Web 2.0 is Built on Open Source

[Cross-posted to the Tucows Developer Blog]

In his 2005 essay What Business Can Learn from Open Source, Paul Graham wrote:

At this point, anyone proposing to run Windows on servers should be prepared to explain what they know about servers that Google, Yahoo, and Amazon don’t.

If VentureCake’s survey is any indication, it seems that many “Web 2.0” companies have taken this lesson to heart. Using a simple Unix script which in turn makes use of the nmap port-scanning utility, they scanned 17 popular sites deemed “Web 2.0” to see what server and operating systems they ran on. With one notable exception — MySpace — they all ran on an open-source server and operating system.

The table below shows the results they got from the scan:

Site Webserver Operating System
Apache httpd Linux
Blip TV Apache httpd Linux
Trumors Apache httpd 1.3.33 Linux
Reddit lighttpd 1.4.13 Linux
PopSugar lighttpd 1.4.11 Linux
Twitter Unknown Linux
MobiTV Apache httpd 2.0.52 ((Red Hat)) Linux
Technorati Apache httpd Linux Unknown Linux
Flickr Apache httpd 2.0.52 Linux
MySpace Microsoft IIS webserver 6.0 Windows (although OS responding is Linux, this is a caching service).
TechCrunch lighttpd 1.4.15 Linux
YouTube Apache httpd Linux
Revver Apache httpd 2.0.55 ((Ubuntu) DAV/2 PHP/5.1.2) Linux
Scribd Mongrel 201.0.1 Linux
Photobucket Apache httpd Linux
Wikipedia Squid webproxy 2.6.STABLE12 Unknown (while OS responding is Linux, this is likely a caching service).

6 replies on “Web 2.0 is Built on Open Source”

That is an interesting survey, I would not have imagined such uniformity.

The only downside is that all of those sites are also pretty slim on the revenue/net profit side of the balance sheet. Web 2.0’s penetration into traditional areas of economic activity barely registers. Not too many mission-critical financial, manufacturing, construction, transportation, real estate, and health care applications are chugging along on open-source platforms and frameworks.

This will probably change within the next few decades, but for the moment, the old traditionals have it made in the shade because of all the cash already blown on the legacy proprietary stuff. This is why an awful lot of businesses still end up deploying (for instance), stuff based around IBM or Microsoft platforms, even though they recognise that in the very long term, this is probably not the road to stay on.

@Chris: Another factor is that Web 2.0 projects are new and written from scratch, so the developers have luxury of choosing things like programming language, OS and servers.

At IBM, as they continue their transformation into a consulting company, they’re embracing Linux more and more, as it’s a way to simplify their offerings — they’ve been able to get it to run on all manner of hardware platforms (and they’ve got plenty).

But when it comes to maintaining or upgrading legacy software, if it works reasonably well, it is a good idea to stick with the language and OS for as long as possible, not only to recoup the initial costs, but because rewriting from scratch introduces all sorts of risks and costs. Like my well-maintained and still nice-lookin’ 9-year-old Honda CR-V, such systems shouldn’t be replaced until they can no longer do the job.

Twitter uses the Mongrel server and runs on Solaris, not Linux.

Open Source is great and happy and shiny, but there’s probably a commercial load balancer or twelve in the architecture for most of those sites.

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