The Web Gambit

Thoughts on Web Development

Infrastructure is not Business Value

The title of this post is based on a quote that I heard from Chris Patterson, when he was doing a presentation on Event Driven Architecture at the Dallas TechFest a few months ago.

To provide some background, Chris Patterson is one of the founders of MassTransit, an open source service bus implementation built on .NET. Mass Transit was originally developed by Chris and Dru Sellers when they were both working for two different companies in completely separate industries (healthcare and financial services) but they were both finding a lot of common ground in the infrastructure they were building. The core framework for Mass Transit was developed to solve the specific business needs of the companies they were working for, and they obtained permission from their companies to open source the Event Driven Architecture so that two of them could collaborate on it and bring in the wider development community to help make it more robust.

Chris used the phrase “Infrastructure is not Business Value” with his company’s legal team and leadership in order to justify the move to open source Mass Transit.

In a recent developer book club discussion at my work, this topic came up and generated a lot of discussion. The group debated whether or not this was the best move for Chris’s company. Is there real value and competitive advantage to be gained in keeping infrastructure closed source and in house?  Would our company benefit from utilizing Mass Transit or would we be shackled by it? Does Not Invented Here Syndrome actually provide competitive advantages?

I took the side that Chris’s company made the right move. The company is not in the business of building and selling a generalized Enterprise Service Bus and they were more interested in their specific  Healthcare industry needs.  By keeping Mass Transit lightweight and usable across other industries, the company reaped the benefits of having two really talented developers collaborate to solve a common problem. In addition, by opening Mass Transit up to outside open source developers, the framework can improve and Chris’s company is in a better position to reap the benefits of a more robust, evolving framework.

Companies like Headspring Systems in Austin, TX are based almost exclusively on this model.  Most, if not all, of their project artifacts that provide infrastructure solutions have been open sourced without exposing any of the business value that their clients required. By fostering a community that continues to improve these tools, Headspring is in a good position to provide business value to their clients, without getting bogged down in reinventing infrastructure.

Few companies can maintain an esoteric, domain specific framework in the long term without the technical infrastructure becoming creaky and obsolete over time. Over the long term, this can reduce any competitive  advantages that a closed-source framework would bring in the first place. Thus I believe it is in many organization’s interest to follow the mantra that “Infrastructure is not Business Value.”

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