A Host of Hosts
In the wild Web world, it's host or be hosted. This may sound frightening, but it's really quite simple. Anyone will tell you a good host needs a great server. We'll tell you what makes a great Web server and where to get one. A good host also knows who to keep out, who to let in and how to keep track of them once they're there. To that end, we'll describe firewall technology and usage tracking tools. And, because we can't all be great hosts, we'll also look at hosting companies, which let you leave the serving to someone else.
A good host has to look sharp, and your Web server, more than anything else, is responsible for how Internet users perceive your company. The key components of a good Web server are its speed and reliability; its bundled access controls, Web development tools, and search and database access software; and the quality of the vendor's tech support.
Speed and reliability top the list. If your server is slow-or worse, frequently down-no one will bother accessing your site. Speed depends on both your server software/hardware combination and your Internet connection's bandwidth. A server that can saturate a 100Mb-per-second fast Ethernet LAN is useless if you plug it into a 1Mb-per-second Internet connection.
The other factors are by no means unimportant. Access control, for instance, lets you determine which users have permission to view particular Web pages. And because a server is of no use when it's down, strong technical support is also crucial. Here's a look at the leading Web servers and their key features:
Microsoft Internet Information Server (IIS) 3.0 (free with NT Server 4.0; Microsoft Corp., 800-426-9400, 206-882-8080). The performance of Microsoft's server benefits from tight integration with NT Server. Microsoft claims it can saturate a 100Mbps Ethernet network. Features include Active Server Scripting and remote administration using either a Web page or a secure management tool. Microsoft FrontPage Web-development tool and Index Server search engine are also bundled. Tech support can be expensive-getting a support engineer on the phone can set you back $195-but you can't beat the price of IIS itself. It's free with NT Server 4.0.
Netscape (FastTrack Server, $295; Enterprise Server, $1,295; Netscape Communications Corp., 800-638-7483, 415-937-3777). FastTrack Server 2.0 offers automated installation and configuration, remote management and Secure Socket Layer (SSL) support. Access control is by password, group, IP address, host or domain name. Enterprise Server adds database and full-text search capabilities, and high performance. Installation tech support is free for 90 days; after that it's $85 per incident.
Website Professional ($499; O'Reilly & Associates, 800-998-9938, 707-829-0515). O'Reilly claims Website Professional "can nearly saturate a T1 line, delivering over 100,000 transactions per hour." The product features full Web-based administration and extensive security capabilities, including SSL support and per-URL access control. It runs on NT Server, NT Workstation and Windows 95. WebSite Professional also comes with development kits for Java, Visual Basic and Perl languages, as well as a native ODBC/SQL database tool. Installation tech support is free; after that, it's $80 per incident.
Web Commander ($129.95; Luckman Interactive, 800-711-2676, 213-614-0966). Wizard-driven setup and extensive security features, including support for Secure HTTP protocols, SSL protocols and RSA public-key certificates, make Web Commander a safe bet for your server. You can control access on a per-user or group basis, and by IP address and domain name. Web Commander supports automated credit-card clearing and verification through four major credit-verification protocols. Additional features include support for two search engines (Excite and WAIS), a built-in HTML editor, ODBC database connectivity and POP3/SMTP e-mail.