Hot skills: Open source Apache obvious choice for web skills
What is it?
The Apache HTTP web server is free to download and is also bundled with many commercial products such as IBM's Websphere and the Oracle database.
Although its strong lead in the web server market has shown some sign of flagging over the past 12 months, it remains dominant, as it has since its introduction in 1995. Netcraft's December 2006 web survey gave Apache just over 60% of the market: double Microsoft IIS's share.
Hundreds of modules have been developed for it, many million websites depend upon it, and so many applications have been designed around it that it is the obvious choice for anyone considering extending their skills in this direction.
And since Apache is an open source product, if you are determined enough, you will find free tutorial material and support to get you going - in marked contrast to the substantial four-figure investment needed to get IIS skills established and recognised. On the other hand, if you would rather pay for commercial training and support, you can get that too.
Where did it originate?
Apache grew from an abandoned project at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications at the University of Illinois.
Officially the name is a gesture of respect for the Apache nation unofficially it arose because it was put together from patches: "a patchy server".
Work began in 1994 and Apache was released in 1995. In 1999, the original developers formed the Apache Software Foundation (ASF) to manage development and provide support for the web server. The ASF now manages more than 30 projects, including major Java initiatives like Jakarta, Tomcat and Struts.
What's it for?
Serving web content and files sharing. Apache is an essential part of the Lamp (Linux, Apache, MySQL/PostgreSQL, Perl/PHP/Python) development stack.
What makes it special?
Apache is more feature-rich than IIS, with a comprehensive range of third-party modules available to provide most functionality required. New modules can easily be written and added.
It also has a far better track record of stability (two versions in more than 10 years), reliability and security. Any bugs are quickly fixed by the community, and far less time is spent installing patches.
How difficult is it to master?
You will need dedication if you are going to teach yourself. Although the situation is improving, Apache is notoriously unfriendly to newcomers.
The sheer volume of material on the web is bewildering. Nothing old is ever taken down, and the introductory material and FAQs on the ASF's own site are absurdly out of date.
What systems does it run on?
Originally developed with Unix/Linux in mind, support for Windows and other operating systems was improved with Apache 2 in 2002 now around 30 are supported, including mainframe operating systems. Apache is the default web server in Mac OS X and Novell Netware 6.5.
What's coming up?
Microsoft IIS 7, which many commentators believe will challenge Apache seriously for the first time. The modular architecture is only one of a number of features that will improve security and manageability.
Rates of pay
Linux/Apache systems administrators can look for a salary of £28,000 to £35,000.
While topics such as configuration for beginners are covered in detail in free web tutorials, it is probably best to start with a good general introduction in the form of a book from Wrox/Wiley or O'Reilly. The Apache site is for people working within the project, rather than users.
Hot skills catch-up