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Netscape Enterprise Server -- High-end enterprise-level server for Unix and Windows NT

By ServerWatch Staff (Send Email)
Posted Jun 5, 2002


As one of a handful of Web servers seriously competing for the heavy-duty end of the market, it's good news that Netscape Enterprise Web Server has made the transition to iPlanet Web Server Enterprise Edition improved and ready to do battle. iPlanet Web server remains essentially the high performance product of Netscape but with a raft of Java enhancements that reflect the partnership with Sun in the Alliance. The resulting product ought to be an expeditious upgrade for current Enterprise Web Server users and a serious contender in at least any situation where performance features or Java support are paramount.

If you're looking for a high-performance, enterprise-strength Web server Netscape Enterprise Server deserves a close look

The previous review of iPlanet Web Server in ServerWatch covers Netscape Enterprise Server v3.6; this review looks at 4.0 as the current rev with 4.1 just around the corner. iPlanet Web Server is available as a download or CD, and runs on Windows NT and multiple Unix platforms (Linux support will be available in version 4.1, Macintosh version SOL). Basic installation (without migration or multiple servers) is uncomplicated and takes about ten to fifteen minutes. Although experience with iPlanet migration is limited, we have heard of few problems, especially when converting from Netscape Enterprise Server v3.6. Documentation for this product always seems to be in flux, which means a substantial portion of the directions will not match what you see and references may appear to be out of synch with the version in use.

Once the server is installed, further configuration and management is handled through a browser-based Java application, enabling it to be run from anywhere. Refinements to the user interface (such as the tabbed dialog pages) and the handling of server options have brought iPlanet Web Server to the point where administration should be quite straightforward with those familiar with the terrain. Obviously working with multiple processors, a server farm, or directory services complicate the picture, but we believe iPlanet Web Server is up to managing these configurations.

One area of Web server functionality important in an enterprise environment is the capability to accommodate programming the hooks provided to develop and run applications. Along with Microsoft Internet Information Server (IIS), iPlanet Web Server excels in this area — with a Java-centric approach that distinguishes it from Microsoft. As should be expected, iPlanet Web Server strives to support the most up-to-date Java including: Java Servlets 2.1, Java Server Pages .92, a native JVM, JavaScript 1.4, and remote debugging. The native JVM is tightly bound to the server, which should provide improved performance.

There is a flip side to these Java support features; some are so new and relatively untested that they can produce unpredictable results in the server operation. While this is not an Achilles heel by any means, when working with Java Server Pages we noticed problems occurred that could be attributable only to Java itself, not iPlanet Web Server.

In addition to the Java offering, iPlanet Web Server has beefed up database features considerably, adding, for example, connection pooling for multiple databases, multiquery cursors (shared results), Binary Large Object (BLOB) support, and support for stored procedures. There are also a number of native drivers for common databases (Oracle, Informix, DB2, and Sybase). Taken together, these database features are unusually diverse and well-integrated for a Web server. For distributed applications, iPlanet Web Server supports CORBA and IIOP through the iPlanet Web Server Web Application Interface.

iPlanet Web Server programming support is now so complete that it may effectively compete with some application servers. (We believe iPlanet Web Server is designed to complement the iPlanet Application Server rather than compete with it.) Binding features like Java and database connectivity more tightly to the server may give iPlanet Web Server a performance advantage; however, application servers tend to organize application management more effectively and offer better development tool integration.

From an enterprise point of view, where managing multiples of almost everything is a main task, iPlanet Web Server really shows its muscle. This begins with a bundled iPlanet Directory Server that provides LDAP 3.0 directory services for user and group management. iPlanet Web Server has integrated with the directory to support password policies and dynamic groups. The choice of LDAP may help iPlanet Web Server (and the Alliance) compete with systems, like Microsoft IIS, that use a directory native to the operating system (e.g., Active Directory). Other tools for Web-sites-in-the-large include cluster management for multiple remote servers, dynamic log rotation (to change logs without stopping the server), SNMP support, and support for multiple processors (Unix).

Indicative of the direction taken by iPlanet Web Server, the release of v4.1 the second quarter of 2000 will include support for Java Servlet 2.2, Java Server Pages 1.1, HTTP 1.1, and improvements in performance for Secure Socket Layer transactions. iPlanet will also release a free version, FastTrack Web Server 4.1, which will be very similar to iPlanet Web Server but limited in scalability.

While anything can happen to alliances in the computer industry, it would seem that a Sun/Netscape thoroughbred — iPlanet — is the horse to ride if you favor Java and have demanding Web server performance requirements. The improved user interface by and large removes complaints about server administration difficulty. Although w believe performance was always good; it's better now. The support for programming — Java — is much better and improving with each minor revision. iPlanet Web Server Enterprise Edition is a scalable, fast, and capable Web server approaching the top of its game. Some might consider it expensive (vis-`-vis Apache or IIS), but then it is not aimed at those organizations that cannot afford it, and there is the free demo (and soon FastTrack) version for those who complain about price.

Pros: Aggressive support of programming and database management, especially for Java • performance- and volume-oriented, with good management tools for complex server configurations

Cons: Some Java 2 support still to come (not unique to iPlanet, of course)• no Linux support until version 4.1 arrives • uneven product support and documentation

New in v4.1: Uses intelligent load balancing, process monitors, dynamic log rotation, and support for multiple processes on Unix to maximize server up time; management of complex Web sites with millions of users is simplified through delegated administration, cluster management, SNMP monitoring, and tight integration with iPlanet Directory Server; built-in Java runtime environment with support for Java Development Kit (JDK) 1.2 and support for object serialization, JDBC, and JavaBeans technology; supports session management service to track information for specific users; supports server-side JavaScript; supports native database connectivity to Oracle, IBM DB2, Sybase, and Informix; supports traditional server extensions (e.g., CGI and NSAPI); messaging services built on SMTP; Detailed Release Notes
Upgrade Meter: 4

New in v4.1 SP6 through SP8: Save & Apply" on the Security Administration Screen (for NT) no longer causes an application error; admin user interface now writes global session manager args using the correct property name; installMCC sets server parameters correctly; server now starts correctly on Solaris after iWS4.1sp7 upgrade; admin user interface writes servlets.startup to correct configuration file; URIs that contain a semicolon now return a "Not Found" error; express installation works correctly; WebPublisher and Search are LateInited by default; SerializeFirstRequest causes Java applications (Servlets/JSPs) no longer serialized; a space (" ") in the Host: header is appended to Location: header; on NT, the manipulation of HTTP headers no longer causes iWS to stop running; NT installer smoothly updates current install; Servlet Response Buffer now enabled by default; JdbcSessionManager no longer returns HttpSession objects that have expired; memory growth with CGI & Get-Client-Cert; logs continue rotating after 50+ days; servlet that does not read POST data no longer returns an HTTP 200 along with error message; "Connection reset by peer" no longer errors when using Administration Server on Windows NT; servlet class loader loads resource files; MMapSessionManager session timeout expires sessions; HttpServletRequest.getParameter consistently returns Shift_JIS data to a servlet; server now handles cookies with a null value; Release Notes
Upgrade Meter: 3

New in v4.1 SP9: ClassCache no longer fills up when multiple JSP session ids are appended to a URL; fixed exception thrown by getInputStream.available(); JSP forwards and includes are now i18n safe; nocache parameter works even when AcceptLanguage is used; jdk1.3x no longer causes Java Race condition; Java check parameter encoding hints each time if encoding is set to auto; JVM classpath length in the admin server is no longer limited to 1008 characters; JSP no longer takes 30 seconds to load when forwarded through RequestDispatcher from a servlet reading the input stream; Netshare creation/licensing/removal completely updates LDAP records; stronger Cipher setting works on servlet directories; ACL now works when presented credentials contain whitespace; legacy SSI configuration no longer hangs; CGIs can change the HTTP Status Code for Error Responses; destroy method is now called after the UnavailableException; NSAPI pathinfo is no longer truncated in cgi at about 200 characters; Release Notes
Upgrade Meter: 2

Version Reviewed: 4.0
Date Reviewed: 3/10/00
Last Updated: 9/20/01
Reviewed by: Nelson King

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