Cover V05, I10


Editor's Forum

Web servers span a range as wide as UNIX itself. Slick commercial bundles of hardware and software reside at one end of the spectrum, anxiously waiting to plug you and your organization into the joys of the electronic global village - for a price, of course. Huddled at the opposite end of the spectrum are the freeware alternatives - solutions that for the most part cost only time, patience and a few extra grey hairs. Which end of the spectrum seems most attractive to you will largely depend on the nature of your requirements and the size of your budget. Our October theme articles examine some of the issues relating to building Web servers in what might be called the low-rent district, along with a variety of related concerns. You will also see continuing discussions of Web-related topics in the upcoming months. Web technologies are moving too rapidly to restrict our coverage of the topic to one or two issues per year.

If you have not already implemented a Web server for your organization, you probably will in the near future. The Web is a technology that has caught the imaginations of individuals and businesses alike with an almost unparalleled force. The Web is here to stay. Similar to a strange substance growing in a petri dish, however, its shape and color are likely to change. It is this evolution of the Web that will probably generate the greatest challenges for you.

As system administrators, your task in the coming months (and years) will be not only to implement rapidly evolving technologies at a breakneck pace, but also to put those technologies into some form of long-range system architecture that makes sense administratively. The road ahead certainly has its share of potholes. Your management may assume that you will fill the potholes along the way, making for a smooth organizational ride. Interestingly, however, much of the stuff needed to fill the potholes, such as robust security solutions and a rational national encryption policy, is yet to be invented. In the meantime, you will need to find some virtual pothole filler to keep your systems (and your organization) from breaking a figurative axle.

One of the challenges facing system administrators along this road will be to maintain a sense of perspective while being prodded by unrealistic project schedules. In some respects, the Web can be likened to a pop singer - an instant success after only thirty years in the business. Another view might be that the Web is the Internet after a makeover. A new hair style and professionally applied makeup, but still more wrinkles underneath than we might want to admit. Those wrinkles constitute the underlying culture of the Internet, a culture that is not wholly consistent with the current business-centered Web glitz. How these forces will resolve themselves over the next several years is unclear. What is not unclear, however, is that your task will be to keep the systems running, performing core operational tasks well, regardless of the outcome of the culture clash.

Sincerely yours,
Ralph Barker