Conventional Wisdom Regarding Web Server Market Share Should Be Reexamined
SAN DIEGO, Calif., - November 24, 2003 — A new survey of Fortune 1000 corporate Web sites by Port80 Software, a developer of Microsoft Web server tools, challenges the business relevance of the popular Web Server Survey published by the Internet services company Netcraft.
Netcraft's November 2003 Web Server Survey claims that the Apache Web server "has a significant percentage gain" over the Microsoft Internet Information Services (IIS) Web server and now controls over two-thirds of the global Web server market. This recent survey builds on Netcraft's long-term view of Apache as holding the majority share of the Web server market.
In contrast, Port80 Software's latest Fortune 1000 Web server survey reveals Microsoft IIS' ongoing dominance in the enterprise with a 53.8 percent market share, calling into question the relevance of Netcraft's data to business decision makers. The Port80 Software Top 1000 Corporations' Web Servers Survey is available at top 1000 webservers, and Netcraft's latest survey can be accessed at http://news.netcraft.com/archives/2003/11/index.html.
"What do Netcraft's findings prove about Web server market share? It all depends on how you choose to define 'market share,'" says Joe Lima, COO of Port80 Software. "Netcraft attempts to review every detectable site on the Internet to generate their Web server statistics, and this gives their survey a natural bias in favor of Web servers that host relatively low-traffic or even parked domains. The core issue is that hostnames aren't necessarily the best proxy for server market share -- especially from a business perspective. Personal sites, inactive domains, and bulk hosting providers are given equal weight to sites like eBay, Dell.com and CocaCola.com in Netcraft's methodology."
The key problem with interpreting Netcraft's Web server survey as a reliable indication of Web server market share is centered on the nature of their sample: Netcraft's survey results are based on Web sites (or more precisely, hostnames) rather than actual Web servers. In November 2003, Netcraft reports on 44.9 million sites "[collected and collated] from as many hostnames as can be found providing an HTTP service." This focus on sampling as many sites as possible introduces a systematic overrepresentation of servers that are used to host high numbers of low-traffic sites and parked domains (hostnames pointed to a physical server but not actively used as Web sites). As an extreme example of this sampling bias, the single largest gain for Apache and loss for IIS in the November Netcraft survey came from the migration of Register.com, a domain parking service that accounts for over 1.4 million Web server responses alone.
Netcraft attempts to counterbalance their sampling bias, but these qualifications are not highlighted by Netcraft or most media reports on their survey. First, Netcraft does use a logarithmic formula to lessen the effect of parked domains in their sample. As might be expected, the November swing in server market share is much less dramatic when using these revised numbers: Apache's gain falls from 2.80 to 1.25 percent while IIS's loss is trimmed from 2.44 to 1.06 percent. (http://news.netcraft.com/archives/2003/11/03/november_2003_web_server_survey.html). Also, Netcraft's survey methodology acknowledges that their method of reducing the number of parked domains leaves in place a sampling bias in favor of "the cheap or free bulk hosters" (http://www.netcraft.com/survey/index-200007.html). Interestingly, Netcraft does possess a means to estimate numbers of physical servers at a given ISP as opposed to hostnames, but they do not apply this technique to the Web server survey released to the public (http://news.netcraft.com/archives/2003/04/14/netcraft_hosting_provider_server_count_available.html). Finally, Netcraft also conducts an SSL Web site survey, which might be expected to provide market share data more relevant to e-business decision makers, but they do not generally highlight the results of that survey or provide them for free (http://news.netcraft.com/archives/2003/04/09/netcraft_ssl_survey.html). The last publicly-available, free results from the Netcraft SSL survey are from January 2001 (http://www.netcraft.com/surveys/analysis/https/2001/Jan/CMatch/dv_all.html). These results had IIS in the lead with 47.4 percent to Apache's 28.1 percent in a sample of 121,542 secure sites.
Unfortunately, these qualifications and other data supporting alternate conclusions are not a focus for Netcraft and are not the metrics that make headlines or receive the technology community's attention. Netcraft's survey may be an accurate representation of "Web server software usage on Internet connected computers," as their methodology states, but such statistics are not synonymous with Web server market share. Ultimately, Netcraft's conclusions are of questionable relevance to business decision makers concerned with which Web server technology to deploy for e-commerce or Web-based applications.
On the other hand, Port80 Software's Web server survey focuses exclusively on the corporate Web sites of Fortune 1000 companies. As opposed to asking which Web server software is most common across the whole of the Internet, the Port80 survey attempts to determine the Web server of choice among large corporations with high-volume sites and demanding business requirements. With this more business-focused approach, Port80's monthly surveys represent a clearer picture of the Web site technologies deployed by large businesses today. In Port80's November 2003 Fortune 1000 sample, Microsoft IIS claims a more impressive 53.8 percent market share, including such heavily trafficked industry leaders as BankOne, Walt Disney, and the Gap. Port80's survey also reports that many Fortune 1000 companies running IIS, including Intel, Martin Marietta, and Goody's Online, are swiftly upgrading from Windows NT to Windows 2000 and Windows Server 2003, reflecting a long-term commitment to the Microsoft platform.
While Netcraft's survey of hostnames is touted and accepted in the industry press as representative of the actual Web server market, one should be cautious of using Netcraft data to make claims of this kind. Port80 Software's Top 1000 Corporations' Web Servers Survey demonstrates that Apache's market share is likely much smaller in dedicated hosting and corporate environments and confirms what most business already know: Microsoft IIS is the Web server of choice for the world's largest companies.
An article covering the Netcraft and Port80 Software Web server surveys in more detail is online at /surveys/top1000webservers/relevance.