Do Your Really, Really Need to Run Your Own Webserver?
  Some Practical Alternatives and Suggestions
Anne Salemme MIT IT Partners Conference October 24, 2002


"No Cost" Option:

"Some Cost" Option:
 Run a content-less webserver

"Some Cost" Option:
 Let W91 do it

"Last Resort" Option:

Webserver management essentials

Useful links


About me


This talk is intended for people who are responsible for developing and maintaining websites at MIT, and who must face the issue of whether or not to run their own webserver. It is important to note the distinction between website (the collection of pages, scripts, and so on that make up the site's content and certain aspects of its appearance), and webserver, which is the software that "serves" the website pages to webbrowsers. Not all websites require their own webserver; many websites at MIT are served from, the pool of webservers supported by I.S..

Some websites are simple, and require only basic functionality in the webserver. Some websites may require more complex or custom functionality built in. It is important for website developers and maintainers to understand what their website requires in a webserver, in order to make an informed decision on an appropriate webserver for the site. In this talk, I will present several webserver options available at MIT, which range from "use one that's already here that doesn't cost you anything" to "do everything yourself".

In general, running a webserver for a high-visibility, complex, mission-critical website is a job for professionals. Some required areas of expertise in webserver administration include:

  • Hardware: Planning, purchasing, deploying, monitoring, servicing, upgrading, replacing
  • Operating system software: Installation, monitoring, patching, updating, tracking security issues
  • "Middle-ware" used by the webserver (such as compilers, database software, etc.): Same as for operating system software PLUS systems integration skills
  • Webserver software (the actual webserver process(es)): Same as for operating system software AND middleware PLUS software building, debugging, testing, updating, and production roll-out
  • Your website: Ideally, the webserver administrator doesn't need to know anything about your website. If your website is served from your own webserver, the webserver administrator needs to know:
    • how to start your website correctly
    • how to stop your website gracefully
    • how to tell if your website is operating normally
    • who to contact if your website is not operating normally

Updated October 23, 2002. Copyright © 2002 Massachusetts Institute of Technology
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