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  1. Technology
August 26, 1996


By CBR Staff Writer

The Web vendor, Apache Digital Corp, is very different. Take a few moments to absorb the following. Apache Digital Corporation is formed as a tool to be used by God to be a blessing to people, and to support the spread of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to all the nations of the earth. It is to be operated on the principles of God as laid out in the Bible. We have faith that Jehovah Jireh, the Lord our Provider, is more than capable of supplying all our needs; that Jehovah Nissi, the Lord our Victory, will fight all our battles for us; that Jehovah Shalom, the Lord our Peace, will shoulder all of the burdens and pressures of daily operation; and that we will find favor and good understanding in the sight of God and man. It’s special and won’t appeal to everyone. But, hell, why not? The Web is an economic enigma. If Apache has God on the job, who are we to carp? The only thing on which almost everyone agrees is that benefits are variable, but establishing and running a Web site costs too much.

The rub

There are so many WebServer options that the most attractive one appears to be free. Superficially, the Linux-Apache combination, for example, costs nothing. Zero investment. But Web servers should be revenue-generators, and business benefits should justify high set-up costs, says Eamonn Wilmott, formerly managing director of Internet Publishing Ltd, and now heading Online Magic Ltd, a consultancy and provider of Web services. Properly implemented and managed, the Net makes significant inroads on IT expenditure. That’s the rub. Web servers must be properly implemented and managed. At this point mainstream vendors claim an advantage for their products over freeware, saying that their Web servers are designed and maximized for long-term ownership, not just initial set-up costs. An Internet presence requires connections, hardware, security, administration, software and upgrades. Buying a bundled server from any of the big name suppliers is not cheap, but we know that all those issues are addressed by comprehensive purchase and support contracts. Conversely, Linux freeware is very popular with those-who-know, but many people haven’t heard of it. Something for nothing? Wilmott himself is ambivalent towards the freeware approach. Certainly all his Web development team uses Linux running on personal computers; its an inexpensive way to give a team of programmers their own Unix systems and there haven’t been any complaints about its robustness. On the other hand, is freeware really the kind of thing you want to base your production systems on? Sybase Inc’s Open Client/C for Linux is distributed via the Web for access to SQL Server on non-Linux systems. The small print makes interesting reading. This port is unsupported, and does not include documentation.

Sybase disclaims all warranties including merchantability, merchantable quality, non-infringement and fitness: In no event shall Sybase be liable for loss of profits, data or any damages… even if Sybase has been advised of the possibility of such damages. Apart from ease of use and additional skills requirement, would you trust your business data to Linux, knowing that Sybase will distribute it even if it has been advised of potential risk and damages? Risk management is central to data pr ocessing. Without an assessment of risk and potential damage, arguments about cost savings fall by the way. Provenance, quality, maintainability and upgradability are important to business. If they are uncertain, the perceived risks undermine Linux’ s credibility as a business tool. In general Wilmott believes that Linux and Apache are good options for smaller Web sites, but for heavy duty commercial ventures a commercial offering is better – if only for the support. Though it has to be said Wilmott’s experience of support from one of the big Web server companies has left him distinctly unimpressed. Apache Digital Corp, apart from being a tool of God, is closely associated with Linux. It sells a variety of Linux and Berkeley Software Distribution-based systems and prides itself on cost-effectiveness. Its Web site advertises a weekly sale, selling off systems like an Alpha Multimedia system under Linux for just short of $6,000. Apache claims Linux and Berkeley systems are the best free Unix clones available. The advantage is that that price is almost exclusively for hardware, so that $500 to $2,000 normally spent on the operating system can be applied to the cost of the hardware. The fact remains that a cost advantage of $5 00, or $2,000, is pretty meaningless if the saving is outweighed by risk. Apache offers support and warranties, but on-site maintenance is not available until year two, and only under extended warranties at extra cost. It provides telephone and electronic mail support to assist in identifying the cause of problems, and suggested remedies. Software support is provided free of charge during warranty, but it is limited to operating system-specific install questions. Additional software support is $65 per hour.

Serious business tool

Risk is assessed in terms of individual business operations, and Apache’s diverse commercial user base may indicate that business risk for many Linux users is not an issue. However, International Data Corp acknowledges that the use of freeware is in creasing, but unlike Apache, it insists that it is not a serious business tool. Less expensive operating software would be welcome since International Data believes that companies are spending four times what they budgeted, just to establish a presence. ‘The Marketer’s Internet: Motivation, Cost & Customization’ argues that the new servers and software packages make Web entrance easier. But a priority is to reduce costs while maintaining maximum functionality and flexibility. There are partial answers in turn-key, industrial strength servers which alleviate the expense of custom development, coding and systems integration, but customization accounts for 80% of overall costs.

By Janice McGinn

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