The nginx Web server and reverse proxy server has already posted impressive numbers in the Web server market as a small open source project. Now the project’s creator, Igor Sysoev, is taking a run at turning nginx into a company. Will nginx shake things up?

Apache rules the roost when it comes to Web server market share, no doubt. But nginx is coming up fast. For those not familiar, nginx is a high performance Web server and reverse proxy server. It got its start as a project for Russian search engine Rambler (where Sysoev was previously employed), with an initial release in 2004.

According to Netcraft’s July 2011 Web Server Survey, nginx holds 9% of the market for active sites across all domains, and 7.04% for the million busiest sites. It’s interesting to note that the share doesn’t seem to be coming from Apache’s dominance of the Web server market. Apache has held more or less steady while nginx has been building its niche. The market share for nginx was almost too small to notice just a few years ago, but if you look at the trends from September 2008 through July of this year, nginx has been on a steady increase, while Microsoft IIS continues to lose.

In September 2008, Microsoft IIS was at 34.88%, Apache was at 46.75%, and nginx was still counted in “other” in the survey. Fast forward to today (well, July) and nginx has nearly seven percent of active sites, while IIS is at 16.82%.

If you look deeply into the numbers, as they do over at W3Techs, nginx does even better for higher-traffic sites. According to the survey there, nginx is in use in nearly 20% of the top 1,000 sites, and just slightly more than 14% of the top 100,000.

All of this, according to Nginx’s co-founder Andrew Alexeev, is based almost solely on the work of Sysoev. (It looks like the company will adopt the initial cap, even if the software is currently “nginx.”) As they form the Moscow-based company, Alexeev says that it will be Sysoev, Maxim Konovalov, and “two developers working on the code,” but they expect to be hiring more.

Alexeev says that the company doesn’t have a five-year plan yet, but in the next year they’ll be working to improve documentation, provide support, and move to a predictable release cycle. Code for nginx will remain under the two-clause BSD license, though Alexeev didn’t say that everything produced by the company is going to be open source – leaving room for an “open core” model.


Is this going to make a difference in the market? The success of nginx is already impressive, given its growth from nothing to more than seven percent of the million busiest sites. Scaling the team that develops nginx and adding commercial support could put even more wood behind the arrow.

From the outside, it might look a little worrisome that such a little project is powering so many sites. However, though the core team is small, a lot of people have expertise with nginx and the proof is in the adoption – you wouldn’t see this much usage without a lot of expertise on the ground. Apache also started from very humble beginnings.

For examples of projects that have made a successful transition from one-man-show (or very close), the Nginx team should look at Puppet Labs. Luke Kanies has done a very good job of managing the growth of Puppet and scaling the company into a serious enterprise systems management company. If Sysoev and company play their cards right, I would expect to see nginx with a much larger slice of the Web server market pie by this time next year.