THAT OLD STANDARD HTTP Web server is being recast by Ieading vendors as merely a component of increasingly sophisticated application- server platforms.
Yet even as commercial Web server venors such as Microsoft and Netscape Communications fill out their server suites, the leading Web server--at least by sheer numbers on the public Internet--continues to be the communally developed, free ware Apache server. It can only become more appealing with a beta of Apache for Windows NT for the first time.
Apache currently holds almost 50 percent of the market. How can that be? And can it last?
Indeed, a comparison of Apache to its more commercially minded competitors is an interesting exercise at this time. It helps ferret out the exact role that Web servers will play as Web SERVERS. Deployments continue to grow, almost exponentialh in scale, scope and corporate importance.
It also demonstrates how a Web server alone, more than ever before, isn't enough to build first-rate Web sites and applications. Enterprise users, in particular, need integrated tools and services, not to mention technical support.
Indeed, when you weed out the large ISPs, hosting services and educational sites, the numbers flip flop. A recent Zona Research survey of 279 large corporate users found Netscape at 42 percent, Microsoft at 28 percent and Apache at just 8 percent of the public Internet server market among enterprise deployments.
All of which points to a Web-server market and a Web-development landscape that is in significant flux.
"I tend to think of the Web server as the operating system of the Web," said Paul Hoffmann, manager of Web product marketing and development at Uunet Technologies Inc.'s Web-hosting business, which runs both Microsoft Internet Information Server on Windows NT and the Apache server on Unix. "But overall, the importance of the Web server is diminishing, if only because there are so many other applications and servers that become important. But the one linking thread will be the Web server."
All of this comes as Microsoft rolls out Internet Information Server 4.0 as part of its latest Windows NT Option Pack, along with release 4.0 of the BackOffice server suite this week. Netscape, meanwhile, is expected this week to flesh out its SuiteSpot server family, and is coming off its move a few weeks ago to acquire Web application-server vendor Kiva Software.
Continuing in its roll as a wildcard in the market, however, is the Apache server, which in a December survey by consultancy NetCraft continued to hold a 45 percent share of the market. NetCraft polled more than 1.5 million publicly accessible (outside the firewall) Web servers.
Apache is developed by a freefloating group of Web developers who voluntarily collaborate on Apache code, patches and upgrades via a Web site (www.apache.org) and mailing lists.
In its usual distributed style, Apache developers have added Windows support to Apache 1.3, which just entered beta. And, in related projects, they are working to add a Java serverlet bridge and even support for Microsoft Active Server Pages (ASP), among other developments.
The group also is considering a major rewrite of the inner workings of Apache sometime next year that will significantly improve the speed and flexibility of the platform, particularly under NT, according to Brian Behlendorf, CTO at Web development house Organic Online and one of the core Apache group developers.
Despite its relatively low profile, some of the Web's largest sites run Apache, including GeoCities and Wired. Behlendorf's Organic Online alone has brought up Colgate, Harley-Davidson, Kimberly-Clark, Kinkos, McDonalds and other major sites on Apache.
"The thing that strikes me about it is that it's a Web server developed by 'Web-server people,' " said Mike Park, president of Web developer QuakeNet Internet Services.
QuakeNet has used Apache to build commerce-oriented Web sites for Oracle, Sun Microsystems and others. "It's reliable, fast and highly configurable," Park said. "By our nature as a company, we develop our own tools, and with access to Apache code and APIs, it's very convenient to build our own tools."
Indeed, while public-domain software has all but disappeared on the client side (InternetWeek, Dec. 1), the ability to download, tweak and redistribute Apache code remains one of its biggest selling points.
But it's questionable whether that selling point plays well in enterprise markets, especially among NT devotees. Admitted Behlendorf: "The value of having source code means less to people who run NT. Our culture is more at home in the Unix world."
Behlendorf also gave kudos to Kiva, which Netscape has agreed to purchase, for enabling enterprise-strength Web applications. "Kiva is interesting," he said. "I don't think the core Apache server will ever be able to compete as a huge application environment against something like a Kiva server. They can do things like scale server-side state between a bunch of different servers, and other magic like that."
Vendors such as Microsoft, Netscape and Oracle (see story, page 1) are fine-tuning platforms in which the Web server plays one small, though critical, role in more complex Web platform.
Expanding Its Options
Furthering its strategy, Microsoft last week rolled out Windows NT 4.0 Option Pack, a technology bundle that includes the Internet Information Server 4.0, its latest Web server release The Option Pack also includes Message Queue Server 1.0, Certificate Server 1.0, Index Server 2.1), Site Server Express, Internet Explorer 4.0 and remote-access scrvices for virtual networking.
Also expected this week is the informal launch of BackOffice 4.(), which will package previously detailed upgrades such as Windows NT, the NT 4.0 Servicc Pack, IIS 4.0 and Exchange Server ;.0, along with SQL Server 6.5 Enterprisc Eldition, SNA Server 4.0 and Proxy Server 2.0. Also expected is the next beta relcase of Site Server 3.0 the vendor's commerce-centric Web publishing solution.
The various product "point releases" represent the next step toward Microsoft's Distributed InterNet Applications (DNA) architecture and a way-station on the road to NT 5.0, coming next year.
"You could have something similar today in Unix, but you can build [applications] faster with NT," said Jonathan Perera, Microsoft's Iead product manager for NT Server.
In addition to the NT services, Microsoft offers a full tools story including Active Server Pages for building dynamic Web sites, Visual InterDev for hardcore coding and even the newly released HTML tool FrontPage 98, Perera said.
Also on tap is Microsoft Transaction Server 2.0, which analysts described as Microsoft's best weapon in combating Netscape's Kiva acquisition in terms of enabling more distributed, scalable Web applications.
Indced, much like the burgeoning Windows NT and BackOffice services infrastructure, Netscape is crafting a family of JavaBeans-encapsulated services to underlie its SuiteSpot server family, said John Dawes, Netscapes group product manag- er for Enterprise Server. The company's directory and messaging servers are alreadv exposed as Beans, with more to come, he said, in particular Bean access to key Kiva functions.
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