Apache earning its stripes

Apache, the popular Web server that runs a majority of sites on the Internet, is poised for growth in enterprise data centers as companies Web-enable business applications.

"Web servers are becoming increasingly important as more and more applications are built to be accessed using a Web browser," says Dan Kusnetzky, vice president of system software at IDC, which predicts that the Web server software market will jump from $852 million in 2002 to about $1.7 billion in 2007.

Those figures don't include free software such as Apache, Kusnetzky points out, but he says that as Linux becomes more widely used in enterprise installations, Apache is likely to be the Web server that goes with it.

In addition, because Apache runs on multiple platforms, it can be used to consolidate access to Web-based applications running on heterogeneous systems. With other offerings such as Sun's Sun One Web server and Microsoft's Internet Information Server, users typically are tied to the vendor's platforms, Kusnetzky says.

About two-thirds of active Web sites use Apache, according to technology tracking company Netcraft. By contrast, Microsoft accounts for just one-quarter of Web sites, and Sun One has about 1%.

A challenge for Apache as it moves into enterprise data centers, however, is that it doesn't provide the management tools and user interfaces that companies are used to with commercial products. Covalent Technologies, a company formed by a group of Apache developers, is addressing that problem by providing enterprise products and support for Apache deployments. Its customers include Johnson & Johnson, General Electric and Fidelity Investments.

"There is growing adoption of Apache in Fortune 1000-type companies, and those companies are used to having products that have an enterprise-ready set of characteristics," says John Jack, CEO of Covalent.

"In other words, you can install them, you can update them, you can manage them. Those companies also are used to having an enterprise-class vendor behind the product so that there is somebody to call for support services, questions, whatever. Covalent provides those things," he says.

Pacific Life Insurance Company in Newport Beach, Calif., began using the Apache Web server several years ago to support a Web-based version of its human resources application. It chose Apache because of its Unix roots and because of the security, stability and scalability the product offers, says Scott Johnson, assistant vice president of human resources technology at Pacific Life.

As its Web-based applications have become more sophisticated and more widely used, however, Pacific Life turned to Covalent for help. "We needed a vendor that could ease the administration tasks of managing the Apache environment," Johnson says. "Covalent provided us with an Apache bundle that pulls together all the component pieces we need [mod_ssl, mod-ldap, Tomcat] for ease of installation, management and third-party support."

The allure of Apache, users say, is its flexibility and the almost-obsessive support from the open source community and, in these economic times, its cost - the Apache Web server is free.

"We'd been using [a commercial Web server] for a couple of years, and we just weren't happy about the commercial support we were getting for high-capacity sites," says Mark Kortekaas, vice president of operations for CBS Information Systems in New York. Kortekaas found the reliability and stability he was looking for in Apache and runs about 100 instances of Apache to support dozens of news sites.

"We had issues, and we were able to resolve them using the open source model of Apache by modifying the source code to handle capacity, as well as for some business needs we had," he says.

As for technical support, Kortekaas says when issues such as security vulnerabilities are uncovered, Apache is quick to provide fixes. "We see patches come out on a regular basis," he says. "We didn't see patches come out real regularly with the commercial software we were using."

Critics say the trouble with patches for open source software such as Apache is that there is often no single source for the patch. It's also tough to track down who is using the software. On the other hand, commercial software vendors are sometimes slow to respond to problems, experts say.

The Apache Software Foundation says it is focused on keeping the software bug-free. Apache 2.0 has been updated seven times since its general release in April last year. With Apache 2.0, users get better performance thanks to a number of improvements, including a new threading model and updated modules.

Apache 2.0.45, which was released last month, "addressed two security concerns: one which would occur if third-party modules did not correctly use the Apache API functions when calling external programs . . . and the other to close a potential denial-of-service attack," says Jim Jagielski, a charter member of the Apache Software Foundation.

"Development on Apache is always progressing. As such, we're always adding new features, tuning performance, closing bugs," he says.

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