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AWS Addresses Open Source Controversy with Launch of Open Distro for Elasticsearch

With the launch of Open Distro for Elasticsearch, Amazon Web Services Inc. (AWS) addressed the controversy between cloud operators and the creators of open source projects whose code is used in cloud for-pay services.

AWS came under fire in January when it announced the Amazon DocumentDB service with "MongoDB compatibility," which some observers criticized, including MongoDB Inc., which created the database and offers it in its own proprietary for-pay version.

"Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, so it's not surprising that Amazon would try to capitalize on the popularity and momentum of MongoDB," MongoDB CEO Dev Ittycheria was quoted as saying by CNBC.com at the time. "However, developers are savvy enough to distinguish between the real thing and a poor imitation."

With yesterday's announcement of Open Distro for Elasticsearch, however, the controversy took a different turn, as AWS fired back at some open source maintainers in a post titled "Keeping Open Source Open – Open Distro for Elasticsearch."

AWS exec Adrian Cockcroft complained about some open source maintainers who "are muddying the waters between the open source community and the proprietary code they create to monetize the open source."

Specifically, Cockcroft complained about Elasticsearch, used for analyzing machine-generated data and available under an Apache 2.0 license. He said the project's code has become intermingled with proprietary code. The project is maintained by the company Elastic.

"Unfortunately, since June 2018, we have witnessed significant intermingling of proprietary code into the code base," Cockcroft said. "While an Apache 2.0 licensed download is still available, there is an extreme lack of clarity as to what customers who care about open source are getting and what they can depend on."

Noting some customer complaints about the code changes, Cockcroft said AWS decided to announce -- in conjunction with partners Expedia Group and Netflix -- its own completely open source offering based on Elasticsearch code called Open Distro for Elasticsearch, insisting it's not a proprietary fork.

He likened the situation to AWS launching its Corretto distribution of OpenJDK to address customer concerns about Oracle's Java licensing.

"As was the case with Java and OpenJDK, our intention is not to fork Elasticsearch, and we will be making contributions back to the Apache 2.0-licensed Elasticsearch upstream project as we develop add-on enhancements to the base open source software," Cockcroft said. "In the first release, we will include many new advanced but completely open source features including encryption-in-transit, user authentication, detailed auditing, granular roles-based access control, event monitoring and alerting, deep performance analysis, and SQL support."

Industry observers were quick to characterize the brouhaha in the context of the overall struggle between cloud platforms and open source maintainers.

For example, a Business Insider article stated: "The move comes as Amazon is scrutinized for its relationship with open source software, as smaller companies like Redis Labs, Confluent, and MongoDB have all taken dramatic steps in changing their software licenses to stop AWS and other big cloud providers from taking and selling its open source software as a service. Those new licenses have attracted criticism, in turn, for what some perceive as undermining the foundations of open source."

Meanwhile, CNBC.com announced today that Elastic stock has fallen some 5 percent after "Amazon steps up its open-source game."

Also today, Shay Banon, CEO of Elastic, fired back at AWS.

"Our brand has been used and abused, hijacked, and misrepresented many times. Companies have falsely claimed that they work in collaboration with our company, topically Amazon," Banon said. "We did not let it distract us, we kept on building great products and communities, that users love. Dilution of focus is the enemy of a company, and we never let it affect us. It is you that matter, our users, not the noise around it."

Open Distro for Elasticsearch was announced yesterday by AWS spokesperson Jeff Barr, who said: "Today we are launching Open Distro for Elasticsearch. This is a value-added distribution of Elasticsearch that is 100 percent open source (Apache 2.0 license) and supported by AWS. Open Distro for Elasticsearch leverages the open source code for Elasticsearch and Kibana. This is not a fork; we will continue to send our contributions and patches upstream to advance these projects."

That last statement didn't sit well with some, including the The Register, which today reported: "The Register asked Amazon to elaborate on how its fork is not a fork but we've not heard back."

About the Author

David Ramel is an editor and writer for Converge360.

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