Following a flurry of mid-range and high-end Unix server announcements this week, IBM will next week begin shipping production models of its first full-featured appliance server.
The xSeries Hosting Appliances server, due to ship on 16 April, is a high-density, preloaded Web-hosting appliance aimed at those ISPs who currently buy Cobalt Raq servers from Sun Microsystems.
IBM already sells low-end server appliances -- the Windows 2000-based xSeries 130 and the Linux-based xSeries 135 -- but the new server adds a Web-based management interface designed to make it easy for administrators and site owners to enable functions and applications necessary for e-commerce sites.
As previously reported by ZDNet UK, IBM has enlisted Israeli software company Sphera to provide the management interface. Sphera's HostingDirector software runs on and manages Solaris, Linux and Windows 2000 servers, but IBM's xSeries Hosting Appliances server runs the Linux version on Red Hat 7.1.
It is this ability to control a large number of services that IBM hopes will win customers from Sun. Sun's Cobalt appliances allow administrators to set up DNS and email services and run applications that use PostgreSQL databases. Cobalt owners can download specially pre-packaged applications such as mySQL and NeoMail Web-based mail, but this is provided without warranty. What's more, since its acquisition of the Cobalt brand, Sun has abandoned official support of the site that used to provide owners with these packages. The site, pkgmaster.com, is now maintained by Sun/Cobalt employees.
Like the Cobalt interface, HostingDirector lets administrators set up DNS and email services. But the difference, according to Sphera, is that HostingDirector is extensible. Administrators can enable databases such as PostgreSQL and mySQL through the Web interface, as well as e-commerce software including Freeware Merchant and Miva Merchant, streaming media servers like RealServer and Apple's open-source Darwin software. Site owners can also use the interface to generate Verisign digital certificates.
Neither IBM nor Sphera were immediately able to comment. However, speaking to ZDNet at ISPCon Europe in February, Sphera senior sales engineer Alex Chatila said the IBM solution would allows many more types of Web server to be created much more easily than is possible on a Raq.
"The Cobalt Raq provides out-of-the-box solutions," he said at the time. "But we provide out-of-the-box solutions that are fully automated. Appliance servers are all about getting a Web site set up quickly on the server, but with current appliances you need to create new accounts manually, set up databases manually, and you need someone who knows Linux well if you want to set up an e-commerce site."
For its part, Sun is expected to revamp the Cobalt Raq range this summer in the form of a dual-processor appliance called the Raq550, according to sources.
IBM's xSeries Hosting Appliances server will cost $2,569 (about £1,798) with a 950MHz Celeron processor, 256MB of ECC RAM and a 40GB hard disk.