Product review: Netscape ripe for Web

Reliable, scalable, and manageable Web server software is the backbone of any successful intranet, Internet, or extranet operation. Netscape Communications' Enterprise Server 3.6 nicely meets the demands of mission-critical Web serving and, as a solution, is well-suited for enterprise settings.

With this release, Netscape applies pressure to formidable rivals: Apache's Apache Server and Microsoft's Internet Information Server. Although Netscape's solution moves beyond Microsoft's in platform support, Apache's Web server supports the most platforms. This version also adds SNMP support, so it can be remotely monitored via a variety of system management consoles from Hewlett-Packard Co., Tivoli, and Computer Associates International Inc.

Web applications require an acceptable level of run-time performance, and Enterprise Server 3.6 shows marked improvements in this area. The Web server engine has been enhanced. Although I didn't run any formal benchmarks, its performance was noticeably improved. A new CGI engine also helps. Netscape has included hardware accelerators in conjunction with Secure Sockets Layer to improve access speed to secure sites.

I especially like the added multiprocess-mode capabilities. When running multiple processes, this feature lets requests continue processing in the event of a failure. Remaining processes take over during recovery. In my tests, killing one process did not cause the server to go down. Instead, other processes kept things running.

Administrators will find the added support for dynamic server-log rotation valuable. This feature allows site managers to rotate server logs without server shutdown, thereby keeping applications available.

For the most part, I was impressed with the new administration and management capabilities, which, in some ways, are more comprehensive than rivals. Netscape has included its Directory Server, so administrators can now manage resources, such as users or groups, across the organisation. Plus, administrators can selectively delegate tasks to other individuals.

I did find problems with one administration area. This version includes support for remote server management by including multiple Web servers in a cluster and managing them in a more centralised fashion. However, the administration service crashed often. Also, attempts to manage some of my remote servers caused errors. Netscape is looking into the errors and expects to resolve them soon.

Developers will appreciate the expanded accessibility in this version. Netscape has added servlet support to the existing Netscape Server API, CGI, and native database connectivity for sources such as Oracle, IBM's DB2, Sybase, Informix, and ODBC.

Netscape also has improved the process for deploying Web applications with a one-button publishing function. Access controls are provided, as are document-revision controls. Link validation and automatic update functions are included. Netscape also supports Microsoft's FrontPage extensions.

Aside from the administration errors, the product worked flawlessly. Sites both large and small will benefit from its performance and reliability, and links with system management heighten its position against rivals. Distributed sites and current users should consider it.

Senior Analyst Maggie Biggs (maggie_biggs@infoworld.com) evaluates application development and database technologies.

THE BOTTOM LINE: VERY GOOD

Netscape Enterprise Server 3.6

This Web server update boasts improved reliability, added management capabilities, and peppier performance that stiffen competition for rival Web servers.

Pros: Supports multiple processes and process monitoring; dynamic server-log rotation; integrates with system management products; manages multiple servers in a cluster; remote administration; added support for servlets.

Cons: Bugs in administration functions.

Price: $US1,295 for 50-publisher, unlimited access license.

Platforms: Windows NT, Solaris, HP-UX, AIX, Irix, and Digital Unix.

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