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Apache, IIS, NGINX, GWS : What’s Your Choice?

apache, iis, nginx, web server

The web is operated on the basis of many protocols. These include HTML (HyperText Markup Language), HTTP (HyperText Transfer Protocol) and URI (Uniform Resource Identifier); some people also call it URL. However, behind all these protocols there is the quick and dirty version of the ways in which information is created and distributed over the internet. ‘Web pages are served by web servers’ is this the only truth?

The term ‘web server’ basically has two meanings : One is the physical or the virtual server that hosts the applications; and the other is the software or application that distributes the web content or some other tasks. This depends on the application for the end user or the system.

The platform that actually hosts the applications can be either physical or virtual. If you have a server rack or if you operate a data center, there is a possibility that you have a complex infrastructure. At times these servers perform various combined roles. For example, all the applications and web servers might be on the same machine. However, this totally depends on the organizational security requirements, performance and complexity of the infrastructure.

It is also possible for you to host applications within the virtual or cloud environments and you can also have dedicated virtual instances for every type of server. Again, all this is dependent on what exactly you are trying to achieve.

Utilizing a specific type of virtual or physical server determines the type of web server software you use. If you prefer Microsoft, then you will prefer to use IIS (Internet Information Services / Server) by Microsoft as your primary web server application solution. If you use Linux distribution, you have other alternatives like Apache, NGINX and LiteSpeed.

The Most Popular Web Servers

So which web server should you use for operating your website? The answer to this question depends on various factors. However, first let’s have a look on the popularity. The web server space is dominated by four web servers : Microsoft IIS, Apache, NGINX and Google Web Server.

A NetCraft survey conducted in April 2014 featured the following market share breakdown:

Web Server

% Share (All Sites)

% Share (Active Sites)

% Share (Top Million Busiest)

Apache

38.60%

52.44%

53.44%

IIS

31.10%

11.37%

12.40%

NGINX

15.56%

14.22%

17.82%

Google Web Server

2.28%

8.33%

2.96%

 Selecting The Right Web Server

Unlike any infrastructure decision, your selection of the web server should be based on some important factors:

  • Cost
  • Support
  • Capabilities

The two most important factors – cost and support, tend to go hand in hand. While you may select a specific web server because it is open source, there might be hidden costs involved for maintaining your server. Everyone wants to have a professional support for dealing with the issues of the server, some open source companies have started charging for this. Therefore, whenever you have any issue, you can jump to the front of the line  by getting in touch with the dedicated and experienced support team instead of solving the problem yourself or searching for solutions online.

The server configurations you are looking for also determine which web hosting server you should select. One popular ‘stack’ to be considered is the pairing of the operating systems. The main factors taken into consideration here are performance of the web server, database and the programming server. Here are some combinations that can be considered:

  • LAMP: Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP
  • WIMP: Windows, IIS, MySQL/MS SQL Server and PHP
  • WAMP: Windows, Apache, MySQL/MS SQL Server and PHP
  • LEMP: Linux, NGINX, MySQL and PHP

There are other variations as well. If you go by the ‘free’ and ‘open source’ root, higher efficiency can be achieved through LAMP and LEMP server combinations. It is crucial to note that you can install MySQL, Apache and PHP on the Windows-based machines.

A Breakdown Of Every Server

According to the statistics, NGINX, Apache and IIS are the primary players along with Google Web Server and LiteSpeed

A Quick Overview Of Apache, Microsoft IIS, NGINX and LiteSpeed:

Apache

Cost : Open source, free, no licensing fees

Advantages:

  • There is flexibility in selecting various modules
  • Enhanced security is offered
  • Has strong user-community support
  • Runs on UNIX, Windows, Linux, Mac OS

Disadvantages:

  • It is a process based server; this means that every simultaneous connection requires a thread that can take significant overhead

Microsoft IIS

Cost : Comes with Windows (this means additional cost is involved for licensing)

Advantages:

  • It is supported by Microsoft
  • Access to .NET framework & ASP scripts is provided
  • Microsoft IIS integrates with the other Microsoft services like MS SQL, ASP, Active Directory etc.

Disadvantages:

  • With IIS, you cannot customize as much as open-source web servers

NGINX

Cost : Free (open source)

Advantages:

  • NGINX is known for speed and for being an efficient reverse proxy server
  • It is an event-based server that enables high performance and scaling
  • It is a potentially better option for a VPS environment

LiteSpeed

Advantages:

  • Runs at high speed
  • LiteSpeed is compatible with Apache

In light of the options available, your development environment along with the expertise of your developer and the system administrator will dictate the decision of the web server. It is important to carefully consider all the available options along with cost, support, features, and capabilities offered.

Even though selecting the most popular server makes sense, your choice should depend on what you want to accomplish within your hosting environment.

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Neha Khanna

My name is Neha Khanna, I work for MilesWeb.com. I am interested in posting content on various topics. I aim at posting informative articles that provide value to people.

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