ServersApache Gets Fortified for the Enterprise

Apache Gets Fortified for the Enterprise




Covalent Enterprise Ready Server: An enterprise framework for Apache that offers scalability, reliability, and professional support.

Covalent Enterprise Ready Server is an enterprise framework for Apache designed to provide scalability, reliability, and professional support for the popular Web server. The latest version supports Apache 1.3 and 2.0, both separately and simultaneously.

Covalent Enterprise Ready Server (ERS) is a repackaged Apache Web server nestled within a framework designed for an enterprise environment. With its simple click-through installer for Apache, preconfigured Tomcat software, and Covalent-backed support, Covalent ERS shines in the Web server market.

ERS is available for many platforms, including Windows, Solaris, HP-UX, AIX, and Linux; however, the most recent version, 3.0, isn’t available for all platform. Builds will soon be released to support all of the platforms version 2.4 did. ERS ships with automatic support for Perl, PHP, Java JSP, and Servlets via Tomcat 5.0, and even integrates with an FTP server.

The most notable improvement in version 3.0 is that it supports both Apache 1.3 and Apache 2 — at the same time, if desired. This doesn’t mean you have to serve data from non-standard ports, as you would without Covalent’s help. Rather, it seamlessly configures mod_proxy to allow content to be served from either server. ERS also claims it can run and manage as many as hundreds of mixed-and-matched instances of Apache.

Total configuration and installation time for Apache with Jakarta Tomcat 5.0, PHP, mod_perl, and SSL: roughly 30 minutes. Even very seasoned administrators installing Apache with all these features would be quite hard pressed to beat that time.

We managed to get our hands on version 3.0 for Linux recently and decided to give it a quick test. The Covalent Management Portal (CMP), which shipped with earlier versions and provides a Web-based configuration and management front end has, sadly, been relegated to end-of-life status. Thus, administrators have been left with text file editing for all post-installation configuration tasks.

Installation

The Windows installer for Covalent ERS works as expected. The Installshield wizard opens, asks where and what to install, and gets to work. The surprising thing is that the same installer runs on Linux too, assuming you have a supported distribution.

The Linux distribution we chose to install ERS in was the latest version of Ubuntu. This should work fine, since Covalent claims ERS works with most Linux distros that have glibc 2.x installed. However, the installer failed to start and balked about missing libraries. The exact error was listed in the accompanying ReadMe.txt file, and the resolution was to install a Red Hat RPM file that contained the correct versions. Feeling lucky that Ubuntu Linux had RPM support, we installed the recommended package, but the installer failed to start again, citing the same missing libraries. Further investigation revealed not only the libraries but also minor version differences. After some quick symbolic links, the installer ran without further incident.

The installation process is quite simple but still offers a bit of flexibility as far as installation choices. For example, any unwanted ERS components can be omitted, including the authentication service, mod_perl, Tomcat, and Java 1.4.

ERS’ installer will even install Java if it is not found on the system. In fact, the installer itself runs the Java Virtual Machine it comes bundled with before the actual Installshield program is launched.

Configuration

After the addition of a group “nobody,” ERS fired up and began serving pages. The recommended way to install SSL certifications is via a GUI configuration utility. Upon running the utility, we were delighted to see it generate a self-signed certificate and install the cert automatically. This topped off the initial configuration tasks for ERS — Apache was now fully configured and ready to work for us. Total configuration and installation time for Apache with Jakarta Tomcat 5.0, PHP, mod_perl, and SSL: roughly 30 minutes. Even very seasoned administrators installing Apache with all these features would be quite hard pressed to beat that time.

ERS served 255.9 queries per second, which was 350 percent faster than a stripped-down Apache on similar hardware, and it consumed only 10 percent more RAM on the server.

After our shock and awe over the ease of installation subsided, we proceeded to test the server’s capabilities. Initially, the default demo site was password protected, with the username and password entered during the install process. Removing password protection required reading the documentation, since ERS’ Auth Service has a small learning curve.

Covalent’s promised FTP service wasn’t actually included with the ERS download. Web site instructions lead to a separate download, which provides mod_ftp.so. After placing the module in the modules/covalent directory and editing the configuration file, FTP functionality is now integrated with ERS.

The default Web site after installing ERS is a visually pleasing Covalent test site, which includes a few tests for perl and Tomcat. We found this quite handy, especially since the source code for each test was present as well. Examples of servlets, JSP code, and perl scripts quickly proved that ERS was functioning properly and efficiently. We had some concern that ERS would not run well on minimal hardware, but alas, it was unfounded. It ran quite well on our Pentium II system with 256 MB of RAM.

We believe ERS’ price tag is justifiable, as Covalent provides world-class documentation, enterprise-ready stability, and very impressive performance.

Testing Apache capabilities isn’t easy, but a few tools are out there to quench one’s curiosity. Just for the sake of argument, and to verify that running a single ERS server with all the bells and whistles is as efficient as a stand-alone Apache configuration, we ran a quick Apache benchmark test of 10,000 queries. ERS served 255.9 queries per second, which was 350 percent faster than a stripped-down Apache on similar hardware, and it consumed only 10 percent more RAM on the server.

Summary

ERS is impressive, both in terms of scalability and performance. ERS enables enterprises to deploy complex technologies with the touch of a few buttons, which is something not to be taken for granted. Post-install configuration demands a bit more learning, but anyone familiar with Apache will immediately understand why Covalent has set up the ERS server with such a structure. Maintaining multiple sites and servers with ERS is trivial after the configuration process, which enables ERS administrators to focus on more important matters.

Covalent has been around for a number of years now, and its combination of two products to provide Apache 1.3 and 2.0 to customers in one package has resulted in a dominant product. As an effective framework for managing enterprise Web and application servers, ERS 3.0 is the server of choice. We believe ERS’ price tag is justifiable, as Covalent provides world-class documentation, enterprise-ready stability, and very impressive performance.

Pros: Runs on a variety of platforms; Extremely good performance; Provides scalable manageability for multiple Web sites and servers; Simple setup and configuration
Cons: Tinkering is required to get ERS running on some Linux distributions; Cost; Ever-so-slight learning curve beyond Apache knowledge.

Reviewed by: Charlie Schluting
Original Review Date: 6/29/2005
Original Review Version: 3.0

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