The Future of the Web Server Industry

Have you ever noticed that just as you get comfortable writing a particular year on your checks, it changes? Here it is the middle of 2000, and we're past the halfway point. The heat of summer will go away, kids will be back in school, and the dog days of summer will be just a memory. The year will change again, and you'll have to train yourself to write another new year on your checks. Something similar is about to happen to us in the Web server industry, and we administrators are best poised to have the rug pulled from under us. Here's some evidence of the big changes that are coming.

New Top-Level Domains
Earlier this month, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) approved the expansion of the top-level domain (TLD) structure. The exact plans are still under wraps, and the selection process doesn't start until later this year, but we could see the new TLDs by early next year. This expansion will start a scramble for companies, investors, speculators, ISPs—practically anyone who wants to hang out a shingle in cyberland. Speculators will try to land the coveted "registrar" roles to control the process of registering a domain name. The process will affect Web server administrators because we will have so many new Web sites. "Web site under construction" might soon be the most popular phrase on the Internet.

The Growth of ASPs
Despite Microsoft's well-known use of the acronym, now when someone says "ASP," we have to ask, "Are you talking about Active Server Pages or application service providers?" With each passing day, more people are talking about the latter. ASPs must be very good at running data centers to stay in business, which begs the question, when does it become practical (and profitable) to operate your own data center? I predict that ASPs will have a lower server-to-employee ratio over the long run and therefore will hire only the pick of the Web-server crop.

Software Application Hosting
The software industry as a whole would rather rent software to users than sell copies of the code for users to run on their local machines. Thus, the software industry could move toward a subscription-based model instead of the current model, in which users own a copy of the product. With its new .NET strategy, Microsoft has made no secret that it prefers to use this model, which could mean a Web-based copy of Microsoft Office on our desktops before we know it. I expect major cost-reduction incentives to lure business units to the Web-based models.

Sit back and think about where you are in your career. Web server administrators aren't like the ad hoc hobbyists we had 4 or 5 years ago. Some Web administrators were chosen using "Tag! You're it!" or "Hey! You know more about computers than anyone else in the office. You do it!" Now it's a profession and part of a great career. Credible certifications are also beginning to appear. But don't get too comfortable yet. Change is coming, and you have to stay on top of it.

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