Originally Published: Tuesday, 1 February 2000 Author: Jessica Sheffield
Published to: featured_articles/Featured Articles Page: 1/1 - [Printable]

Dot Com-mercial Mania

Have you ever heard of this effect? A website is showcased in a brief byte designed to catch the attention of a specific audience. Within seconds, the site's servers are hammered by thousands of page requests, everyone eager to see what the hype is all about. The first lucky few get in; the rest are forced to wait a couple of hours until the traffic dies down....

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Have you ever heard of this effect? A website is showcased in a brief byte designed to catch the attention of a specific audience. Within seconds, the site's servers are hammered by thousands of page requests, everyone eager to see what the hype is all about. The first lucky few get in; the rest are forced to wait a couple of hours until the traffic dies down.

Sound familiar?

Gotcha.

Yes folks, it's the Super Bowl effect. Companies spend two million or more dollars for a 30-second piece of America's attention, but can their servers take the heat when all of America dashes to their computers to visit the Web site splashed across their TV screen?

Like a significant portion of the US population, I spent Super Bowl Sunday with friends in front of the television, pizza and fizzy beverage in hand. Between cheering and groaning over plays in the actual game, we were, of course, keenly interested in the commercials. Our estimate is that at least three fourths of this year's Super Bowl commercials were for dot com companies.

We began an experiment. As soon as a website appeared on the screen, we tried to access the page. In most of the cases -- seven out of nine, to be exact -- we had no trouble viewing the page. Two sites didn't fare so well. MVP.com, which wasn't advertised but was mentioned in a post-game interview with John Elway, seemed to be operating at a snail's pace as slowly, painfully, graphic after graphic managed to load. (For the record, this experiment was conducted using a 56k modem.) And EDS.com, which had possibly the best commercial (think 'It was like trying to herd cats'), was still not back online as of Sunday night at 11 pm EST. Tough news for a company that, according to its commercial, specialises in e-business solutions.

However, other Web sites performed brilliantly. Oxygen.com, Microstrategy.com, and WSJ.com suffered no noticeable lag, while powerhouses such as E*Trade, pets.com, and the job sites Monster and jobs.com were up to their usual standards of excellence.

The second part of the experiment was to discover what software each company ran on its servers. (Finding out the hardware involved would be equally intriguing, but harder to do.) For this, we turned to trusty NetCraft. My hypothesis was that the field would be fairly equally split among Netscape, Apache, and Microsoft IIS, with varying OSes beneath each (except IIS, of course). The results surprised me.

Monster and Microstrategy both run on Microsoft IIS, while John Elway's MVP.com runs NT 4.0. E*Trade, hotjobs.com, pets.com, wsj.com, and oxygen.com all operate on some form of Netscape, most on Solaris systems. And EDS.com, the unlucky (or badly executed) website-that-wasn't, runs Netscape Enterprise on an Irix system.

Clearly, the major players in the Big Game (and I'm not talking about football) don't see Linux as a viable server system. As a final act of desperation, I checked out NetCraft's own system. Bittersweet victory there -- the site runs Apache... on FreeBSD.

It's interesting that, while Linux is seen by many as a "server OS," many major e-commerce sites don't choose to run it. Is this a market Linux is missing, or are the gig names adopting a wait-and-see attitude when it comes to the plucky underdog OS we all know and love? Or perhaps the tools needed for successful e-business simply aren't available on Linux?

Caldera Systems says that's not true. They offer server systems, training, and support for customers, and their motto "Linux for E-Business" sends a clear message to anyone looking to get started in the Web commerce world. And VA Linux Systems has made its name selling open source systems and consulting to big e-business sites. In his recent interview on Slashdot, VA CEO Larry Augustin said, "The companies that figure out business models that work around Open Source will succeed." Obviously Caldera and VA are putting their money where their mouths are, but other companies outside the open source world have yet to follow suit.

It's clear that there is a huge market out there for e-business solutions. Walking through La Guardia Airport on my way to LWCE, I noticed that nearly every advertisement I saw was for some sort of e-business site. This seems to be an area in which Linux has enormous potential. But is it living up to that?

Maybe it's not so dire as it looks. Perhaps the companies that spend huge amounts of money to have their name associated with the Super Bowl simply prefer to spend their server dollars on systems other than Linux. Perhaps it's sheer coincidence. Or perhaps it's some sort of conspiracy after all.

After all, Microsoft is a Super Bowl sponsor.

Jessica Lee Sheffield, starlady@linux.com.





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