Jul 26

Tim O'Reilly

Tim O'Reilly

The Rise of Open Infrastructure

Jon Udell just wrote a thought-provoking editorial on Infoworld that takes off from my conversation with Debra Chrapaty, which I blogged earlier this month. I had called out Debra's comment that "In the future, being a developer on someone's platform will mean being hosted on their infrastructure."

Meanwhile, I was citing Jon myself just this morning, pointing out in my keynote at OScon that Jon's blog entry Hosting AJAX Applications on [Amazon's] S3 with Openfount seemed to me to be an early confirmation of Debra's provocative assertion.

Jon's latest editorial, The Rise of Open Infrastructure, suggests a challenge for future open source developers: create open source, perhaps P2P, infrastructure so that developers don't become hostage to a future in which the big web platform players (Google, Microsoft, Yahoo! and Amazon) use their economies of scale to limit what independent developers can do. Jon writes:

We’ve already seen how open source software projects harness collective effort to produce quality results. We’re now seeing how open content projects such as Wikipedia do the same. Can open infrastructure be far behind?

Arguably it’s already here. Yochai Benkler, author of The Wealth of Networks, notes that if we regard the P2P file-sharing networks from a technical rather than a political/legal perspective, we observe the evolution of robust decentralized storage systems.... Operating on a smaller scale but at a higher level in the stack, open content delivery networks such as CoralCDN, which I mentioned a year ago, will challenge proprietary CDNs (content delivery networks) such as Akamai... Beyond CDNs lie service delivery networks... If I were the next Linus Torvalds, itching to create the Linux of open infrastructure, this is where I’d scratch. Innovation in open source was about process more than technology. Innovation in open infrastructure will require both.

tags: open source, operations, web 2.0  | comments: 14   | Sphere It

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Comments: 14

  Philip Ashlock [07.26.06 05:24 PM]

The decentralized nature of content authorship that does so much to define the architecture of participation and the web 2.0 paradigm is sure to become exponentially more robust when coupled with decentralization of the content itself. The internet is designed to organically evolve around censorship and centralization, its robustness and effectiveness is all rooted in the fundamental concept of decentralization. With this in mind, it's pretty interesting to see the move toward more siloed content with web 2.0 services alongside the emerging development of decentralized content conventions and infrastructures such as microformats, openID, bittorrent, SIP, Jabber, and many other open standards. While these two movements seem to be opposing one another, they actually seem to be fueling each other in some ways. Openness can easily be seen as a new competitive advantage when you look at examples like the open agreement between Flickr and Google's Picasa Web Albums.

  pwb [07.26.06 11:54 PM]

I think we're not too far from a switch back to hosting your own apps. All companies will own a decent competence in managing a LAMP stack. Users will be able to own their data, customize at will and flatten out their costs. SugarCRM is currently the best example. As good if not better than Salesforce, relatively easy to manage on your own server and much less expensive.

  Christian Lanng [07.27.06 02:27 AM]

Open Infrastructure is not only about hosting web applications. In Denmark we have taken a different approach to open infrastructure and started by looking at the transactions of electronic invoices and orders. Currently the Danish government to the best of my knowledge runs the worlds largest e-invoicing solution on open standards (UBL) with more than 200.000 companies participating. But this is still run in a closed secure infrastructure and only b2g, the goal is to open this infrastructure up, and make it accessible for not only the public sector but also all Danish companies to use in b2b scenarios.

Especially SME companies have a lot to gain here, but also larger vendors, as the estimated volume of orders and invoices is up to 191 million messages per year. By enabling all the central building blocks for everybody who offers e-business solutions or web-services, to register these in a central government run registry, enabling automatic look-up from application, and standardized web-service interfaces across all government e-business services we have the possibility to create a truly open infrastructure with a critical mass from day-one(200.000 companies using e-invoicing towards the public sector) as all the standards used is build around open standards(WS-I stack), and enforced through public procurement. So far all major and small Danish software vendors as well as companies are supporting this initiative and the first pilots will go live this autumn.

The point here is that, open infrastructure is not only about hosting applications, but as much about supporting open transaction of business information in a secure and reliable way. The government role in this is not especially different than mandating standards for our roads or existing infrastructure, we enabling a level playing field for all participants. This will of course also influence SAAS vendors as if they want to interface with the public sector will have to follow these standards.

For more information on the initiative see:

  Tim O'Reilly [07.27.06 08:27 AM]

pwb -- Going back to my original conversation with Debra Chrapaty -- what sparked her comment was the fact that the big guys have a really significant cost advantage when it comes to power and other limiting factors on building a big data center.

And sure enough, in a conversation at OSCON on Tuesday, Jim Buckmaster, CEO of Craigslist, confirmed that they've been kicked out of a number of co-los because the hosting providers couldn't keep up with their power requirements.

  pwb [07.27.06 12:37 PM]

Yeah, I probably changed subjects. I was referring more to individual companies running their own apps vs. hosting them at Salesforce, Microsoft CRM, Hotmail, etc.

  Nick Lothian [07.27.06 05:55 PM]

I think it's an open question what "open source" means in the context of hosted applications - and hence to some extent - open infrastructure.

For instance, take things as simple as website statistics tracking. Is Google Analytics "open infrastrcture"? It's free.. How about It's free and not from a big player. What about Analog ( - it's open source and provided as a hosted application by many hosting companies - but not at a single site. Or perhaps something like Perfomancing Metrics ( is more open, since - while it isn't open source - it does have open source components and provides an open API.

  Tim O'Reilly [07.27.06 06:08 PM]

Nick -- exactly. This was the point of my controversial comment in my keynote at OSCON: "open source license are obsolete." They don't actually capture the reality of how a huge amount of software is distributed today.

However, I can imagine open infrastructure created with open p2p software, or distributed computation.

I think that there is an open, cooperative answer to the infrastructure advantages that accrue to the big web players. It will be interesting to see if it actually develops.

  Nick Lothian [07.27.06 11:58 PM]

Open source licences might be obsolete, but API licences aren't. Surely if open infrastructure means anything it means the ability to switch providers with minimum difficulty. The best way to do this appears to be by encouraging APIs that can be cloned. This means using SIP instead of Skype, OpenSearch instead of the plain Google/Yahoo search APIs.

You'll note, though that the big web players actually encourage the use of standard based APIs when it suits them (ie, when they are entering a market with entrenched players). Googles use of Jabber in the IM market is the perfect example.

  adamsj [07.28.06 08:11 AM]


Bingo! API license terms and appropriate SLAs for open data sets were a major topic of discussion at the first Mash-Up Camp. The discussion didn't go very far, but then, this is a hard question to which no one yet has (in my opinion) good answers working.

  Swashbuckler [07.30.06 11:26 AM]


Regarding your comment that "open source licenses are obsolete." Please clarify something for me: you did mean that current open source licenses are obsolete, not that open source licensing is obsolete, correct?

  Tim O'Reilly [07.30.06 11:58 AM]

Swashbuckler. Correct. They need to be updated.

I'm working on a longer post (or series of posts) on this topic as we speak.

  Oyunlar [08.06.07 05:46 AM]

Good. I wish your sucess to continue.

  gfhj [01.06.08 07:49 PM]

Regarding your comment that "open source licenses are obsolete." Please clarify something for me: you did mean that current open source licenses are obsolete, not that open source licensing is obsolete, correct?

  Tim O'Reilly [01.06.08 08:13 PM]

gfhj -- Yes, current open source licenses are obsolete, since they are conditioned on the act of distribution, and much software is no longer distributed but merely performed on a web platform. The free and open source licensing community has been in denial about this fundamental change in the architecture of the whole computing ecosystem for years, and now it may be too late to address the problem.

But in the era of web scale applications, it may be that source code isn't the choke point anyway, since most web applications are dependent on the acquisition of a huge hoard of proprietary data. Open data may be more the issue.

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