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InfoQ Homepage News Vendors Argue over AWS’ Open Distro for Elasticsearch

Vendors Argue over AWS’ Open Distro for Elasticsearch

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AWS announced the release of their Open Distro for Elasticsearch back in March. However, the release has not come with support from all members of the community. While AWS states that they have released Open Distro in order to ensure that Elasticsearch remains fully open source, other members of the tech community claim this is another move by Amazon to further solidify their strong customer base.

The Open Distro for Elasticsearch is, according to AWS, a value-added distribution of Elasticsearch licensed fully under the Apache 2.0 license. This release leverages the open source code from Elasticsearch and Kibana. According to Jeff Barr, chief evangelist for AWS, "this is not a fork; we will continue to send our contributions and patches upstream to advance these projects."

The first release contains a number of new features including advanced security, event monitoring, alerting, performance analysis, and SQL query features. However, as Itamar Syn-Hershko, CTO at BigData Boutique, notes, these features align closely to the Elastic X-Pack feature-set. Elastic open-sourced the previously proprietary X-Pack code in 2018. However, in doing so they put the X-Pack under a new Elastic License which prevents re-selling or re-distributing the code to any third-party. This therefore prevents AWS from using the open sourced X-Pack code in their own AWS Elasticsearch offering. In doing so, Elastic moved their previously 100% Apache 2.0 licensed open-source repositories into a mixture of Apache 2.0 and Elastic licensed code. Elastic noted the following on their blog post sharing that the X-Pack code was being open-sourced:

We did not change the license of any of the Apache 2.0 code of Elasticsearch, Kibana, Beats, and Logstash - and we never will. We created a new X-Pack folder in each of these repositories that is licensed under the Elastic License, which allows for some derivative works and contribution.

However, AWS views this as a negative move away from a pure open-source model. According to AWS, they have received feedback from their customers and partners that these changes are concerning, and present uncertainty about the longevity of the Elastic open-source projects. Adrian Cockcroft, VP cloud architecture strategy at AWS, notes that:

When important open source projects that AWS and our customers depend on begin restricting access, changing licensing terms, or intermingling open source and proprietary software, we will invest to sustain the open source project and community.

Cockcroft continues by explaining that AWS responded similarly when Oracle indicated they would make significant changes to how they support Java. In that instance, AWS released the Corretto project providing a multi-platform distribution of OpenJDK. Cockcroft further explains that in his opinion:

The maintainers of open source projects have the responsibility of keeping the source distribution open to everyone and not changing the rules midstream.

According to Cockcroft, AWS has discussed these concerns with Elastic and even offered to provide resources to support a community-driven, single-licensed version of Elasticsearch. However, as Cockcroft states, "[Elastic] has made it clear that they intend to continue on their current path." Shay Banon, CEO of Elastic, expressed a differing viewpoint in an article he recently published. In the article, Banon states: "Companies have falsely claimed that they work in collaboration with our company, topically Amazon."

This move was not met with support by a number of members of the community. Sharone Zitzman, head of developer relations at AppsFlyer, was critical of how AWS presented their decision. She expresses her disdain with AWS in her recent post:

Preaching open source to a vibrant open source company with deep roots in the OSS values - that has been fully transparent about their needs to monetize and maintain a stellar product, and make dubious claims about its authenticity is simply disingenuous. This is Amazon seeing someone's shiny toy, and just wanting it for themselves. This is called a fork.

However Adam Jacob, CTO at Chef, disagrees with Zitzman and feels that this move by AWS is a positive move for open-source software in general. He explains that the primary winner in this are the values of Free Software:

Let me be 100% clear: this is not a failure of Open Source. This is the deepest, most fundamental truth about Open Source and Free Software in action. That you, as a user, have rights. That those rights extend to everyone, including AWS -  or they don't exist at all.

DigitalOcean's survey found that there is strong belief that AWS does not support open source, with only 4% of respondents answering positively that AWS "embraces open source the most" (out of Google at 53%, Microsoft at 23%, and Apple coming in at 1%). As Joe Brockmeier, editorial director for Red Hat blogs, notes that while Amazon uses Linux to power its servers and its Kindle devices, it doesn't appear in the top 20 kernel contributors.

While the response to the release of AWS' Open Distro for ElasticSearch is heavily mixed, it appears that this pattern of AWS producing its own versions of open source products will continue.

Where do you stand on this issue? Do you feel that this move by AWS is in the best interest of the open source community? Share with the community in the comments below.

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