OpenVMS with Apache, OSU, and WASD
Posted: 29-Jul-2005

Mac Guild Grade

Publisher: Elsevier


Reviewer: Bill Catambay $47.95

OpenVMS with Apache, OSU, and WASD
The Nonstop Webserver
Editor: Alan Winston (Published by Elsevier)
ISBN: 1-55558-264-8, 454 pages,
Publication date: 2003
Cover Price: $47.95

What the Book is About
OpenVMS is, in my opinion, the most stable and reliable operation system to run a server on. It hosts a powerful set of features and libraries making it not only stable, but very easy to manage. Keeping a server running smoothly 24/7 is critical to many environments, and OpenVMS fits the bill better than Unix, Windows or Mac. On the other hand, OpenVMS comes at a price, but for a crucial operation, it's worth every penny. One thing that is not included with OpenVMS, however, is a good web server. Fortunately, there are some very good web servers available for free that run on OpenVMS. The book, OpenVMS with Apache, OSU, and WASD, attempts to guide the OpenVMS system administrator in choosing the right web server to install, and further technical information on the setup and management of the server.

Target Audience
The readers who will benefit the most from this book are OpenVMS system administrators, or software engineers or managers involved with the decision of choosing a web server to run on their OpenVMS server or cluster. Beyond that, anyone who is interested in the OpenVMS platform and the options that are available for web serving would also find the information in this book to be educational and useful.

What To Expect
In the introduction, Winston discusses some of the reasons why you would choose to run a web server on the OpenVMS platform, keying on the reliability and ease of use of the platform, and the availability of web server software. If you're already an OpenVMS administrator, you don't need to be sold on the reliability and function of the platform, but for those that are just considering OpenVMS, the information here is useful. The information is also good for administrators that run OpenVMS, but have not yet explored OpenVMS web serving possibilities.

The book does mention a number of possible web servers, but focuses on the three most viable options for the platform: OSU, Apache, and WASD. OSU (Ohio State University) is a DECthreads HTTP server that was written in 1994 and is actively enhanced and maintained. Apache, perhaps the most well-known of the servers, and running on the most platforms, was ported to OpenVMS by Compaq and named Compaq Secure Web Server (CSWS). WASD was originally developed for internal use at the Wide Area Surveillance Division of the Defense Science and Technology Organization, and then released to the public.

Winston provides an excellent introduction on all three of these web servers, including their history, strengths and weaknesses, and technical workings. Once the servers are introduced, the book discusses the process of running each web server, sharing time between each of the three web servers in each chapter.

The primary chapters are:
  1. Why Run a Web Server on VMS?
  2. VMS and the Web
  3. Web Options
  4. Installation Issues
  5. Basic Configuration and Server Control
  6. Encrypted/Secure Communications
  7. Managing Access
  8. Providing Personal Web Directories
  9. Multihosting and Multihoming
  10. Indexing and Searching Your Site
  11. Cache and Proxy
  12. Managing and Understanding Server Logs
  13. Dynamic Content
  14. CGI Programs
  15. RDB Database Access
  16. Freeware CGI Scripts
  17. High-Performance Scripting Options
  18. User-Edited Web Pages
  19. User-Developed CGI Scripts

It also includes appendices for Perl, Python, PHP, Apache and Annotated Sample Configuration Files.

The technical nature of the book is not so heavy as to confuse or bore the reader, but it is extensive enough to provide a good understanding of each of the concepts being discussed. There is a lot of good information in this book, not just for choosing a web server, but also for understanding how the server is setup, managed, and utilized.

Throughout the book, you get the sense that the author is trying to accomplish two tasks in one book: Help the reader determine which server is best for running on OpenVMS, and provide information on how to run each particular server. While the information is technically sound and quite useful, the organization of the book left me a little dizzy. I enjoyed that the book started out discussing the different options, but at some point, you end up choosing your option, and at that point is where the organization of the book falters.

Because each chapter is divided to share discussion on each of the servers, once you have chosen your server, you really just want to jump to information on that server. That means from chapter to chapter you have to skip around quite a bit to find the information you need. Perhaps the intention of the author was to only help in the decision making process, in which case the organization is fine as it is. However, there is so much good information in this book, that the potential of using the book as reference makes it more valuable as a long-term asset. As a reference book, it would be easier for the reader if each of the web servers were separated with regards to their setup and operation, leaving only the first few chapters combining them in discussion. With a slightly revised organization, the first few chapters would help to determine which server to use, and then follow that with three major chapters on the three servers (with each broken down into similar sub-chapters). This would allow the reader to jump directly to the chapter on their selected server (e.g., OSU) without having to skip around continuously looking for the information.

This book is filled with useful information on how each of these servers operate in an OpenVMS environment, including lots of useful OpenVMS DCL commands. The initial chapters proved extremely useful in determining which server would be best for my needs. Once I selected to go with Apache, I found the information in later chapters to be very helpful in understanding the best way to setup Apache on our system. Of these chapters, I found Basic Configuration and Server Control, Managing Access, and User-Defined CGI Scripts to be among the more interesting of the chapters. A few chapters, such as RDB Database Access and Multihosting and Multihoming, went a little bit over my head, but for the most part, there was useful information to be found throughout.

The addition of sample DCL, Perl, Fortran and C scripts was also nice, although I was surprised to see that there were no Pascal examples (Pascal being a very strong language on the OpenVMS platform, and the primary language used in our system).

I found the book to be useful enough to recommend it to a co-worker, who has since then purchased a copy for himself to help with setting up a web server on OpenVMS.

Mac Guild Grade
B+ (Great)

Final Words
Winston's OpenVMS with Apache, OSU, and WASD provides an excellent and in-depth look at these three web servers with respect to running on an OpenVMS platform. The book provides an amazing amount of information to help choose the right web server for your system, and then proceeds to include some of the nitty gritty details on how to set that server up and manage it. I would have preferred a slightly revised organization of the book to make it more useful as a reference book. There is enough useful and technical information in this book to make it a valuable asset for any OpenVMS administrator looking to run a web server.