Cobalt Networks was a maker of low-cost Linux-based servers. Founded in 1996 in Mountain View, California under the name Cobalt Microserver, the company pioneered easy-to-use server appliances featuring secure web user interfaces, designed for Internet service providers (ISPs) and small to medium-sized businesses. Cobalt had an extremely successful IPO in December 1999 under the ticker symbol COBT, when its stock price surged from an initial value of $22 to $128.13 at market close. Less than a year later, in September 2000, Sun Microsystems announced it would acquire Cobalt for $2 billion in stock, in an attempt to compete with other Linux-based server vendors. Sun completed the acquisition in December 2000. In hindsight, the timing could not have been worse for an Internet-related acquisition, as the Internet bubble started to collapse in the last quarter of 2000, accelerating through the following year. Sun's Cobalt product line saw some initial success that soon dwindled as Cobalt's core ISP market started shrinking dramatically. In December 2003, Sun retired its Cobalt products, opting at the same time to open source the underlying software and firmware.
Cobalt Networks produced many different types of appliance servers. The two most popular were the Cobalt RaQ3 and RaQ4. The RaQ3 had a 300 MHz AMD K6-2 processor while the RaQ4 ran at 450 MHz. Cobalt also made a RaQ2 with a 250 MHz RM5231 microprocessor along with a RaQ 550 with a 1 GHz processor, and the Sun Cobalt RaQ XTR.
The dedicated server market was one of the largest customer markets for Cobalt servers. CobaltRacks was and is an independent dedicated server company that purchased hundreds of servers from Cobalt Networks. Many other hosting companies and ISPs purchased Cobalt Networks servers. The servers themselves were commonly referred to as blue pizza boxes by employees of these hosting companies because of their size, shape and color.
System administrators could operate Cobalt systems via a small LCD display and four buttons to its right in the center of the server's front panel. Operation was akin more to controlling an appliance such as a VCR rather than a typical general-purpose server.
Although the product line was canceled by Sun three years after its acquisition, Cobalt's products had lasting impact: it was the most successful web server appliance vendor of that time, and that success motivated the founding of blade server pioneer RLX Technologies (later acquired by Hewlett-Packard). Cobalt's engineers were instrumental in launching Sun's current presence in the x86 market; they designed Sun's first x86-based general purpose server, the LX50, and provided engineering and marketing resources that later produced Sun's Sun Fire V60x and V65x servers.
- Shankland, Stephen (2000-04-14). "Sour market pushes Linux stocks below IPO prices". CNET News. Retrieved 2006-11-30.
- Vaughan-Nichols, Steven J (2004-01-06). "Sun's Cobalt Server Software Gets Open-Source Life". eWeek. Retrieved 2006-11-30.
- RAQ XTR press release at the Wayback Machine
- Vance, Ashlee (2003-12-18). "Sun drives the final nail in Cobalt's coffin". Retrieved 2007-06-09.