Comparing BSDI and NT

Building Intranet and Internet Servers with BSDI and Windows NT

Prepared by John Bryant
Independent Consultant


Which server software offers complete functionality, with easy installation and management? Which one provides the highest value for the cost? What kind of support and performance can I expect from this system? These might be questions you ask when trying to decide from the several server operating systems available. Here, I compare Windows NT and BSDI for performance, reliability, value, security, remote management, and hardware and software support and availability.


Before immersing ourselves in a sea of buzz words, we should first clarify some definitions. In this paper, Windows NT refers to Microsoft Windows NT Server 3.51 with Internet Information Server (IIS). BSDI refers to Berkeley Software Design, Inc. Internet Server version 2.1 with Apache web server. Intranets are LAN/WAN networks behind firewalls or not connected to the Internet. The Internet is, of course, the global internetwork. Internet and intranet services include World Wide Web (HTTP), File (FTP), Email (SMTP/POP3), and Gopher servers.

Supported Hardware

Operating systems such as BSDI and Windows NT transform commonly available hardware into high performance server platforms. With Windows NT you get your choice of uniprocessor or symmetric multiprocessor (up to 4 CPUs) on Intel, Alpha, MIPS, or PowerPC architectures. BSDI only supports uniprocessor Intel architectures out of the box; however, multiprocessor support and RISC implementations are in development. Memory requirements are much lower with BSDI. It will run with as little as 4MB of RAM while Windows NT requires 16MB. A Windows NT web server is gluttonous, and a typical configuration requires upward of 64MB of memory. BSDI, on the other hand, will offer more performance starting at 32MB. BSDI can support up to 768MB (more with kernel modifications) and Windows NT up to 4GB. BSDI tends to be more efficient in memory usage for most applications, especially network intensive services. Between processor and memory options, we see that BSDI is lean enough to run on minimal systems, while Windows NT has slightly more scalability due to processor choices. Windows NT has a longer list of supported hardware. Internet Service Providers take note: BSDI supports CSU/DSU and multiport serial interface cards.

Installation and Configuration

When it comes to setting up an Internet server quickly BSDI has no peer. Windows NT is very particular about the hardware configuration and multiple restarts are often required to get everything right. The Windows NT installer prompts for and configures the network but not the Internet Services. A separate installation is required for IIS and any third party packages desired. Using the provided scripts, the BSDI installer configures all aspects of the web server quickly and easily.


Using WebStone 1.1 tests of BSDI with Apache and the Web Performance Kit against Windows NT with IIS, BSDI offered significantly higher performance over Windows NT running on comparable 133 MHz PCs. For static HTML content, BSDI ran 27% faster than Windows NT, and API generated content performance is between 48% and 197% faster. For CGI-generated dynamic content, BSDI is 77% faster than Windows NT. Running on a 200 MHz Pentium Pro PC that costs approximately $3,000, the BSDI platform delivers over 1.8 million hits per hour and over 27 Mbps network throughput. The BSDI Web Performance Kit contains an enhanced version of BSDI's BSD/OS kernel and powerful Squid caching software based on the University of Colorado's Harvest caching technology.


System uptime is a major concern for system administrators. Every minute of downtime of an intranet server means lost productivity on the part of the users. Frustrated customers on the Internet are likely to look to another vendor’s site. In this category, BSDI leaves Windows NT in the dust. Both use protected memory and preemptive multitasking to prevent errant processes from bringing down the entire system. Although Windows NT rarely "locks up" entirely, individual programs and subsystems (especially the Windows 16-bit subsystem) crash often. BSDI’s kernel and included software are solidly integrated to provide a time-tested, reliable server that just won’t quit. BSDI users have reported uptimes of over one year, rebooting only to install new releases.

Remote Management

Remote management is important because system administrators often have to manage servers on opposite sides of a building, or even on opposite sites of the world. Remote management has always been a strong point for BSDI. Any management task can be executed remotely via dialup or the Internet itself. BSDI uses standards such as Telnet, SNMP, and X Windows; any operating system with these tools can be used for remote management. Windows NT is severely limited in that very few management tasks can be completed remotely. Most services have proprietary configuration programs which almost always must be run on Windows NT.

Internet Services

Internet protocols and software are native to systems such as BSDI. With Windows NT, many Internet protocols and services were an afterthought. Most notable are SMTP (Email), NNTP (News), Telnet, and DNS, all of which are included in BSDI. Third party products and Microsoft’s own "resource kit" fill in gaps for Windows NT, but few of the products come close to the power and flexibility of BSDI’s mature implementations of these critical components. BSDI comes with Apache web server which is arguably the worlds fastest web server. Apache and Microsoft’s Internet Information Server have comparable features, though the version of Apache included with BSDI lacks Secure Sockets Layer (SSL). For that you might consider obtaining the version with SSL or running Netscape’s Commerce Server.

Software Availability

BSDI comes complete with Apache, FTP, DNS, Telnet, SMTP and many other software packages, saving the expense of purchasing additional software. Windows NT does not include as much software but has stronger third party support. However, you can find a cornucopia of freely available software for BSDI systems on the net, including the Free Software Foundation’s GNU collection. Because BSDI is an "open system" and a popular reference platform, most software will compile with little or no modification. Many of the essential Internet tools—such as Perl—are also available for Windows NT, but they are often delayed and limited versions of the original UNIX implementations. Commercial web servers from Netscape, Compuserve/Spry, and Open-Market are available for both BSDI and Windows NT. Third party products such as WebBuilder and Cold Fusion enable both BSDI and Windows NT Internet applications to interact with databases. Developers appreciate the included C/C++ development package, over 600 other utilities, and the availability of the BSD/OS source code.


BSDI’s security is a veteran next to the new recruit of Windows NT. The results of two decades of real- world battle against would-be intruders makes a strong argument indeed. One-time passwords, authentication tokens, and standards such as Kerberos make BSDI secure even when accessing the system over unsecured networks, like the Internet. Imutable files protect against modification by intruders and append-only files ensure that BSDI’s extensive logs remain trustworthy. Windows NT uses proprietary security methods, access control lists (ACLs), and extensive auditing.

Price Comparison

As you can see from the chart below Windows NT can become very expensive if you are putting together a complete Internet server solution. Not only does BSDI have everything in one package but, more importantly, everything is supported by one vendor.

Component BSDI Internet Server Windows NT Server
Operating System $995 $700
Web Server inc. inc.
FTP Server inc. inc.
Telnet Server inc. Shareware
SMTP/POP3 Server inc. $500 (Post.Office or IMail)
DNS inc. Resource kit (no tech. support)
NFS Client & Server inc. $600 (DiskShare/PC-NFS Combo or BW-Connect NFS Client Server Combo)
X Windows Server inc. $500 (ReflectionX, eXalt, or eXceed)
Remote Management Tools inc. $200 (PCAnywhere32)
News Server inc. $500
C and C++ compilers inc. $500 (MS Visual C++)
Revision Control System inc. $500 (MS SourceSafe)
UNIX utilities inc. $500 (Portage UNIX for Windows NT)
Total $995 up to $4000


Windows NT relies heavily on third-party products, lacking many of the sophisticated software that BSDI users have enjoyed for years. BSDI outperforms Windows NT by a wide margin in network-intensive applications, such as web and file serving. The availability of source code and the open architecture of BSDI are among the best reasons to choose BSDI, especially for development. If you are looking for a complete Internet server that is easy to set up, provides remote management, and includes excellent development tools, BSDI wins hands down over Windows NT.

Copyright 1995