In an earlier article, I discussed how the big three Web server software platforms stack up with regard to performance and dynamic content—two of the main criteria for evaluating those products. Now it’s time to focus on the third main criterion: total cost of ownership (TCO). I’ll share my overall opinion of which one works best depending on your situation.

Like most business purchases, when you buy a Web server platform, you get what you pay for. The difficult part is figuring out how much these platforms will actually cost. The up-front costs are pretty straightforward, but the administration and support costs are more elusive.

Up front, Apache on Linux is extremely economical and IIS on Windows NT/2000 is moderately priced. And if you buy iPlanet on Solaris, you will nearly have to give up your first-born child as ransom. However, administration and support costs for Linux will usually be the highest of the three. Solaris is fairly costly to maintain, and Windows NT/2000 is the most economical. Let’s take a closer look.

Apache on Linux
Apache on Red Hat Linux (the leading Linux distribution for Web servers) will cost around $180 up front if you buy the packaged version. But you can download the whole package from the Red Hat Web site for free. Also, Apache on Linux requires less hardware resources than the other two, which enhances its meager price tag. For hardware, you can usually spend between $1,000 and $5,000.

Management and administration of Linux is made more expensive by the lack of standardized documentation, good technical support, and advanced administration tools. While it’s true that Linux documentation is improving rapidly, and some vendors now offer tech support, these services are still very immature. The result is that troubleshooting and maintenance take more time and are therefore more expensive.

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There is also a lack of trained Linux professionals, and even fewer of them are available for hire. This usually leaves UNIX professionals who are trained on other UNIX-based systems to learn and administer Linux and Apache. Make no mistake, these pros demand some serious green for their services, which are in high demand. All these factors result in higher support costs to run Apache on Linux.

iPlanet on Solaris
iPlanet on Solaris will cost much more than Linux up front but a little less in the long run. A midrange proprietary Sun server to run iPlanet on Solaris is going to cost at least $20,000. When you get up to the high-end data server products, those boxes run in excess of $100,000. iPlanet itself costs $1,500 whether you run it on Solaris, NT, or another operating system.

Administration, maintenance, and support are also expensive on Solaris; however, Sun has an established support department, as well as extensive documentation. It also has a base of trained and certified professionals, making Solaris more manageable than Linux.

Nevertheless, Solaris management requires highly paid UNIX professionals, which makes Solaris expensive on the front end as well as in the long run. Obviously, iPlanet on Solaris is a premium solution for serious businesses with a lot of capital.

IIS on Windows
Windows NT/2000 falls somewhere in the middle. IIS on Windows NT/2000 will cost about $800 for the NT license. The hardware will cost more than Linux because Windows takes more resources. But Windows uses standard x86 hardware, so the costs are smaller than for Sun hardware. Expect to spend $2,000 to $10,000 for hardware, depending upon how much capability and fault tolerance you need to build into the system.

Administration, maintenance, and support are somewhat less expensive on NT for a number of reasons. There is a plethora of good documentation available for Windows NT/2000 systems. This includes Web sites, books, and Microsoft’s TechNet subscription, an invaluable tool for troubleshooting. There is also an abundance of trained and certified professionals who can support and administer Windows NT/2000, and they come at a lower price than their UNIX counterparts.

Because NT is less stable than the other two, however, an IIS server on Windows also requires a bit more management than either iPlanet or Apache, which drives up its total cost. All things considered, Apache on Linux and IIS on Windows NT/2000 are fairly comparable in TCO, while Sun is much more expensive than either of the other two solutions.
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Making the choice
When choosing which Web server platform will best suit your organization, you should consider the platforms of the current databases and systems that you will tie into your Web content, as well as any line-of-business applications. It’s also good to know the programming languages these platforms were developed in.

How do the platforms stack up?

You should also consider the size of your organization and your projected growth. Then, there is the issue of support. Know the strengths of your IT staff. And of course, you have to fit all of this into your budget.

A small organization will probably want to consider Apache on Linux or IIS on Windows NT/2000. If the company has a UNIX-savvy staff member, it can probably save money by going with Linux. If the company has a lot of Microsoft servers and ODBC-compliant databases, such as SQL and Oracle, it may want to go with IIS and use ASP to serve up dynamic content.

It’s likely that larger organizations will decide between IIS on Windows NT/2000 or iPlanet on Solaris (or possibly Apache on Solaris). If a company is heavily invested in Java, it will probably want to give the nod to iPlanet on Solaris.

In an enterprise environment, it’s easier to make Solaris bulletproof than it is to make NT fault-tolerant. You have to do more clustering and throw more hardware at NT to get the kind of uptimes you get with Solaris. However, the hardware for NT is much cheaper, so if other factors such as the need for ASP come into play, NT can provide a solid enterprise solution. Linux is not yet ready for the enterprise, but look for it to become much more competitive in this arena over the next few years.
If you’d like to share your opinion, start a discussion below or send the editor an e-mail.