Sun Microsystems Inc. is ending its Cobalt server product line, but thats not the end of the Cobalt story. Sun has elected to release the Cobalt RaQ 550 server appliance source code under a Berkeley style open-source license, thus giving the old product line new life.
The release of the RaQ 550 code follows in the footsteps of Sun releasing the Cobalt lines ROM source code at the SourceForge developer site under the GNU General Public License (GPL). This ROM code is a custom BIOS for the x86-based Qube and RaQ products. This followed Sun open-sourcing its user interface and back-end software, formerly Sausalito, now called Blue Quartz. This was released in July 2003 under a BSD-like license.
The once popular Cobalt line is still used by many Web hosting companies and ISPs for low-end Web and Internet services: for example, for e-mail and dynamic host configuration protocol (DHCP) server. Despite the retirement of the line, Sun plans to maintain the knowledge base and support forum for the Cobalt RaQ 550 device for three more years, through mid-February 2007.
Duncan Laurie, a Sun engineer, is watching over the BIOS code even though the project is not sponsored by Sun. The Japan-based Blue Quartz project is also an independent effort. This effort is supported by the Cobalt User Group.
The release of all this code makes it possible for other vendors to release Cobalt clones, since all the necessary firmware and software is now openly available.
Though such moves may have little impact in the enterprise market, which in recent years turned away from the once-popular Cobalt line and other rack-mount and application device servers to cheaper, more compact blade servers, it opens the potential for the now-collectors items to continue to be used in small and home offices and in consumer server applications. The Sun Cobalt line is dying, but low-end Cobalt usage may continue to live on in smaller or vertical businesses.