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Review: Zend Server

Zend Server provides a development framework to give developers and system administrators an enterprise class option for PHP application deployment.

Zend Server combines performance features, monitoring, and a development framework with support to give developers and system administrators an enterprise class option for PHP application deployment.

Note: This review was performed based on a publicly available 30 day full feature trial of the software.

Specifications

  • Requirements: Windows (XP, Vista, 7, 2003, 2008), Linux (RHEL/CentOS 5.0+, Fedora Core 7.0+, Oracle Enterprise Linux 5.0+, Debian 4.0+, Ubuntu 7.10+), IBM I (V5R4, i6.1, i7.1)
  • Web Server: Apache 2.2, IIS 5, 6, and 7
  • Supported Browsers: MS Internet Explorer 7 and above, Mozilla Firefox 2.0 and above, Apple Safari 3.0
  • Cost: $1,195.00 per server (Silver)
  • Additional Information: Product Web site
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Who's it for?

The Zend Server has features to make life easier for system administrators and developers alike.

What problems does it solve?

The PHP language by itself is widely used. Unfortunately, the standard runtime environment lacks many performance options, and configuration and deployment can be confusing, and troubleshooting and application maintenance can be difficult. Zend Server takes away these pains and adds in professional support as well.

Standout features

  • Administration Console: The Zend Server administration console covers the tasks that used to require hunting through files to find the needle in the haystack, like troubleshooting and configuration.
  • Performance Features: Page caching, opcode caching, and clustering are all going to increase the speed of your PHP applications.
  • Debugging: PHP applications are normally a hassle to debug in a production environment. The Code Tracing functionality and easy access to error logs makes this a much simpler task.
  • Monitoring: Zend Server allows you to set alerts for error and warning conditions.
  • Job Queue: The Job Queue allows you to manage recurring, scheduled jobs instead of scheduling them via cron or Scheduled Tasks.

What's wrong?

  • Cost: The price tag is a bit steep, since much of what is in Zend Server is available as open source or for free elsewhere.
  • No SNMP Support: It is a shame that the monitoring system does not work with SNMP, so you cannot leverage your existing management and monitoring infrastructure.

Competitive products

Bottom line for business

Some of the biggest problems with the use of PHP have been performance, debugging, and server management. With Zend Server, these problems are largely solved. By providing features like opcode caching (which saves the compiled PHP code to memory) and page caching, performance is much better.

The Code Tracing functionality (which can hook into Zend's development tool, Zend Studio) provides the debugging functionality that developers depend on in other systems. With the inclusion of server management tools like server monitoring and alerting, easy access to the variables in php.ini, and error log information, managing a PHP server is now as easy as it is to manage other systems.

Using Zend Server is a breeze. I tested it on a standard installation of Windows Server 2008 R2 Standard with nothing installed or configured except patches and the NIC. Installation was quick and easy. It installed Apache on its own, but will gladly hook into IIS if it is already installed. The Web based administration was a little quirky with IE's standard security settings, but it was easy enough to use and to understand.

The only complaint here is that Zend Server costs money. Yes, Zend Server is the only product on the market with features like this for PHP, but Java and .NET have had this functionality for years (some of it since day one). Of course, you are also getting a support contract, which helps take the sting away, but you really should not need it either (especially not in a break/fix scenario).

Luckily, Zend Server is available in a Community Edition which is also a bit less feature rich. But the Community Edition lacks nearly all of the "must have" items from the full version, too. You can cobble together much of the management functionality yourself, as well, from various open source options, but you will probably still not be getting the performance features. In a nutshell, if you want to use PHP in an environment equivalent to IIS or some other enterprise class application servers, you will need to buy the full version of Zend Server.

User rating

Have you encountered or used Zend Server? If so, what do you think? Rate your experience and compare the results to what other TechRepublic members think. Give your own personal review in the TechRepublic Community Forums or let us know if you think we left anything out in our review.

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About

Justin James is the Lead Architect for Conigent.

1 comments
Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

How do you manage and server PHP Web-based applications? Are you satisfied with your choice?