IIS Most Used Web Server Among Fortune 500 Sites

The largest US corporations are bucking the trend toward open source Web server deployments, according to an ENT study of Fortune 500 Web sites.

Netcraft Ltd.'s Web Server Survey (www.netcraft.com/survey) recently found that the open source Apache (www.apache.org) Web server dominates market share across all domains, with Microsoft Corp. (www.microsoft.com) and iPlanet (Netscape-Sun, www.iplanet.com) Web servers a distant second and third. But an ENT study using an Internet tool on the Netcraft Web site (www.netcraft.com) against the corporate identity or brochure Web sites of Fortune 500 companies returned very different results. Microsoft’s Internet Information Server (IIS) is the most common Web server in the Fortune 500, powering 208 sites or 41 percent of the list. The iPlanet/Netscape-Enterprise Web server dominates the biggest of the big. The Web server runs seven of the 10 largest corporations’ Web sites, and owns nearly 60 percent of the top 100 of the Fortune ranking. Overall, Netscape-Enterprise held 35 percent of the 500 deployments. Sites running Apache accounted for 15 percent of all Fortune 500 Web server deployments. The open source Web server garnered an increasing share of the Web server pie as the overall size of companies becomes smaller.

The dominant position of Microsoft’s proprietary IIS in the Fortune 500 makes Windows NT a lock for the most used operating system undergirding the Web servers -- 43 percent. But the idea that Sun Microsystems Inc.’s Internet presence is weakening isn’t supported by the numbers. Sun’s Solaris holds a clear second place at 36 percent, with all other operating systems falling into the noise level. Linux showed up at only 10 companies.

Netcraft’s Web Server Survey, which ran in May, queried more than 15 million sites and found Apache in use at 60 percent, followed by IIS at 21 percent. Netscape-Enterprise, which passed the 1 million site mark in April according to Netcraft, was in use at 7 percent of the domains Netcraft tested.

The company’s April survey of domains ending in dot-com returned nearly parallel results: 57 percent Apache, 24 percent IIS, and 9 percent Netscape-Enterprise.

ENT’s look at the largest companies, though, turns the numbers around. Netscape-Enterprise shows up as running seven of the 10 largest companies’ Web sites: General Motors (Fortune Rank 1), Wal-Mart Stores (2), Exxon Mobile (3), General Electric (5), Citigroup (7), AT&T (8), and Boeing (10). Netscape-Enterprise is in use in 64 percent of the Web sites of the Fortune 25; 56 percent of the Fortune 50; and 58 percent of the Fortune 100.

Netscape-Enterprise's iPlanet offers features that its two main rivals do not. It is the only server that has both multithreaded and multiprocess functionality; it features the iPlanet LDAP directory server; and the software supports seven operating platforms, according to Steve Herbert, product manager for iPlanet.

"One of the things that has helped us gain an edge over Microsoft is the number of platforms we support," says John Fanelli, iPlanet’s director of product marketing for Web servers and portals.

Herbert says the company’s strategy is to increase its presence across the Fortune 500 by making the product easier to manage, opening it up to more applications, and improving the security model.

But iPlanet faces stiff pricing competition: Both Apache and IIS are essentially free. Apache is open source, and IIS is free with Windows NT 4.0 Server and Windows 2000. While that alone may not be the deciding factor in choosing Web servers, Herbert says the fact that Windows NT Server users already have it compels them to use it, or at least to test it before buying another Web server.

"The fact that IIS and Apache are free is going to continue to challenge Netscape," says Dan Kusnetsky, program vice president, system software, at market research firm IDC (www.idc.com). "Free is hard to compete with."

To combat the freebies, iPlanet began giving away FastTrack Free Edition, which lets customers run a fully functioning Java environment.

"The next component of our strategy is to move into the service provider space, to go after the hosts, because as more and more people use service providers, that market will expand tremendously," Fanelli says.

In the top 100, Microsoft stakes a 25 percent claim of the market, starting with Ford Motor Co. (4), Philip Morris (9), Kroger (14), Compaq Computer Corp. (20), and Albertson’s (24). IIS begins to gobble into Netscape-Enterprise’s market share between the Fortune ranks 101 to 250, with about 50 percent of the Web servers in that stretch loaded with IIS. With NCR Corp.’s Windows NT 4-IIS 4 deployment (Fortune Rank 283), IIS takes over for good and begins to pull away as Apache and other Web servers start to join the competition for market share in earnest (see our Web exclusive data analysis).

IPlanet’s Fanelli believes IIS’s market share is due to the fact that it ships in the box with NT. Since companies already have it, it’s a natural choice to use it.

"Large companies don’t make their choice based on price or having the server in the box," counters Jay Paulus, a Windows 2000 product manager at Microsoft.

It’s no secret that Windows NT was beaten up by analysts and the press for not being reliable or scalable enough. With the launch of Windows 2000 and IIS 5.0, Paulus says Microsoft eliminated many of those issues. The company is billing Windows 2000 and IIS 5.0 as the combination that can handle the Web serving needs of all the Fortune 500.

To date, only a handful of Fortune 500 companies are running Microsoft’s dynamic duo. The server has been generally available only since February, and large companies do not normally drop everything and switch operating systems and Web servers simply because a new one comes to market. Plus, Paulus says that for a lot of the Fortune 500, the Web is not their core business so they have not yet encountered the need for Windows 2000 and IIS.

But as more companies look to use the Web as an important business tool, and Windows 2000 servers are instituted into the Fortune 500, Paulus expects more IIS systems to power Web sites. Although companies may look to iPlanet for its robustness, and even consider running it on Windows NT/2000, Paulus says they’ll find what they need in Windows 2000.

"The services customers need to build on top of are already included in the base OS," he says.

IDC’s Kusnetsky says that although iPlanet is the most feature-rich and robust of the three Web servers, there is a point where that ceases to matter. "There is a place in the market where good enough is good enough," he says.

For instance, although it is free and the support is not equal to that of the other products, Apache serves some huge customers: Hewlett-Packard Co. (13), Enron (18), Kmart (27), Merck (34), and Motorola (37). But the platform’s use generally increases as company size decreases. Through the Fortune 200, Apache is in use in less than 10 percent of sites. From the ranks 401 to 450, Apache is in use at 11 sites, or 22 percent of the range, just behind Netscape-Enterprise’s 24 percent for that same sector.

Regardless of surveys and market share numbers, one thing is clear: Apache has the most loyal user base.

"Gaining market share is not one of the Apache Software Foundation's goals. If we gain, it's a nice side effect, but it's not something for which we deliberately seek or strive. The popularity of the Apache Web server is strictly based on its value, and owes nothing to any sort of marketing or promotion we've done," says Ken Coar, director and vice president of the Apache Software Foundation (www.apache.org) as well as a senior engineer at IBM Corp. (www.ibm.com).

That said, Apache's communal development effort is organized, with planned enhancements to improve the product -- not unlike the strategies of iPlanet and Microsoft.

"The next major Apache release will be based on a new portable runtime library that enables server functionality to use the underlying operating system's native interfaces for file and network processing. This will result in substantial speed improvements on non-Unix platforms," says Roy Fielding, chairman of the Apache Software Foundation and chief scientist at eBuilt Inc. (www.ebuilt.com).

In addition to the enhancements that the Apache Foundation oversees, the benefit of Apache’s open source code is that developers can customize the server to do whatever they need.

The fact that the server is free is another benefit. But despite the invisible price tag, there are other costs associated with the software.

"It's foolish to talk about it being free. Developers' time is expensive. The point is that it's open," says Ged Haywood, an Apache developer and owner of the Jubilee Group Inc. (www.jubilee.co.uk), an Internet systems consultancy.

IDC’s Kusnetsky says the low initial cost can be beneficial. For instance, there are two primary ways that customers can scale Web servers: with bigger, more robust hardware and software, or by stringing together a number of smaller servers. Apache fits the second approach nicely because the software itself is free. Kusnetsky says that neither approach is inherently better; it depends on the company’s needs.

"For companies without the resources to build their own Web server farm, it’s cheaper to buy it," he says. "But for companies with the resources and expertise, it’s cheaper to do it themselves."

For all its buzz, Linux supports the front-line Web server at only 10 Fortune 500 companies, the biggest being Sysco (98), Ingersoll-Rand (210), Alltell (276), PECO Energy (306), and Litton Industries (333). That total trails IBM Corp.’s AIX, with 15 deployments, Hewlett-Packard Co.’s HP-UX, with 15 deployments, and BSD/OS, with 14 deployments.

Sun was recently hammered for losing the contract as the Web server operating system for the Network Solutions (www.networksolutions.com) computer that houses the central database of all Internet addresses to IBM. But Sun recently had a high-profile win when eBay Inc. (www.ebay.com), which experienced several public outages on its Sun platform, decided to stick with Solaris. In large environments, Sun remains strong. Solaris is in use on 182 of the Fortune 500 Web servers. Like Netscape-Enterprise, Solaris is the Web server of choice at the very largest companies, including General Motors (1), Exxon Mobil (3), General Electric (5), Citigroup (7), and AT&T (8). Solaris was also overwhelmingly the operating system choice for Netscape-Enterprise deployments.

For more on the ENT Web Server Survey, see:

IIS 5.0 in the Enterprise: A Long Way to Go
Scott Bekker

Methodology: Where We Got Our Numbers
Mark McFadden & Scott Bekker

Internet Information Server's Attachment to Windows
Stephen Swoyer

Tapping Open Source with Apache Web Server
Stephen Swoyer

Netscape's Journey from NetSite to iPlanet
Stephen Swoyer

Must Read Articles