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Apache, an HTTP server, has been one of the most revolutionary pieces of software to ever be developed. While the software itself is held in the highest regards, Apache, perhaps even moreso than Linux, has shown that Open Source is a very viable software development strategy. Indeed, the success of Apache has transformed the traditional big iron/big company control of the computing industry into a booknote in history. Now even the average techincally challenged individual can set up and install a web server. Now longer is a complete IT shop required to install and manage an enterprise software component. Alternatives now exist to software that used to costs hundreds of thousands of dollars to deploy (with all respect to Oracle).

With all that Apache has delivered, however, many companies are only scraping the surface of the benefits. Certainly a stock Apache installation has significant cost savings for large companies. Having an experienced Apache administrator to ensure security and make the web site run more elegantly is desirable. At KCSI, however, we have found one of the true strengths of Apache lies in the open source model, where changes can be made directly to the core, or through the addition of custom modules. This was never before possible in a closed source development model. Many companies would charge large sums for custom development.

Certainly customizing or extending the Apache source code is not for every shop, in fact, probably very few. But for those large shops with mission critical applications, having custom Apache modules can noticably reduce client response time and reduce costs.

For example, imagine an online e-payment company that effectively handles financial transactions, and little else. The work they have to perform is very specialized. Under the 90's way of online processing, CGI's would be written in Perl or C to process transactions. There was a certain overhead involved in invoking each of these CGI's that caused performance issues as web sites had to scale. In the new millenium, Java, notably J2EE has been the development language of choice. While Java is slower than C to run a transaction, the J2EE engine overcame the new process cost by always running. But what if the company wants to produce the best possible results? Rather than run the transaction as a seperate process, it could be programmed directly into the Apache server. This is not trivial, but the end result would be the fastest way to perform the transaction. This is obviously not for every shop, but if you are a one or two function shop, are worried about the scalability of your application, and need high uptime, this is likely the best option for you. KCSI has expertise in this area and would be glad to help you determine if this path would be appropriate for you.

But how about a real world success story? KCSI is proud of projects which save its clients money. A customized Apache module is one of KCSI's greatest success stories for saving money. In one specific instance, a client was having severe issues with the performance of its web server. They had planned to buy a new $150,000 server and engaged KCSI to help with the migration plan. Once looking at the issues, we found that the performance metrics did not make a lot of sense. The server should have been performing fine. It was identified the issue was the HTTP latency time within the HTTP core, which was 400 milliseconds. This was tracked to the way in which the client had configured the web server. Due to political considerations, this configuration style (which while not unique in the world in all likelyhood) was required. Rather than proceed with the hardware purchase, KCSI produced a specific Aapche model for $5000 which dropped the latency time to 120 milliseconds for 99% of the hits. The result was the CPU requirements went down by 75% and the memory usage dropped by 50%. The hardware purchase was cancelled for a huge savings to the client. Even more importantly, the change enacted is something that has served the client for 5 years, and will continue servering them into the future. Thus, this change has reduced the future hardware requirements for every future purchase. Not only was cash saved originally, every new purchase is scaled down from what it would have been.

KCSI is an expert in Apache security, configuration and customization. Please feel free to contact us if you feel you are not getting te most out of your web server.

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