JCARLISLE: Seeing as how it's Linux, they must both be free!

ED ENGELKING: Not exactly. The price actually comes from the software, not the hardware. You pay for the convenience of having everything already installed and ready to go.

This is a modified version of Red Hat. A lot of time was taken to develop a modified version of Linux to go onto the system, as well as the Web interface that makes it so easy to administrate. So, what you're really paying for is the developer's salaries.

JCARLISLE: So much for volunteer open-source projects!

MIKKILUSA: One thing, Ed, on the Qube server I must say I find Cobalt’s Web page for support is weak.

No SAMBA needed
JCARLISLE: It doesn’t have SAMBA or anything like that?

MIKKILUSA: I need whoever wrote the article on Samba Part 1 to hurry up and get part 2 out.

ED ENGELKING: As far as SAMBA, I believe the Qube has it, but not the RaQ, as that isn't its purpose. That's because it wasn't really designed for that Mikkilusa. The Qube was designed for file exchange specifically, not hosting.

ED ENGELKING: The Qube, yes, but the RaQ isn't designed for access by anything other than Telnet, FTP, and the Web.

JCARLISLE: Although it doesn’t come with SAMBA, could you deploy Samba on it anyway?

ED ENGELKING: There'd be no point in doing so, Jcarlisle.

JCARLISLE: Well, if it was designed for file sharing as you said, I thought it might make it easier in a mostly Windows environment.

ED ENGELKING: There would be no purpose in installing SAMBA for Windows file sharing.

MIKKILUSA: The Qube is running on a Windows 95-98 peer to peer, Jcarlisle, and keeps on ticking.

ED ENGELKING: Remember, the RaQ is only a Web server, meaning that it puts out Web pages, that is ASP, Java, and e-commerce kind of things. There is no reason to print to a Windows network or anything of that nature, as that is not the role of the server.

JCARLISLE: Oh, Ok. I got lost somewhere. I’ve got it now. I got confused when we digressed onto the Qube.

MIKKILUSA: It is seen on the network no problem. They use it for some storage and it has a built-in document storage tool.

ED ENGELKING: My RaQ's are currently being used for storage. They hold and deliver my MP3s quite well, I might add.

Types of RaQ units
ED ENGELKING: Any other questions on the RaQ? Okay then, I’m going to rant some more.

There are several types of RaQ units: You have your standard Web-server RaQ that we've been discussing all along, but there are three other types available as well. First off, there is the Cache RaQ, which should be self-explanatory. It simply caches the information that has been accessed for quicker delivery to people who visit a site. Then there is NAS RaQ, which is used to hold large quantities of information. It is perfect for a database-driven Web site. I think it starts off at 32 GB of storage space. Then, finally, you get the neatest one (in my opinion anyhow), the ManageRaQ. The ManageRaQ does exactly what you'd think it does. It manages all your RaQ units. Now why do you think you would want to do that? Say for example, if you had 500 RaQs that needed to be upgraded to a new kernel version that supported USB. Without the ManageRaQ, you'd have to go into the units, each individually, and do the upgrade. With the ManageRaQ, you can tell it to do the upgrade to every RaQ in your company, and it will do it—talk about saving time and energy!

Finally, I'd like to talk about the best thing about the new RaQ 3 and 4 units. I’d like to look at the ability for these machines to cluster. That’s right, these machines can keep track of one another. If one of them goes down, another RaQ unit can detect it and take its place.

If no one else has any questions, I believe we’ll conclude this session.

JCARLISLE: Great! Thanks Ed!

MODERATOR: That's it. It’s top of the hour! Thanks to everyone who participated today. And thanks to Ed for that great introduction to Cobalt's RaQ.
Our Guild Meetings feature top-flight professionals leading discussions on interesting and valuable IT issues. You can find a schedule of Guild Meetings in your weekly TechProGuild Notes TechMail, or on the Guild Meeting calendar.

Editor's Picks

Free Newsletters, In your Inbox