Serving small static files: which server to use ?

Update 1 (Mar 29, 2011): Logging and compression now disabled for all servers
Update 2 (Apr 14, 2011): Added results for Nginx 1.0


The goal of this benchmark is to compare several web server or caching server regarding their respective ability and performance to server small static files. The servers are optimized, contrary to my previous benchmark, where each server was tested using its default settings. I consider in this benchmark only the most performant open source servers, namely Varnish Cache, Nginx, Lighttpd, Apache Traffic Server as well as G-WAN (free, but not open source), as it was the clear winner of the previous test.

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Serving static files: a comparison between Apache, Nginx, Varnish and G-WAN

Update 1 (Mar 16, 2011): Apache MPM-Event benchmark added
Update 2 (Mar 16, 2011): Second run of Varnish benchmark added
Update 3 (Mar 16, 2011): Cherokee benchmark added
Update 4 (Mar 25, 2011): New benchmark with the optimized settings is available


Apache is the de facto web server on Unix system. Nginx is nowadays a popular and performant web server for serving static files (i.e. static html pages, CSS files, Javascript files, pictures, …). On the other hand, Varnish Cache is increasingly used to make websites “fly” by caching static content in memory. Recently, I came across a new application server called G-WAN. I’m only interested here in serving static content, even if G-WAN is also able to serve dynamic content, using ANSI C scripting. Finally, I also included Cherokee in the benchmark.

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Review of distributed key-value stores

According to the blog entry of Richard Jones, the most mature distributed stores are:


Despite being the winner of Richard Jones’ comparison, Voldemort presents several drawbacks:

  • JVM-only API
  • purely key-value, no structured storage
  • no dynamic group membership


Dynomite is currently used in production at to serve images and supports thrift clients, dynamic adding of nodes. Unlike Voldemort it keeps all of the read repair, replication, and concurrency in the server, keeping the client code as simple as possible.  Although this project seems very interesting, I would like to see operational reports from Microsoft about its scalabiliy and performance.


Currently, Scalaris has no disk persistence: the system works only in-memory. They reported the following performance: 2500 transactions per second with 16 servers. Voldemort reports much better performance.

An issue with Scalaris as mentionned by Werner Vogels is that under realistic failures scenarios, even with 3 phase paxos, commit consitency can only be guaranteed by not taking writes. Hence, Scalaris could not be used in a sales-oriented environment like Amazon where write availability is more important than consistency.


Cassandra is not part of Richard Jones’ winner list due to the fact that the community and documentation about it is not much present.

Cassandra was accepted into Apache Incubator on 02.01.2009.  I think that the community around Cassandra will quickly grow during the next months. Moreover, the mailing lists are already more active that those of Voldemort. Here is a summary of its design choices and architecture.

Cassandra has some advantages over Voldemort:

  • provides structured storage (not only key-value as Voldemort)
  • Voldemort does not support dynamic group membership: one may not
    be able to add nodes to the cluster without bringing the cluster down. Cassandra uses dynamic group membership algorithm based on Gossip.
  • Thrift as a client protocol, and not only JVM API. Thrift was also accepted into Apache Incubator.
  • Hadoop integration