Given the abundance of free or bundled Web server software, such as Apache and Microsoft's Internet Information Server, there's been little reason for companies to invest in other versions. According to Netcraft's Web server survey (see http://www.netcraft.com/ survey), some highly visible products, such as Netscape Commerce Server and Lotus Domino, have surprisingly small market shares - often less than 1 per cent each.
One lower-profile, but increasingly well-regarded, alternative - with 1.12 per cent of the market, according to Netcraft - is Zeus Technology's Zeus Web Server, available for Unix and Linux platforms. Since its first version, Zeus has delivered strong performance, even on low-end hardware. Now in its third generation, Zeus has maintained its blistering performance while adding features critical for enterprise-class Web sites hosted on large, multiprocessor machines.
Given its top-notch performance and sophisticated feature set, it's easy to justify spruiking for Zeus. With it you can host more sites on low-end machines or make the most of your high-end hardware, lowering equipment and support costs. Zeus is a Unix and Linux solution for now; the company says a version for Windows NT will be available in three months.
I tested Zeus Version 3.3.1 running Red Hat Linux 6.0. It took me only about 15 minutes for initial setup, then I used the browser-based Web Server Controller to establish various virtual servers. With Zeus, you can run any number of Web sites using the same hardware - subject to the hardware's capacity, of course.
As for performance, based on my testing using the SPECWeb96 Web Server Test, Zeus is about 30 per cent faster than The Apache Group's Apache 1.3.6 and Netscape's Enterprise Server 3.6.2 in delivering HTML, CGI scripts, and Java applications.
I especially liked Zeus' clear-cut administration. Each virtual server can easily be started, stopped, and configured. For instance, I configured each of my virtual servers to have separate private and public security certificates, a key consideration for Internet commerce. Also, Zeus' secure CGI/1.1 sandboxing feature let me restrict CGI applications to a particular virtual server.
A possible problem with virtual sites is that one site can monopolise the entire server. Fortunately, Zeus offers a solution. After using Zeus' real-time graphical statistics to spot an anomaly concerning a shareware CGI program, I called on Zeus' bandwidth-throttling feature to put transfer limits on the virtual server running the buggy CGI.
Zeus also offers an elegant clustering scheme that doesn't require expensive, complex load-balancing hardware. A front-end system passes client requests to servers in a Web farm. When the server returns the client's request, it also passes information about its workload to the front-end machine so future requests are routed appropriately.
Zeus excels at publishing Web content. I used the supplied installation program to quickly load Microsoft FrontPage Unix server extensions. Typically, maintaining large sites with FrontPage is difficult because content owners can't easily update their sections without opening the site at root level, which introduces numerous security and performance concerns. However, with Zeus' capability to control access to sites separately, FrontPage becomes a good way to handle large amounts of Web content.
Zeus also smooths development of Web-based applications. It supports Internet Server Application Programmers Interface (ISAPI) extensions and filters on all platforms, and you can run Java applications and link to relational databases using Java Database Connectivity (JDBC) database-access tools.
Furthermore, Zeus works with Personal Home Page/Form Interpreter (PHP/FI), a popular freeware set of application-development tools that enable server-side scripting, similar to Microsoft Active Server Pages. But even without PHP/FI, Zeus offers an impressive Server Side Include (SSI) parsing engine. Many other servers restrict SSI to one level, but I wrote SSI code that executed an ISAPI module, directed output to a CGI program, executed a Java applet, and then presented the final HTML page.
If you want extensive control over virtual servers, look no further than Zeus. Although it's a Unix- and Linux-only solution for now, it performs splendidly in every area, especially in its blazing performance.
Top 15 Web servers - June 1999*
(Servers with more than 5000 sites)
*Source : Netcraft Web Server Survey
The bottom line
Zeus Web Server 3.3.1
Summary: With its strong performance and scalability, Zeus Web Server is an excellent choice for high- traffic Web and Internet-commerce sites. This version adds an elegant clustering feature.
Business Case: Even with free Web server software readily available, Zeus' sophistication and performance should make it an easy purchase to justify. Its efficient architecture means you can make the most of both your low- and high-end hardware.
Pros: Extremely fast performance
Thorough development options
Cons: Unix and Linux only
Cost: $US1699 from the company Web site; $85 for academic institutions and nonprofit organisations.
Available from: Purchase and download over the Web.
Platforms: Solaris (SPARC and Intel), SGI IRIX, Digital Unix, Linux, HP-UX, AIX, FreeBSD, and BSDI.