Engine that can

Why Nginx is outmaneuvering Apache

Lucy Carey

CEO Gus Robertson gives JAX the full story on the reverse proxy server with serious ambitions.

HTTP and reverse proxy server Nginx has enjoyed a steady growth trajectory, overtaking Apache tech in the past few months to become the number one web server for the top 10,000 busiest websites in the world. In this interview, Ngnix, Inc. CEO Gus Robertson gives us his take on the rise of the software, and what we can expect down the line.

JAX: What are the driving factors behind the rise of Nginx?

Robertson: For starters, the need for high performance websites and web applications, particularly given that users now expect instantaneous responsiveness, has fueled the growth of NGINX.  The rise of smartphones and other mobile devices further impacts application performance given bandwidth limitations – consumers want fast internet access from anywhere at any time. As websites continue to move from basic static content to more dynamic and feature rich-applications, they require more sophisticated application architecture and traffic management — and NGINX provides just that.

Although Apache remains the overall market leader, its growth is now slowing. Why do you think this is?

Apache is great software and has strong adoption. We don’t necessarily see Apache as a direct competitor. In fact, many of our users deploy NGINX in front of Apache to offload work, protect it from internet traffic surges and improve the performance, often with a 10x increase in capacity.  Some of Apache’s perceived decline in market share can be accounted for by users deploying NGINX in front of Apache, rather than purely replacing it.

NGINX was built specifically to be high-performance, resource-efficient and deliver predictable performance for web sites and web applications in the modern era of mobility and dynamic content. It has performance benefits that are typically 10x faster and more resource-efficient than other tools in the market.

Where are you at with version 1.8 of the software?

We just announced 1.7 in late April, so we’re at the very early stages of development. In the meantime, we are working on some very exciting innovations and have high expectations for the next release – stay tuned!

Do you have a long-term roadmap for the technology?

Absolutely. We want to continue to grow market share of our open source and commercial products.  To that end, we’re working on a modular architecture that will make it easier for users to deploy 3rd party and custom-developed modules with either our open source or commercial software.

We’re also looking at ways to further improve performance, complementing modern innovations and trends in the industry, such as larger disks, higher-capacity networking and high-performance SSD.

As we build out our load balancing and application delivery capabilities, we have the potential to create a unified platform that will manage HTTP traffic end-to-end within the datacenter. However, we’re mindful that NGINX gained its reputation by being fast, reliable and lightweight, and we’ll maintain those values throughout our future developments.

Who are the most prolific users of Nginx? Have you had any big name adopters in the past three months?

Yes – Nginx has multiple high-profile users such as Facebook, Netflix, Box, Dropbox, Hulu, WordPress, Groupon and Living Social. According to w3techs, in the last 2 months, every 15.5 seconds one of the top 10 million websites started using Nginx (see here).

Additionally, according to w3techs, new sites that migrated to NGINX in recent months include CNET, The Washington Post, HubSpot and to name a few.

Why did you choose to make syslog integration available to all users in 1.7?

Load balancing, application health checks, monitoring and session persistence are just a few features that create an application delivery platform that complements our open source product.  These features are released via our commercial product NGINX Plus. Our community felt that syslog integration should be a standard feature of a webserver in a modern distributed application architecture. We reflected on this thought and agreed, so we decided to move this feature to the open source product.

Here’s a blog post from our head of products that discusses this decision in some more detail:

What are your future goals for Nginx? Do you think your current growth rate is sustainable?

In the past, applications have been dependent on underlying physical infrastructure and networking hardware to deliver reliability and performance. In the era of cloud, mobile and distributed application architectures, this is no longer efficient and in the case of public cloud, even possible. You can’t take your hardware with you to the public cloud! Applications need to natively build reliability and performance into the architecture all the way from the client connection to the back-end application servers. This also provides the application developers with independence from underlying infrastructure, enabling them to bring on new services or resources in an instant, which is required by this line of business.

NGINX enables this convergence of applications with granular control of traffic management natively within the application architecture. We are still at the early stages of this trend, which is being driven by users demand for an interactive experience on the web. Sites such as Facebook, Netflix, WordPress, Living Social, Airbnb, Yammer and Eventbrite are leading the trend; however it will naturally extend to enterprise and mid-market companies as users’ expectations grow and competitors enter these markets with new apps that force them to enhance their existing websites.

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