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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Version Reviewed: 4.0
Date Reviewed: 3/10/00
Last Updated: 4/24/02
Reviewed by: Nelson King