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Web server NGINX powers more than 317 million sites around the globes, and has rapidly replaced Apache as the engine of choice for the world's 100,000 busiest, counting Netflix, Airbnb and Dropbox among its high-profile clients.

NGINX Inc - the company set up to commercialise the open source technology - has now set its sights on developing its business in Europe and recently opened a new EMEA headquarters in Cork, Ireland as a launching point to the region.

NGINX began life as a web server written by a Russian engineer called Igor Syosev in 2002 while he was working as a system administrator for the portal site Rambler. 

The proliferation of broadband internet had massively increased its website traffic and the Apache servers were struggling to handle enormous numbers of concurrent connections. The phenomenon is known as the C10K problem, a reference to the target of handling 10,000 simultaneous connections.

NGINX is Syosev’s solution. The software uses an asynchronous and event-driven architecture to boost speed and performance rather than relying on threads to handle requests as traditional servers do.

He decided to make the technology open source in 2004. By 2007, close to 50 million websites were using the software, and Syosev was inundated with requests around features and bug fixes. He turned his solution into a new company called NGINX Incorporated with the help of two friends, raised venture capital funding and began to search for a CEO. In 2012, Gus Robertson was appointed to the role.

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"When I joined it was just seven guys in Moscow and me based in the US," says Robertson. "Fast forward to 2017, we now have 317 million websites using our software, we have 58 percent of the busiest sites in the world using the software and over a thousand commercial customers using our commercial offering called NGINX Plus."

NGINX Plus provides additional capabilities in an enterprise solution such as load balancing, web and mobile acceleration, security controls and application monitoring and management.

Web server trends

Apache retains a massive 45 percent market share of the total number of active sites, according to research by internet services company Netcraft

That figure is more than double that of its leading competitor NGINX, but among the busiest sites its rival has quickly claimed its crown. In 2013, NGINX was the most popular server for the 100,000 busiest sites, a range extended to the top 10,000 in 2014 and then the 100,000 busiest in 2015.

Robertson believes that are two key reasons for its rise. Apache was built more than twenty years ago for a different type of world, a different type of internet and web. NGINX, he says, uses "an event-drive architecture is more applicable to modern application architecture".

The second reason is down to developments underneath the belly of the modern web and in the digital economy that the average user is completely oblivious to.

"Applications are becoming much more web-based, actually transitioning from just being just content or brochureware to being actual applications where users interact, and that requires a much more sophisticated rapid management tool," says Robertson.

"It's in businesses having to deliver a customer experience online that's equal to or better than what we're seeing coming from some of the disruptive technologies."

Read next: Designing your own disruptive business in 9 steps

The ease of booking a taxi through Uber or a room through Airbnb has made customers accustomed to a user experience that traditional businesses now have to compete with.

"They're now expected to come up with applications and new features on a daily if not hourly basis," explains Robertson. "To do that you can't build an application in the old way. You have to build an application in a very new, modern architecture. To do that you have to move from waterfall development to an agile software development process."

His solution is containerised versions of applications that offer an effective method of deploying those applications as they go through the lifecycle. When they’re moved into production, they can be put into a microservices architecture so that features can be deployed on one application as quickly as required without having to roll out changes to any other parts of the application.

"What we're seeing is that the demand on the business has actually changed almost every aspect about how applications are being built, from the architecture itself to the process in which it's deployed and managed to how it's actually managed in production," he says. "NGINX is at the core of all that because what interconnects all those applications when they're running in a microservices environment is HTTP."

Europe expansion

The continued growth of NGINX has extended beyond its American base. More than 25 percent of its business is currently outside the USA, and the majority of that is from Europe, which makes an EMEA base a logical next step in the company's plans for global expansion.

"We're expecting this operation to grow to somewhere in the region of 100 people over the next three years, and for some perspective NGINX in its entirety today is only a little bit bigger than that," says region head Ronan Kirby.

The team in Cork will include multilingual sales representatives, business development specialist and engineers who will be leading new initiatives centred on managing the software and giving users a central pane of glass so they can control and scale their web infrastructure.

They’re also recruiting channel partners who don’t offer a product in the space that are looking to broaden the solutions portfolio that they're offering into enterprise customers.

"Built at the rate we're going the EMEA region is probably playing about two years behind NGINX globally in terms of the size of the business so in a couple of years’ time the EMEA will be as big as NGINX is globally now," says Kirby.