Zeus winning third-place battle in Web server market

Although Apache and Microsoft comfortably have the Web server market stitched up, sitting behind them in the third spot is the lesser known Zeus server, which, in the process, has managed to head off competition from the more intensely marketed SunONE server.

According to the March Web Server Survey from Netcraft, Apache's HTTP Server dominates with 62.51 per cent market share. This is followed by Microsoft's IIS with 27.44 per cent. A distant third is Zeus with 2.03 per cent and then Sun Microsystems with 1.07 per cent. The remaining 7 per cent accounts for about a dozen other Web server products.

One of the key reasons for the server's success is its security, according to Zeus' marketing manager Sam Green. He said that it reported one security vulnerability last year, "compared with the 26-odd each for IIS and Apache".

Asked if that's because fewer people use Zeus therefore making it come under less scrutiny from the hacker community for potential flaws and weaknesses, Green's response was: "There is an element of truth in that."

But there's also some fundamental architectural differences. "IIS's weak point is the operating system and the way that it's so closely tied into it. [Windows] NT is fundamentally less secure and robust than Unix and Linux," he said. "Plus, if you crash IIS you end up with admin-level privileges for the server. And Microsoft didn't really start taking security seriously until quite recently."

As for Apache, he said it wasn't written as a "whole", so it is "less consistent". He described its SSL implementation as "essentially a bolt on".

Zeus first released its Web server in 1995 and has had a presence in the Australian market since 1997. The first local sites Green said were mainly in the public sector, including Central Queensland University, the University Of Western Australia, Melbourne University, and the Australian National University.

One current Zeus user is Connect Infobahn Australia (CIA), which has been using its Web server for the past four years. Connect is a Web hosting company and has hosted sites in the past for the Gay Games 2002, and currently for Greenpeace Australia

It runs Zeus 4.2 on top of a Debian Linux box. It originally ran Apache but according to Daniel Kafe, system administrator at CIA, as the number of customers grew the company started thinking of an alternative Web server, especially as Apache at the time had "issues" with its multithreading. "We felt it [Apache] was inadequate for our needs," Kafe said.

Another selling point for CIA is the fact Zeus is a commercial product. "It has support. If there are any bizarre problems that we may have, we can get support through one easy contact," he said.

Queensland Web hosting provider Itel (formerly Global Info-Links) also uses Zeus. Peter Newsome, a network manager from Itel's corporate services department, said it started using Zeus began some six years ago and now runs 4.2 alongside a BSD operating system environment.

Newsome said he has found no real problems with the software. "We find all the features are good. And we haven't found it to not be secure," he said.

An archive of Netcraft's Web server surveys can be found at http://www.netcraft.com/survey/archive.html.

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