Open-Source Web Servers: Performance on a Carrier-Class Linux Platform

Ibrahim tests the performance of three open-source webservers on a typical Ericsson Research Linux clusterplatform.
The Benchmarking Environment

The performance of web servers and client-server systems depends on many factors: the client platform, client software, server platform, server software, network and network protocols. Most of the performance analysis of the Web has concentrated on two main issues: the overall network performance and the performance of web server software and platforms.

Our benchmarks consist of a mechanism to generate a controlled stream of web requests with standard metrics to report results. We used 16 Intel Celeron 500MHz 1U rackmount units (see Figure 2) that come with 512MB of RAM and run Windows NT. These machines generate traffic using WebBench, a Freeware tool available from

Figure 2. Benchmarking Units

The basic benchmark scenario is a set of client programs (loaf generators) that emit a stream of web requests and measure the system response. The stream of requests is called the workload. WebBench provides a way to measure the performance of web servers. It consists of one controller and many clients (see Figure 3). The controller provides means to set up, start, stop and monitor the WebBench tests. It is also responsible for gathering and analyzing the data reported from the clients.

Figure 3. Architecture of WebBench

On the other hand, the clients execute the WebBench tests and send requests to the server. WebBench uses the client PCs to simulate web browsers. However, unlike actual browsers, the clients do not display the files that the server sends in response to their requests. Instead, when a client receives a response from the server, it records the information associated with the response and then immediately sends another request to the server.

There are several measurements of web servers. For our testing, we will report the number of connections or requests served per second and throughput, the number of served bytes per second (see Figure 4).

Figure 4. WebBench Control Window

WebBench uses a standard workload tree to benchmark the server. The workload tree comes as a compressed file that we need to move to the server and expand in the HTML document root on the web server (this is where the web server looks for its HTML files). This will create a directory called WBTREE that contains 61MB of web documents that will be requested by the WebBench clients. Since some of our CPUs are diskless, we installed the workload tree on the NFS server and modified the web server configuration to use the NFS directory as its document root.

As part of WebBench configuration, we specified that the traffic generated by the benchmarking machines would be distributed equally among the targeted CPUs. Figure 5 shows how we specify each server node and the percentage of the traffic it will receive.

Figure 5. Sample WebBench Configuration

Test Cases

After setting our Linux cluster and the benchmarking environment, we were ready to define our test cases. We tested all of the three web servers (Apache both 1.3.14 and 2.08a, Tomcat 3.1 and Jigsaw 2.0.1) running on 1, 2, 4, 6, 8, 10 and 12 CPUs. For every test case, we would specify in the RAM disk loaded by the CPUs which web server to start when the RAM disk is loaded. As a result, we ran four types of tests, each with a different server and on multiple CPUs.

For the purpose of this article, we will only show three comparison cases: Apache 1.3.14 vs. Apache 2.08a on one CPU, Apache 1.3.14 vs. Apache 2.08a on eight CPUs and Jigsaw 2.0.1 vs. Tomcat 3.1 on one CPU.

The first benchmark we did was to test all the web servers on one CPU. In WebBench configuration, we specified that all the traffic generated by all the clients be directed to one CPU. Figure 6 shows the results of the benchmark for up to 64 simultaneous clients. On average, Apache 1.3.14 was able to serve 828 requests per second vs. 846 requests per second serviced by Apache 2.08a. The latest showed a performance improvement of 2.1%.

Figure 6. Apache 1.3.14/2.08a Benchmarking Data on One CPU

Figure 7 plots the results of the benchmarks of Apache 1.3.14 and Apache 2.08a. As we can see, both servers have almost identical performance.

Figure 7. Apache 1.3.14/Apache 2.08a Benchmarking Results on One CPU

As for the Java-based web servers, Tomcat and Jigsaw, Figures 8 and 9 show the resulting benchmarking data. The maximum number of requests per second Jigsaw was able to achieve was 39 vs. 60 for Tomcat. We were surprised by Jigsaw's performance; however, we need to remember that Jigsaw was designed to experiment new technologies rather than as a high-performance web server for industrial deployment.

Figure 8. Tomcat/Jigsaw Benchmarking Data on One CPU

Figure 9. Tomcat/Jigsaw Benchmarking Results on One CPU

When we scale the test over eight CPUs, Apache 2.08a was more consistent in its performance, servicing more requests per second as we increased the number of concurrent clients without any fluctuations in the number of serviced requests (see Figure 10).

Figure 10. Apache 2.08a/Apache 1.3.14 Benchmarking Data on Eight CPUs

Figure 11 clearly shows how consistent Apache 2.08a is compared to Apache 1.3.14. On eight CPUs, Apache 2.08a was able to maintain an average of 4,434 requests per second vs. 4,152 for Apache 1.3.14, a 6.8% performance improvement.

Figure 11. Apache 2.08a/Apache 1.3.14 Benchmarking Results on Eight CPUs



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This great work needs updating

Pierreg's picture

There's a FREE Web Server which is faster than all others, up to:

25x faster than Apache
20x faster than nginx and Rock (webspec's 2008/2009 winner)
400x faster than PHP, 200x faster than Python

With TrustLeap G-WAN, organizations can use much less computers
(and electricity) to achieve the same works:

Re: Open-Source Web Servers: Performance on a Carrier-Class...

Anonymous's picture

Very useful article - however, comparing Tomcat and Apache is like comparing apples and oranges: Apache is designed to serve static content, while Tomcat is primarily a JSP/Servlet engine, and contains a standalone web server as a convenience.

Apache 2.0 threading

Anonymous's picture

Good article. Would like to know if Apache 2.0 was set up in this test to run threaded, or multi-process. The
similarity in performance makes me think both Apache 2.0 and 1.3 versions were running multiple Apache processes, with
resulting overhead from spawing new processes. Under Linux this isn't huge, but other unices have problems with
this model.

I'm also interested in Apache 2.0's multithreded performance when running as an app server - mod_perl, mod_php or
mod_python for example. Does threading allow sharing of persistent database connections, and what effect does that
have on memory usage, speed, and behaviour under heavy loads?

Re: Open-Source Web Servers: Performance on a Carrier-Class...

fyl's picture

I'm very pleased we got to run an article like this. This is our best defense against FUD from vendors of "less capable" web servers. When I got into Linux I never expected to see IBM running TV ads about Linux but what we see here shows me that IBM (and the rest of us) are on the right team.

Re: Open-Source Web Servers: Performance on a Carrier-Class Linu

Anonymous's picture

a very useful article.