By Stephen H. Wildstrom The market for small-business servers has never taken off the way it should. I suspect that many small businesses and branch offices of enterprises, say those with 10 or fewer computers, are either limping along with server-less networks or making do with overpriced and overly complex networks running on Microsoft Windows 2000 Server or Novell Netware software.
Sun Microsystems is best known as a maker of midsize to very large servers for corporate customers, but it may have a network solution for many small businesses in the latest edition from its Cobalt division, the Qube 3. This server is an attractive cobalt-blue cube about eight inches on a side. With prices ranging from about $950 (less than the minimum software-only cost of Windows 2000 Server or Netware) to about $1,750, the latest Qube offers everything that a small business or branch office needs in a very simple-to-install and -administer package.
Unlike other Sun products, which run on its proprietary Solaris version of Unix, the Qube is based on Linux. But there's little reason to be concerned about the operating system since all configuration and administration of the server is done through a Web browser, and the Qube is designed so that both Windows PCs and Macintoshes can be hooked up to it.
SECURE ACCESS. One valuable feature new to the Qube 3 is its ability to function as a domain controller for a Windows network. This means it can provide the same level of security as a Windows 2000 or NT 4.0 server. It also means that in a branch office, logging into the Qube can give PC or Mac users secure access to network resources -- such as file servers, databases, or printers -- at the home office.
A virtual private networking (VPN) option based on the IPsec standard takes this a step further by providing for secure, encrypted communications between the Qube and other servers over the public Internet. A second VPN, based on the point-to-point tunneling protocol that's a standard part of Windows, gives remote users access to the Qube.
The Qube also provides a broad range of server functions. It can share a printer hooked up through either a parallel or USB connection with all users of the network. It acts as an e-mail post office, usually for mail forwarded from your Internet service provider or from a corporate mail server. A built-in Web server makes it easy to set up a company intranet for everyone on the local area network, and all users get their own private area to publish pages on the intranet.
NO EXTRAS. You can create up to 150 user accounts on a Qube, although 25 simultaneous connections is probably a practical limit. Unlike Windows server versions of Netware, no per-user licenses are required, so you don't get hit with additional charges as you add users.
The Qube is available in three models. The base Standard Plus Edition features a 450-MHz processor, 64 megabytes of memory, and a 20-gigabyte hard drive for about $950. The $1,280 Business Plus goes to 256 MB of RAM, a 40-GB drive, and adds VPN support and Web-page caching for faster surfing. The $1,750 Professional Plus doubles the memory to 512 MB and adds a second 40-GB hard drive. Wildstrom is Technology & You columnist for BusinessWeek. Follow his Flash Product Reviews, only on BusinessWeek Online