As Doc Searls pointed out, human beings do the constructive work which is at the core of open source, so obviously they can indeed be considered infrastructure. Since the mechanics of this subject are by no means overly simplistic a complete analysis would be overkill. Yet upon closer examination of that infrastructure there are still distinctions that matter (i.e. customer vs vendor, paying user vs non paying, etc.) that takes the form of different companies, organizations, roles and identities.
The resulting surrounding, infrastructure is crucial to the definition of an open source ecosystem in mostly the same way that activities and output associated with the production, distribution and consumption of open source software can be referred to as its economy. However it is the open source code and its extended layers of value that connect the very same partners, vendors, integrators and suppliers characteristic within any brand of software ecosystem. For this specific reason I refer to open source infrastructure as open-structure going forward.
Hoping not to sound too buzzword happy but currently innovation is at a premium. Innovative products and companies will continue evolve most efficiently and inevitably survive. Despite the fact that the open source model's initial wave of commercial success had to do with commoditizing pre-existing product categories, innovation was/is a paramount force. Non-traditional approaches to business models, licensing, commercialization, etc. have propelled the emergence of the open source marketplace as a notable source of disruption. In the same [buzzword compliant] breath, the demand for solutions has ratcheted up a notch and in conjunction with the disruptive elements of open source has carried over into the creation of a new generation of open source solutions that are built in opposition to vendor lock-in.
The production of software by open source communities is a microcosm of the same relationship between solutions and open source ecosystems, respectively. The aforementioned open-structure can be viewed as a platform for ecosystems, built around open standards (even if not exclusively), transparency and inter lock-in. Accordingly, collective competition becomes a naturally occurring tendency for all involved and the derived relationships are capable of achieving symbiotic, networked value creation without relying on direct consolidation. Just as middleware from the likes of IBM, Microsoft or BEA attract adoption from ISVs that wish to avoid building their own from scratch, open-structure serves as the workbench for producing a range of solutions leveraged against an open source foundation.
Open-structure has proven capable of supporting healthy products in the form of application servers, middleware (i.e. ESB), business intelligence, plus more, that all:
- Exhibit strength and flexibility.
- Have scaled quickly at an enterprise level.
- Remain committed to openness.
- Are powerfully relevant across verticals.
Understanding the dynamics of an open source ecosystem is an admittedly complex and time consuming matter. However, by gaining a better picture (piece-by-piece) of its internals, the term can begin to come to life. The term open-structure is meant to represent coagulation of an open source ecosystem's infrastructure as it relates to producing disruptive solutions across the board.
About the blogger: Alex Fletcher is lead industry analyst at Entiva Group Incorporated, a research and analyst firm which specializes exclusively on the open source software industry. In addition to hisanalyst coverage activities, he advises organizations of all sizes on establishing governance, strategy and policy surrounding use of open source software as a competitive differentiator. Alex has prior experience as a consultant, software engineer and start-up founder. He can be reached at alex dot fletcher -at- entivagroup dot com.