Open source Apache HTTP Server, frequently referred to as just “Apache” by those in the know, has long been a leader in the web server market. However, the popular open source server may be getting a little competition from relative newcomer nginx (pronounced "engine-x").
Web Server Market Share
The open source Apache (news, site) HTTP server has been the most popular web server since 1996. The server is singlehandedly responsible for hosting 46% of all websites. Despite the availability of many commercial alternatives, the web server has remained a market leader. However, the extremely lightweight nginx server has emerged as a viable open source alternative.
Nginx seems to be growing in popularity and may one day rival Apache on non-Microsoft platforms, especially as sites are challenged with increasingly higher traffic levels and performance requirements. Nginx was initially released about six years ago after the web server market was well established. Since its introduction, it has become the third most popular web server. Although Apache achieved its number one spot after only a year, the market was still new and there was really no dominant market leader.
source: Netcraft May 2011 Web Server Survey
Why Use Nginx
Why would an organization elect to use nginx when literally millions of use cases have demonstrated the capabilities of Apache? Simple configuration and performance for static content. The design of nginx makes it capable of handling heavier loads with less memory than Apache. This makes it possible to handle more traffic with less hardware and resources -- a factor that is important to enterprises with heavily trafficked sites. Metrics from Wordpress.com indicate that nginx was the only load balancer that it was able to get to handle over 8,000 requests per second.
Wordpress.com isn’t the only site that has made the jump to nginx. Nginx is used by several other high traffic sits such as stackoverflow.com and qq.com, a Chinese portal that ranks as one of the top 10 in the world.
Considerations Before Jumping Ship From Apache
Although nginx is growing in popularity and is clearly demonstrating its ability to be an Apache alternative, there are a few things to consider before abandoning your current web server. Nginx does not have the popularity of Apache, so finding experts familiar with the server may be more difficult. The implementer community is much smaller and does not have the strength of an open source giant like an Apache supporting it. Additionally, the current stable release is 1.0, something some conservative organizations may be uncomfortable implementing. Finally, unlike Apache, nginx does not have a graphical administrative panel natively.
Nginx, and every other server for that matter, is far from dominating Apache in the market. However, it is a stable, fast alternative to Apache and competition is always good in software.