Everything happens at such a rapid pace on the Internet that only a few can maintain dominance for very long. Only companies like Google with its comprehensive online service and versatile web technology, like Flash can last for so long. Even them, Adobe’s Flash took a severe beating as many online service providers are abandoning it in the wake of HTM 5’s introduction. In many cases, having a short dominance of just two years in the Internet is already an amazing feat. The Apache Web Server first achieved the top position in the web server market in 1996 and it hasn’t given up the position since. It did come quite close though, when Microsoft finally decided to put real effort in this area. The web hosting industry saw a surge in Windows-based hosting solution and Microsoft gets a third of web hosting market in 2008, just slightly behind Apache.
But now it appears that the surge has ran out of steam. Netcraft reported that as of November 2011, Apache’s share in the market reaches back to about 65 percent, Microsoft has fallen back to just slightly over 15 percent and nginx, a newcomer comes at the third at about 8 percent. So, why Apache has such a pervasive domination? Is there any indication that it will change any time soon?
These are a few advantages of Apache that seem to interest many users for years:
- Flexibility: Apache allows users to use open source modules extensively. In the Apache web server, modules are essentially plugins and web hosts can configure Apache web server to their specifications and requirements. Apache Software Foundation and independent developers have released hundreds of useful modules.
- Open source: It leads to all common benefits traditionally found in any open-source platform such as, high efficiency, expansive support from worldwide community, flexibility, rapid bug tracking and fixing; and so forth.
- Portability: As an open source platform, Apache can be used in many operating systems. Traditionally, it works on just about any major UNIX variant and LINUX distro. The web servers is also usable on Windows, Mac OS X, OS/2, AmigaOS and a few other operating systems many people have probably never even heard of. Apache’s portability is a significant advantage and that alone should make it really clear that until they decide to change their philosophy, Microsoft and other web server developers won’t even have a chance at competing with Apache.
- Cost: It may need to be included as one of advantages for Apache’s open-source platform, but it definitely deserves a reiteration. By being a free web server, Apache offers a very low entry barrier that can attract many users from those who run a web hosting server in the basement to major web hosts with huge data centers.
- Unique features: Apache web server offers a few useful integrated features that put it above the competitors. Load balancing is one and it is the reason why so many web hosts can guarantee very high uptime percentage. It also offers built-in virtual hosts, meaning it is very easy to create sub-domains.
- Security: It bears asking though, after decades of use, it is still very difficult to name a major security incident that involved Apache. In fact, users of other web server platforms need to assume that failures will happen.
The organization behind Apache
Over the years, the Apache Software Foundation (ASF) has helped people to set up affordable, reliable and secure web servers. The organization is also responsible in ensuring the domination of Apache web server in the web hosting industry. As a legal, non-profit organization ASF assumes the liability for codes it released and this protects users from possible lawsuits related to infringements that often plague the software industry. The ASF introduced commercial-friendly software licenses, which encourage developers to use the stable ASF codes with little consequence
The Apache Software Foundation also has a non-affiliation policy, which prevents politics of software industry from dividing its community. Although various developers can work on ASF projects, they are essentially considered as individual developers.
The foundation implements a consistent process for developing and managing open source projects, while the incubation system allows project teams to refine their process according to changes in the industry. While the ASF has sometimes been criticized by being too bureaucratic, the resulting code is usually of much higher quality. In addition, this process fosters better collaboration among developers.
The ASF has another system called “meritocracy”, and it implies that the membership in this community isn’t based on individual connection or politics, but rather on developers’ merit. Those who want to join the ASF need to choose an ongoing project and contribute to it, developers who show useful contributions will earn a membership. The merit-based system in implemented fairly and it is the reason why the community has been quite cohesive over the decades. ASF’s development system is one of the primary reasons that the Apache web server has been very successful in the industry.
History taught us, all empires eventually end. Despite Apache’s undisputable domination, we can’t expect Google or Microsoft simply rolls over and plays dead. So what will they do? Earlier this year, Microsoft released Windows Home Server 2011 as an attempt to bring web hosting servers to homes. Unfortunately, Microsoft made a huge mistake right from the start.
Drive Extender is an important selling point of Microsoft’s Home Server that allows single folder name space, multi-disk redundancy and storage extension to any hard drive type. However, it is quite astonishing that Microsoft decided to remove it. The immediate outcry prompted Microsoft to offer RAID technology instead. However, it doesn’t exactly appeal the masses. Consequently, we shouldn’t look to the software giant’s fortune in the web server market any time soon.
Google on the other hand, doesn’t seem to put much of an effort into this. Its web server technology seems to be aimed to serve its own needs. As a dominant service provider in the Internet, it requirements will grow very rapidly and perhaps its web server technology won’t become an all-purpose solution anytime soon.
Nginx is a much more interesting case. It almost achieve ten percent market share in just three years, some of its appeals are MP4 streaming and 10,000 simultaneous streaming. Being a new platform, Nginx still hasn’t achieved a widespread respect that Apache has, however as a fork of Apache, it also inherits most of the parent’s advantages. Combined, these two platforms conquer nearly 75 percent of the market share.
In short, it appears that web server platform, as the underlying parameter of the Internet won’t experience too many changes anytime soon. Unless, a competitor can come up with a very exceptional web server, Apache’s position will solidify even further. In a field where everything changes on a daily basis, Apache web server has an astounding achievement and we should expect to see it continues to have a significant role in the web hosting industry in years to come.