If you need to manage more than a handful of domains on your own box, and you’re not man enough to do everything the raw way (I’m not), you probably use some kind of virtual host control panel software. At Made Media, we use Plesk. It has its quirks, but it’s one of the best. It’s not cheap though, and you could argue it’s a little over-complex.
But we didn’t get into Open Source to pay for stuff did we?
A bit of aimless web surfing led me to a post on Scripting News, where Dave Weiner reveals that he picked up a Cobalt Cube from eBay for $125. This got me googling for Cobalt stuff.
For the uninitiated, Cobalt were the first company to really push the idea of Linux-based Internet Appliances. While the Cube was a kind of all-in-one Linux-based Exchange equivalent for the tech savvy office, the RaQ was a Web Hosting service appliance. It was pretty-much the fore-bearer of the explosion of data-centre ‘blade’ servers, and also the grand-daddy of hosting control panels like Plesk, Ensim, Cpanel et al. With it you could manage up to 100 websites on a tiny purple box, with a web-based control panel that made it easy to configure domains, and even pass a level of control out to your clients.
Sun snapped up Cobalt in 2000 but didn’t develop the products a whole lot further before discontinuing the line in 2003. By that time the rest of the web-hosting scene had caught onto the idea and were developing similar systems on top of white-box hardware.
And there the story ended. Or so I thought, until I did a bit of googling last night.
It turns out that in a typical exmple of doing the right thing, Sun open-sourced the Cobalt software. A crack team of Japanese hackers have been working on the code ever since, resulting in an Open Source version, Blue Quartz.
Even better, some bright people have got it working on top of CentOS, which is a hardened, community-supported clone of Red Hat Enterprise Linux (which we use on our main webservers at Made). The great advantage of this is that you can use the latest apache, mysql and PHP, and security fixes are a simple ‘yum update’ away.
But ultimately, the thing that really tweaked my interest is that one enterprising Linux Hacker has produced an all-in-one, free combined ISO installer that will install the whole lot on pretty-much any old PC in around 20 minutes.
So from reading Dave Wiener’s post, to having a fully-running, control panelled, reseller web-host box in my spare room took about two-hours all-in. The computer was an ancient 500mhz celeron machine that really needs freecycling. As it happens the fan-noise is irritating so this little project will probably go no further. But for charities, companies on a budget, or just garage enthusiasts this offers a great opportunity to run their own budget web-server in the spirit of open source.
Take a look!