On the strategy of platforms and APIs

I’m going to draw a picture about a constellation of news on the importance of platforms in:

  • cloud computing,
  • competitive strategy
  • recruitment incentive.

Read all of these and you’ll see the pattern.

Profound gifts to the open source

LinkedIn open sourced one of their core systems, called SenseiDB. It’s a NoSQL system for incredibly fast searches of massive data, Hadoop integrated and handles massive concurrent load. They open sourced it! This is a highly-engineered solution from the core of a very large company.

Twitter is open sourcing its highly-optimised MySQL fork. This system has incredible capability for enormous transaction rates. It’s now available to everyone. Facebook have been publishing their MySQL experience for a while too, sharing knowledge and code.

The importance of platforms

Eucalyptus have an agreement with AWS to use their APIs thoroughly. It creates the potential for users to have a hybrid of private and public clouds that migrate loads between them, using the same API language.

The implication of this was eloquently put by their Rich Wolksi:

It is the raising of the level of abstraction — from mechanism (“plumbing”) to policy (“architecture”) that I find to be the exciting possibility enabled by an agreement between Eucalyptus and AWS.

A Googler accidentally posted an internal essay on the importance of platforms, on service oriented architecture and how important accessibility is. It’s a magnificent piece, you basically have to read it all, since summarising overly simplifies the message.

Ostensibly the piece is on Google+ but really the message is about platform architecture.

How these pieces build a competitive strategy

Having understood the above articles, this final piece will give you a so what moment: Be wary of geeks bearing gifts.

Basically, open source is a competitive weapon.

It’s well known to be part of possible business models – Red Hat, Squiz and Canonical are examples of businesses built on top of open source.

The key further point is how open source is also a competitive strategy.

Linkedin and MySQL and OpenStack should be seen in this context. There are so many angles to it. It’s easier and cooler to recruit coders if they’ll be working on projects like these. Plus, they get volunteer efforts to improve it (minor benefit initially). Plus they built a platform which gains the power of network effect.

Consumers’ eye-level to the world of IT is often at the level of the smartphone app, but the real corporate battles being waged are behind the app, beyond even the AWS infrastructure that runs it (eg. Instragram use AWS), and is being waged amongst APIs and architecture which rules all of those subordinate moving parts.

Awesome times for IT.