I had been thinking about writing on this for some days now – the Long Tail of FOSS deployments.
While talking about FOSS deployment numbers it is an inherent tendency to pick and choose the high profile or the largest number of units deployed. This I propose misses the significance. For what does not get counted and cherry picked is the large install base of home users, one-off edge servers (file-print-network-firewall-mail etc) and the niche deployments like servers for Media categorisation systems (note how deftly one avoids falling into the Digital Library trap). Most of these long-tail-deployments would have been done by small but not exactly mom-and-pop teams who do a good enough consulting business but are not too big to be part of the success stories. I would argue that much can be done if the established players in the FOSS scene and especially the principal vendors reached out to these consultancies through a defined programme.
There’s a feeling that most of these are fly-by-night operators who tend to cut costs. I would say they are not. Knowing which side of your bread is buttered and where the butter comes from, these teams pay more than adequate amount of attention towards creating stacks of solutions that base themselves on well tested OS internals. They don’t have classically defined release engineering and other teams so they try their utmost to ensure that their solutions are based on stable platform and the component versions are thoroughly tested and re-tested and benchmarked. Most of them use a customised base OS. Custom OS does not mean the total revamp of the OS internals. However, it does mean the core OS libraries which are required plus the application/solution. Examples of these might just be an Education Stack, a Stack for Medical Stations/Hospitals, Digital Library Stack, GIS Stack, Point-of-Sale Stack etc
Given that all of us are trying to figure out how to reach out to more and more potential consumers of FOSS based services, the Long Tail of deployments would be an extended means of outreach. What needs to be put in place is taking the members of the Long Tail to the next level of contributing in terms of bug reports and quality engineering