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Cobalt unveils Linux-based server appliance

The company introduces a slightly faster version of its machine used for dishing up Web traffic, as well as new software to lure Web-hosting customers that want to beef up their offerings.

Cobalt Networks has introduced a new version of its server appliance, a Linux-based machine used for dishing up Web traffic.

Cobalt's new model, the Raq4, comes with a slightly faster processor--a 450-MHz AMD K6-2 instead of the 300-MHz chip on the Raq3. But more significant is new software that the company hopes will lure customers that want to add more features to their Internet servers.

Cobalt, based in Mountain View, Calif., makes "server appliances"--computers designed to do one thing well. In the case of the Cobalt Raq line, the devices actually can perform several operations, including hosting email or Web pages. Cobalt's Raq is designed to be bolted into racks used by customers who buy Cobalt machines in large quantities.

Though Cobalt isn't that big, it has won praise from analysts as one of the biggest sellers of server appliances. W.R. Hambrecht analyst Prakesh Patel expects Cobalt to report "a very strong quarter" tomorrow, with $15 million revenue.

The new system comes with a profusion of new software features, said Peter Ulander, senior product marketing manager at Cobalt. The Raq4, with prices between $3,999 and $4,999, costs $700 more than a comparably configured Raq3.

Raqs sell primarily to companies such as Web-hosting firms that rent out server space to others who want to put up Web pages without the hassle of administering sites.

Cobalt argues that these companies have become very competitive, like phone companies, and therefore must make money not on basic services but through fancier options, the equivalent of call waiting or caller ID.

To that end, Cobalt added some new software to the Raq4, including several software packages to enable fancier Web page hosting.

The server comes with Cobalt's own ChiliSoft software, which lets the Linux machine take advantage of Microsoft's Active Server Pages technology. That software is available as a $795 option on the Raq3, Ulander said.

Active Server Pages is a technology that allows computers to create Web pages on the fly--for example, to compile a list of search results and deliver it to a browser. The Raq also supports a similar open-source technology, the Hypertext Preprocessor (PHP) as well as the CGI, Perl and Java software packages for running programs on the server.

The new model also comes with Borland/Inprise's Interbase database software package, Ulander said.

In addition, the machine comes with software that enables data to be mirrored on two hard disks, protecting against the failure of one. The software is a derivative of software released by Cobalt that enables one server to take over for another.