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December 24, 2018

Cloud Backlash Grows as Open Source Gets Less Open


Are cloud providers freeloading on free and open software? That question is casting a shadow on the growth potential of cloud computing as vendors like Confluent, MongoDB, and Redis Labs put new restrictions that prevent cloud companies from using their software in specific ways.

Confluent this month became the latest commercial open source software company to restrict the use of its software in the cloud. The move prevents cloud companies from using parts of the Confluent Platform, such as the KSQL component that uses SQL to process streaming data, as standalone software as a service (SaaS) offerings.

Jay Kreps, the co-creator of Apache Kafka and the CEO of Confluent, explained the significance of switching the Confluent Platform from the Apache 2.0 license to the new Confluent Community License.

“This new license allows you to freely download, modify, and redistribute the code (very much like Apache 2.0 does), but it does not allow you to provide the software as a SaaS offering (e.g. KSQL-as-a-service),” Kreps wrote on December 14. “[Y]ou can use KSQL however you see fit as an ingredient in your own products or services, whether those products are delivered as software or as SaaS, but you cannot create a KSQL-as-a-service offering.”

Confluent CEO Jay Kreps

Kreps was adamant that the move has no impact on Apache Kafka itself, and would not impact the vast majority of Kafka users.  The restriction only prevents people from carving out a piece of the Confluent Platform and using it as a stand-alone SaaS offering that competes with Confluent’s offering.

The move puts Confluent in the company of NoSQL database makers MongoDB and Redis Labs, which had previously announced restrictions of their own aimed at preventing cloud companies from launching SaaS versions of their popular open source products.

In August, Redis Labs placed restrictions on the Redis Modules component of its offering when it announced a new Commons Clause to its open source license. The net effect of the change was to maintain the core database in the open, while preventing others from selling or offering SaaS versions of unmodified Redis Modules like RediSearch, Redis Graph, ReJSON, ReBloom and Redis-ML.

“Cloud providers have been taking advantage the open source community for years by selling (for hundreds of millions of dollars) cloud services based on open source code they didn’t develop (e.g. Docker, Spark, Hadoop, Redis, Elasticsearch and others),” Redis Labs cofounder and CTO Yiftach Shoolman wrote in an August 22 blog post. “This discourages the community from investing in developing open source code, because any potential benefit goes to cloud providers rather than the code developer or their sponsor.”

MongoDB followed Redis Labs’ lead in October, when it announced that it would be distributing MongoDB Community Server under a new Server Side Public License (SSPL). The new license would protect the $300 million investment MongoDB has made in its database, the company says.

(Wright Studio/Shutterstock)

“The market is increasingly consuming software as a service, creating an incredible opportunity to foster a new wave of great open source server-side software,” MongoDB CTO and co-founder Eliot Horowitz stated in a press release. “Unfortunately, once an open source project becomes interesting, it is too easy for cloud vendors who have not developed the software to capture all of the value while contributing little back to the community.”

The open source software movement has benefited the world of IT and the world in general. Many of the mobile apps and websites that consumers use on a daily basis have some open source software in them. It’s hard to quantify the impact that open source has had, but it surely must be huge.

Cloud providers like AWS, Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud Platform have also benefited from open source software. At the recent AWS re:Invent conference, AWS CEO Andy Jassy said his company is growing at a 46% annual rate, and is currently at a $27 billion yearly run rate. While Azure and GCP are growing faster on a percentage basis, AWS is far outpacing its competitors on a nominal basis.

How much of AWS’ growth is due to services that are based open source software? That’s tough to say. We know that the company offers SaaS versions of popular open source frameworks and databases, such as Hadoop, Spark, Elasticsearch, Memcached, Postgres, MariaDB, and Apache Kafka, which it launched at the recent 2018 re:Invent show. Cloud companies and SaaS providers in general appear to be benefiting as companies struggle to successfully implement complex big data frameworks like Hadoop and Spark on premise.

As a $27 billion company, AWS is all smiles

As the initial hype over Hadoop fades, we’ve come to realize that AWS is the true elephant in the room. Increasingly, the developer community appears less willing to share the fruits of their innovation with the for-profit Web giant. Hundreds of billions of dollars of dollars are at stake as the world’s businesses look to emerging technology to digitally transform themselves, which they view as necessary to battle similarly sized competitors, not to mention Web and industrial giants eager to move into new markets. If Amazon can harness the innovation of open source software and solve the tough problem of making it easy to implement and use, what’s to stop it from winning that business?

That dynamic is at play for Fauna, the company behind FaunaDB, a distributed NoSQL database that its creators claim has solved the challenge of global transactionality. According to Fauna CEO Evan Weaver, the company has maintained strict controls over its intellectual property via a proprietary license expressly because of the threat of the benefits accruing to Amazon and not to Fauna.

“That’s one of the things that’s been gratifying to me [that] you finally have vendors like Mongo who are trying to put a stop to the free-loading of MSPs [managed service providers] on open source technology,” Weaver told Datanami in an interview this month. “That to be honest is the biggest thing that’s made us shy about it. Having developers try it out and contribute it to it, that’s awesome. But with this level of R&D investment required to make it work in the first place, you’d be crazy to lose control of your IP and let somebody with a huge channel advantage like Amazon just co-op it, like they’ve done with so many other platforms.”

Somewhat ironically, FaunaDB is available on the AWS cloud, where customers like Capital One are using it to power services that demand multi-region transaction capabilities. But the license agreement that customers sign is with Fauna, not with AWS.

Related Items:

Has FaunaDB Cracked the Code for Global Transactionality?

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What Does IBM’s Acquisition of Red Hat Mean for Open Source?