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

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?
Written by Paula Rooney, Contributor

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."

Editorial standards