Is Apache overextending itself as rivals devour its core web server share?

Is Apache overextending itself as rivals devour its core web server share?

Summary: Has the Apache Software Foundation overextended itself by taking open source projects like OpenOffice and Cloudstack off the hands of proprietary giants while its famed HTTP web server continues losing ground to NGINX?


Have you wondered if the Apache Software Foundation is overextending itself while rivals like NGINX dig deeper into its core web server business?

Consider this. The 17-year-old foundation -- whose namesake HTTP Server is the most popular web server on the Internet with more than 60 percent market share-- now governs more than 150 open source software projects, including recent additions of mega projects OpenOffice and Cloudstack, whose proprietary corporate sponsors were only too happy to hand off the code to a willing party.

Yet in that same timeframe, NGINX has established itself as the other (and fast growing) leading open source web server running roughly 70 million web sites -- about 10 percent of the total on the web.  And its customers are household names; more than 25 percent are among the top 1,000 busiest including facebook, Zappos, Groupon and WordPress, the company claims.

In a recent telephone interview, ASF President Jim Jagielski said any perception that the ASF has become the dumping ground for challenged open source projects -- while its core code business is being eaten away -- is off base.

"I wouldn't consider them software dumps," said Jagielski, who has been with the organization since its inception and has served as a developer and in technical leadership roles at Zend, VMware/SpringSource and currently Red Hat.

"Whether or not Citrix thought they could or couldn't build a community [is irrelevant]. Apache is known for building healthy, vibrant successful communities around software projects because when it's an Apache project, it's not dictated by proprietary commercial vendors. It's a safe neutral placefor open source projects to grow and thrive."

Take OpenOffice., which is expected to announce its first official release of Apache OpenOffice 3.4 sometime this week.

Since taking over the reigns from Oracle last June, Apache has seen renewed interest in the code from the likes of Intel and IBM -- which abandoned its OpenOffice product in January --and plans to re-enter the market with an Apache OpenOffice brand, the ASF President said.

The open source CloudStack project, like OpenOffice, is now in incubation at Apache but has attracted more developer interest since Citrix donated the code to the ASF earlier this month, he said, hinting that big news is coming soon. "It's still so so early but a lot of people are chomping at the bit. In a month there will be a lot of advances made in that area."

Jagielski sees a continuing bright future for the ASF regardless of the number of projects it takes on. He pointed to other leading Apache projects like Hadoop and TomCat and expects that Deltacloud -- which was donated to the ASF by Red Hat -- will be big.

The ASF, he point out, is an umbrella organization that provides the infrastructure and legal protection to open source communities but each project is self-governing and self sustaining. The Apache licensing model makes open source code more attractive to enterprise users. Today, there are more than 600 bug fixers and code committers and a group of between 30 and 35 developers who can actually touch the code.

The ASF's track record of incubating and growing successful open source projects is unrivaled, Jagielski claims. Recently, Apache's Hadoop open source project reached a major milestone that makes the big data project far more appealing to enterprises.

"Up until recently, you'd need to go to other entities to get a code release but now ou'll see much more predictable release of software," he said.

What's coming down the pike? You'll see a lot more "cloud computing stuff" coming out of Apache.

And he insists that the recently released Apache HTTP Server 2.4 is far better at use cases -- such as handling concurrent requests -- where NGINX has dominated most recently.

"NGINX has found a nice use case where Apache has historically not been as successful . Apache tried to be a generic web server with a bunch of use cases and NGINX is for one specific use case," Jagielski said, noting he does not begrudge NGINX its success but he believes that the burgeoning web server may have seen its peak in the days when memory was expensive and cloud computing was in its infancy.

"The real demand for that [high concurrency] architecture has been reduced after a while... there's always going to be a subset of system administrators designed for high concurrency with small memory utilization as possible," he noted, adding that lowered costs for memory and access to cloud computing resources on the fly makes NGINX less compelling.

And the next generation production ready Apache HTTP Server 2.6 -- with many cloud enhancements and filtering that gives flexibility to change data on-the-fly -- is on tap for release in 2013.

In the past few days, Apache has released a significant upgrade of its Cassandra 1.1 NoSQL database for big data uses and just today its 300 percent faster TomEE 1.0 Java enterprise edition application server -- designed especially for cloud computing -- made its debut.

What about Apache projects like the Lucene search engine -- which hasn't seemed to fare well against the proprietary giants Google and Microsoft?

Jagielski acknowledges the project -- which announced a major 3.6 upgrade on April 12 -- has not gotten the attention it deserves, but he contends it continues to score major wins against rivals.

"A lot of hashtag searches that Twitter does uses Lucene internally and it forms the basic search for Wikipedia," he said. "I'm surprised it doesn't get the same kudos of other projects as successful as it is. Unfortunately, search is seen as a boring technology. But it isn't boring and it's there for developers willing to make it important to them."

And let's not forget the genesis of the organization, which incorporated in 1999 but actually got off the ground in 1995. Jagielski, one of the eight founding members of the ASF, pointed out that the origin of the Apache HTTP Server is Netscape - whose browser and web server were the first major open source projects to challenge proprietary incumbent Microsoft.

"One of the great things about the way this nfoundation is structured is that the day-to-day management is done by the projects themselves and there's no vendor lock in," he said, noting that projects are only required to do quarterly reports to the board. "The board doesn't manage the web server or Hadoop. The foundation is lightweight and there's no direct management so we can scale easily."

Topics: Servers, Browser, Hardware, Open Source

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Open source has saved us millions

    We were actually running a combination of Apache and NGINX because of a merger, and have been slowly migrating everything to Apache. NGINX has a lot of appeal in certain respects, but the availability of sysadmins and developers who are expert at Apache made the difference for us. Overall, it has met all of our requirements and our LAMP (and coming CloudStack) architecture has saved us millions per year in software license costs. It was amazing how much money we were spending with MS and Oracle every year until we made the change.
    terry flores
  • Is Apache overextending itself

  • The Apache Foundation Isn't a Business

    What does it care about other code? If it turns out that the world does move away from their http server code, they'll put it in the attic.
    • Of course it is. Do you thnk it gets it's money to operate

      from pixie dust?
      • ASF operating budget

        The ASF mainly relies on the kindness of sponsors -- -- and a huge volunteer network of mirrors -- -- that distribute code written by volunteer committers.
  • Its a fair point

    Apache wants to be all things to all people and might reach a no return threshold for large scale users by that strategy. OTOH, NGINX does what they do extremely well just for a nitch market. I don't see a conflict unless Apache tries to compete. Yes, they will lose market share. So what?
  • I was thinking this to myself already

    I think the answer is yes to a degree. Things like OpenOffice are head scratchers. That's a great example of something that was already shutdown and buried for almost a year. No reason to resurrect it now and burn good resources on it when your core focus area needs some focus. :) I don't know as much on the other stuff, but at least they appear reasonably related to their core focus product which is a web server.
    • Let's hope not

      Apache is much more than a web server. Their java class libraries already essential. They should continue to expand as long as project continue to have support.

      No mention if the big loser of the web server wars?
      Richard Flude
    • RE: Things like OpenOffice are head scratchers

      The OpenOffice project is a podling and could still die on the vine. At the moment, IBM is mostly carrying it with the OpenOffice staff they hired in Germany and former Symphony staff in China. I'm curious about what distinguishing features Apache and IBM wish for OpenOffice relative to LibreOffice, aside from an Apache 2.0 license. One must wonder about IBMs staying power on this project.

      I'd also like to know why IBM didn't want to jump on the LibreOffice bandwagon at The Document Foundation.

      Just curious, what is The Apache Software Foundation's core focus?
      Rabid Howler Monkey
      • ASF Core Focus

        Originally, the core focus was HTTPD, then it was HTTPD and supporting products, then the focus slowly broadened over the years so that any project that shares the ASF meritocratic principles, and can survive the process, can become part of the foundation. The foundation itself is governed by a board, which is elected each year by a large group of Members, who are typically developers active on one or more ASF projects.
      • Less bloat?

        If they keep OpenOffice less bloated than LibreOffice, that would be sufficient to justify its existence.
      • Apache OpenOffice

        One reason IBM may have chose not to contribute to LibreOffice may be the LibreOffice hostility towards IBM.

        LibreOffice will be able to take code from the Apache code base if they wish. Its LibreOffice that is restrictive on the code going back to Apache Open Office. On the other hand, I do expect to see more variation as the code bases develop because the LibreOffice has a more restrictive license and because LibreOffice will choose not to get some things from OpenOffice but go their own way. For example, perhaps LibreOffice will decide not to take the IBM changes since LibreOffice dislikes IBM contributing so much.
    • New projects do not drain resources from existing ones

      It's important to note that adding e.g. OpenOffice as a new project under the ASF does not drain Apache for resources from other projects, so it is not a loss of focus. OpenOffice already had a broad community of committers, and they follow the product. Probably others are attracted too because Oracle has removed its hand of control and contributors now know that time spent improving the product will benefit everyone, even commercial businesses.
  • Congrats Paula

    An informative article on this blog's chosen area and not one comment on how evil MS is.

    Take note SJVN.
    • Is MS evil? Anyway, what do they have to do with Apache, aside from using Hadoop?

      Rabid Howler Monkey
      • IIS, Office, Azure

        SJVN typically finds ways to take shots at ms and its evil ways and his perceived decline in their product relevance. I could see making mention to IIS here, even tho it would have had little relevance, just to flame bait and get clicks. Paula stayed above that tactic and deserved kudos.
      • OK not sure what that was but the comment is that SJVN is so warped

        he cannot write an article w/o having some kind of childish comment about MS, even though they are probably not relevant. So his point was Paula wrote a nice article, something SJVN could learn from.
  • Are you packing your lunch or walking to school?

    The development groups within the ASF are autonomous. The groups have common release mechanism and follow similar governance models, but whether this project or that project joins the ASF, doesn't affect the folks working on HTTPD.

    Whether "The Apache Way" will be an effective way to manage an office suite is a fair question. But concepts like "over extending" really don't apply to an organization based on a volunteer workforce. The board can't tell a developer to stop working on HTTPD and work on OpenOffice instead. If it even tried, there'd be a huge turnover at the annual election.
  • Open source competition

    I always think the competition was between "for profit" evil corporations and opensource is all about kumbaya, my code is your code,....etc.
  • Very Nice Article!

    Thank you, Paula, for continuing to _report_ the news, instead of writing opinion pieces. Your articles are always spot on. You may not get as many flame wars in your comment section, but that doesn't mean that you have fewer readers.