Should Your Law School Own Its Own Web Server?


Unless flat-out prohibited by some sort of University policy sadly in need of an overhaul, I think that every law school should be running its own web server.  There is no magic to running one of these things anymore, indeed it is a far bit easier than running an email system. Nor is the hardware and software expensive and should be affordable to just about everyone.  The only real issue is staffing. It takes a lot of time to design and maintain a website, no matter how simple, but this is true whether you own the box or not.

The key to understanding this is to keep scale in mind.  @Emory I run one of the top law school-based sites and right now I'm averaging about 4,000 raw hits per hour with about 12,000 visits per day.  This is on a Dell Poweredge 4300 with a pair of PIII 500 CPU's, 1Gb of RAM, and 3 9Gb SCSI hard drives in a RAID5 configuration.  Even for a site our size, this is probably over kill.  For the most part one processor sits idle.  The content for the site, some 17,000 static pages and the databases for stuff that is dynamically created, occupies just over a gigabyte of hard drive space.  The OS is Redhat Linux, the webserver is Apache, the database is MySQL, scripting is done with Perl and PHP. No load balancing, caching, or anything fancy.  Backups are handled by our ArcServeIT system.

If you are running a smaller site, you have lesser needs.  Of our 96,000 daily hits, about 80% are for the case law collections, and as much 10% is from indexer/spider activity.  That leaves fewer than 10,000 hits per day looking at law school material: admissions, alumni/development, intranet, registrar, career services, etc. I would bet that the 10,000 hits per day mark is about average for law schools, so I will use it as my benchmark.


If I am building a server to handle to 10,000 hits per day, I would use a basic Dell Poweredge 2600 server (tower or rack depending on environment) with a 1.8 Ghtz XEON processor, 2 Gb of RAM, 3 18Gb SCSI hard drives in a RAID 5 configuration (creates about 36 Gb of usable disk space) running RedHat 7.3 or WIndows (your choice).  This bit of machinery will go for about $4500(RH) to $4800(Windows) with educational discounts.  If you have a little extra cash, another CPU will cost about $400.  On the whole, this is more server than you need, but with a loving care, it should last 4 or 5 years.

Now, consultants and some faculty member's brother-in-law will tell you about things like load balancers, cache servers, and on and on.  The reality is that under all but the most extreme situations, say at LII when  the Supremes hand down a good decision and they get 10,00 hits per minute, all this extra stuff is just an expensive paperweight collection.  You will have enough capacity in this server to handle your law school's needs for years to come.

Of course, by all means buy what the market can bear, but keep in mind that you can do a lot with a little on the world wide web.  If you can afford extra capacity, look at adding email services to the server or even providing some more exotic service like web-access to files.