Microsoft Web platform narrows lead of open source in hosting market

Windows, IIS and other Microsoft servers are becoming more popular as platforms for hosting companies, at the expense of Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP.

Adherents of open source Web development might not like to hear it, but the Microsoft Web platform combo is starting to make a run at Apache's dominance in Web hosting.

Netcraft's August survey shows Microsoft Windows increasing its Web server market share, adding 2.6 million sites over the previous month while Apache lost 991,000 host names. Microsoft's Web hosting market share rose to 34.2%, up 1. 4% , while Apache's share slipped 1.7% to 48.4%.

LAMP has gotten to the point it is today for a reason," Kant said. "It's been battle tested for many years…. [but] whenever Microsoft spends billions on something people have to worry about it.
Chander Kant
CEOZmanda

Netcraft researchers said Apache also lost share to open source server lighttp (accounting for 1.2% of sites surveyed) and Google (4.4%). Researchers noted in a statement that Microsoft's Web hosting software could catch Apache in market-share sometime next year if it continues its current growth rate.

Hosting partners are watching this carefully. Most large hosting partners support both Microsoft's Web hosting products (particularly Internet Information Services) and Linux-Apache-MySQL-PHP or LAMP stack, citing the need to provide customer choice.

"I would say customers who want or do more custom application development look to LAMP. Windows is driven more by the choice of application that runs on it, usually packaged applications--Microsoft or Peoplesoft or Oracle," said Mark Clayman, senior vice president of hosting services for Navisite, an Andover, Mass.-based hosting partner that supports both stacks.

Multiplatform support is a key strength for products from SWsoft, according to Kurt Daniel, vice president of marketing and alliance of the Herndon, Va.-based provider virtualization, automation and site management tools.

Even so, LAMP is maintaining its strength in core Web applications while the Microsoft stack, including SQL Server, is gaining in hosted applications, Software as a Service (SaaS) and database hosting, Daniel said.

He and others also expect Microsoft's push into hosted CRM to bring critical mass to the Windows/ foundations.

One countervailing trend is that Oracle, the second-largest business application provider after SAP, has dubbed Linux as its platform of choice and is also pushing hosted implementations of its software.

The Oracle 11g database will debut first on Linux this quarter and sometime thereafter on Windows.

SaaS darlings NetSuite and Saleforce.com are LAMP advocates.

Chander Kant, CEO of Zmanda, a provider of open source storage technology, is in the LAMP camp although he admits that "whenever Microsoft spends billions on something people have to worry about it. About a quarter of Zmanda's customers outsource their applications to a hosting provider," Kant said.

"LAMP has gotten to the point it is today for a reason," Kant said. "It's been battle tested for many years. You can run multiple LAMP stacks on the same box and virtualization plays into that."

And, for many hosting partners, cost trumps other considerations. "Even if you buy the LAMP stack from a vendor, it doesn't come with annual licensing fee, so you can scale your hosting environment much better and much more economically [than with Windows]. That means [a partner] can spend more money on customer-facing applications than the underlying infrastructure."

Still, if the Netcraft numbers represent a trend, it must be a heartening one for Microsoft, which has been talking up the hosting talents of its upcoming Windows Server 2008 with Internet Information Services 7 as a component of the Windows Server platform.

For years, IIS has been slammed in as not being a "real" Web server. That perception may be changing. In the fall of 2005, a Netcraft survey showed Apache -- the "A" in the LAMP stack -- accounted for 71% of Web sites, with Microsoft lagging at 20%.

Microsoft execs say a major focus of Windows Server 2008 and IIS 7 was on increasing "site density" or the ability to cram many sites onto a single server efficiently and safely.

In addition, IIS7 is more modular than its predecessor. IIS7 is built as 40 modules that allow Web hosters to install just the elements they want. The selective modular approach provides less of an "attack surface" for attacks, said Isaac Roybal, product manager for the Windows Server Division.

"In the past it was kind of 'here's everything, you figure it out.' The new approach lets you pick and choose what you need for the environment that you know best," Roybal said.

Also new is PHP support within Web applications. One bonus is that a single site can run PHP, an ASP.Net, on the same platform, opening new hosting options, said Michael Joffe, senior product manager of Windows-based Hosting.

Delegated administration, another feature of IIS 7, will let hosting partners lock down components of sites. "If you have 1000 site on one box, you don't want to give each of those users admin right to your box. Now you can allow users to come into IIS 7 only. They don't know about the rest of the operating system and can't mess around with stuff in there," Roybal said.

The IIS team learned a lot from Apache's success, adding automated troubleshooting tools. "If a customer says 'this page is loading slow' to a hoster who might have 1,000 sites on one box, it's cumbersome to track that down. IIS 7 lets you put a watcher on your server. The hoster can set up criteria on the site for certain conditions, say if a site takes longer than three seconds to load, it starts logging what's going on, what modules were loaded and what kinds of requests were coming through. The hoster can make better use of his time," Roybal said.

David Andrews, senior project manager for domain hoster Dotster, sees growth for hosting platforms--LAMP bolstered by the availability of popular, easily installable open source applications and Microsoft buoyed by new PHP support and the redesigned, modular and extensible IIS7 .

One thing is certain: For Microsoft Windows Server/IIS-as-hosting platform is critical to making its stack relevant in an important market segment.

And, the work it does here will have important ramifications in the company's vaguely described Global Foundation Services layer of its "cloud infrastructure."

About the author
Barbara Darrow, a Boston-area journalist, can be reached at badarrow@comcast.net.

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