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the Web becoming central for business and communication, it
is imperative that your enterprise has a Web presence. Read
on for some tips on selecting the components that go into
a Web server. by Soutiman Das Gupta
brick-and-mortar companies in India have adopted the Web in
some form or the other to enhance their business. It may be
in the form of a basic HTTP (Hyper Text Transfer Protocol)
enabled website with absolutely no 'frills'. This can be referred
to as a 'Web brochure'. Or, it may be in the form of a site,
to which the company has extended a part of its services.
Through the site, the company can receive orders, post information,
and allow basic interaction.
Some Indian companies do all their business online and offer
services like trading, shopping, and auction. For these organizations,
the network is the business. It means that the entire business
runs on networking elements like servers, routers, switches
and backbone connectivity.
No matter what kind of business you are in, if you have Web
presence of any nature, it's important to keep the website
and facilities available for all online functions. And in
order to do that, you need to have a dedicated server for
serving Web pages.
A Web server allows you to serve content over the Internet
using HTML. The server hardware configuration is not very
different from any other application or database server configuration.
It allows a site to be accessed from it with the help of Web
server software. The Web server accepts requests from browsers
like Netscape and Internet Explorer and returns the appropriate
HTML documents. A number of server-side technologies can be
used to increase the power of the server beyond its ability
to deliver standard HTML pages. The technologies are CGI (Computer
Graphics Interface) scripts, XML (Extensible Markup Language),
ASPs (Active Server Pages), and SSL (Secure Sockets Layer)
The Web server receives a request for a Web page like http://www.networkmagazineindia.com/index.html
and maps the URL to a local file on the host server. In this
case, the file 'index.html' is somewhere on the host file
system. The server loads this file from disk and serves it
out across the network to the user's Web browser. This entire
exchange is mediated by the browser and server talking to
each other using HTTP.
When it comes to processors in the Web serving space, Intel
(with its CISC-based processors namely the Itanium and Xeon)
and Sun (with its RISC-based UltraSparc processors) cater
to the Web serving space.
So which would be the right processor for your Web server?
Depends on the cost. If you are on a tight budget or prefer
Windows or Linux as your server OS, then you will have to
stick with an Intel box.
But if you have the resources and the expertise to manage
Solaris, a Sun UltraSparc would be highly recommended. Sun
UltraSparc-based servers are bundled with Solaris OS.
If you are expecting heavy traffic on your website, it is
recommended to go in for two or more processors in SMP (Symmetric
Multi-processing) architecture. A SMP architecture allows
multiple CPUs residing in one cabinet to share the same memory.
SMP systems provide scalability because additional processors
can be added to support increase in transaction volume.
Memory (read RAM) is a function of the OS you plan to use
as well as the traffic you expect on your website. When it
comes to OS, it may be a good idea to over-estimate the amount
of memory required. OS developers publish guidelines that
advise on the amount of RAM needed to support a given number
For a Web server you should consider 256 MB as the bare minimum.
If you expect higher number of users and heavy activity in
peak traffic hours, it's advisable to have more RAM. EDO (Extended
Data Out) RAM gives good performance because it eliminates
wait states by keeping the output buffer active until the
next cycle begins. SDRAM (Synchronous DRAM) chips are also
preferred. SDRAM is fast enough to be synchronized with the
CPU's clock and eliminates wait states. At the same time you'll
need ECC (Error Checking and Correction) memory rather than
ordinary parity-checked RAM. Systems that use parity RAM simply
stop when a memory fault occurs while ECC RAM detects and
fixes the error while the server works.
server configuration checklist
Choose a manufacturer with networking expertise
that can provide a high level of technical support
Have the OS pre-installed and look for pre-configured
small business server packages with additional
server software thrown in
Use SMP servers for scalability and reliability
Don't skimp on memory, the more RAM the better
Go for as much redundancy as possible with multiple
power supplies and extra fans if available
ECC memory will help keep your server running
Opt for a fast Ethernet card that can support
10 Mbps and 100 Mbps. Multiple NICs can be installed
to provide useful protection against hardware
failure and to boost server bandwidth
It may be more expensive, but SCSI storage is
a lot better than EIDE. SCSI lets you attach
more disks and use the same controller for your
tape backup drive
Basic monitoring and management facilities are
a must. Also look for remote, management facilities
and SNMP support
Store it up
The next area to concentrate on is disk storage. Storage is
not just about high speed and capacity, but also about features
like high availability and a system that warns of faults and
tolerates individual disk failures. There are two types of
hard disks available: EIDE and SCSI. SCSI disks are faster
and you can attach up to 15 disks to one controller compared
with just four with EIDE. Also SCSI hard disks are faster.
This makes SCSI drives the preferred choice for Web servers.
Another consideration in favor of SCSI is the number of channels.
Multiple channels can improve performance and add the much-needed
hardware redundancy. For example, two SCSI channels allow
you to duplex drives and mirror the controllers and disks
attached to them. By doing this, you can have online backup
if any storage hardware fails.
An OS makes a big difference. Processor, RAM, and bandwidth
usage in a system could increase or decrease with different
OSs. There isn't a 'one size fits all' solution, but different
hardware combinations and applications might favor certain
OSs. There are three leading products to choose from: NetWare
from Novell, Microsoft Windows family, and Unix along with
its variants like Solaris, SCO, and Red Hat Linux.
Selecting an OS depends on your requirements, the server processor
and your budget. If you go for an Intel box, your choice usually
narrows down to NetWare, Windows NT/2000 or Linux. If you
are on a tight budget, then it is recommended to go for Linux
as your server OS, after all it's free. When it comes to Windows,
it is recommended to go for 2000 over the older NT, since
2000 features many enhancements that make it an ideal OS for
running your Web serving software. Sun UltraSparc-based servers
come with Solaris, a Unix variant.
The Web serving software sits on the top of the OS and serves
Web pages on request. Choosing a Web serving software depends
on three important factors: your budget, the OS you use and
the functionality you are looking for.
Nowadays most operating systems come with inbuilt Web serving
software. An example would be IIS (Internet Information Server)
which comes with Windows 2000. Then there are plenty of free
Web serving software, popular among them being Apache, that
provide good functionality.
There are various Web server software
available in the market. Some are free and some
are priced according to the number of users.
Domino Go Webserver
Enterprise for NetWare
iPlanet Web Server, Enterprise Edition
Servertec Internet Server
Tcl Web Server
Zeus Web Server
Soutiman Das Gupta can be reached at email@example.com