When Elastic, makers of the open-source search and analytic engine Elasticsearch, went after Amazon Web Services’ (AWS) by changing its license from the open-source Apache 2.0-license ALv2) to the non-open-source friendly Server Side Public License (SSPL), I predicted “we’d soon see AWS-sponsored Elasticsearch and Kibana forks.” The next day, AWS tweeted it “will launch new forks of both Elasticsearch and Kibana based on the latest Apache 2.0 licensed codebases.” Well, that didn’t take long!
In a blog post, AWS explained that since Elastic is no longer making its search and analytic engine Elasticsearch and its companion data visualization dashboard Kibana available as open source, AWS is taking action. “In order to ensure open source versions of both packages remain available and well supported, including in our own offerings, we are announcing today that AWS will step up to create and maintain an ALv2-licensed fork of open-source Elasticsearch and Kibana.”
The AWS team continues:
Choosing to fork a project is not a decision to be taken lightly, but it can be the right path forward when the needs of a community diverge—as they have here. An important benefit of open source software is that when something like this happens, developers already have all the rights they need to pick up the work themselves, if they are sufficiently motivated.
AWS’s crew also pointed out that they’re “equipped and prepared to maintain it ourselves if necessary. AWS brings years of experience working with these codebases, as well as making upstream code contributions to both Elasticsearch and Apache Lucene, the core search library that Elasticsearch is built on—with more than 230 Lucene contributions in 2020 alone.”
They summed up the specifics of the approach as:
Our forks of Elasticsearch and Kibana will be based on the latest ALv2-licensed codebases, version 7.10. We will publish new GitHub repositories in the next few weeks. In time, both will be included in the existing Open Distro distributions, replacing the ALv2 builds provided by Elastic. We’re in this for the long haul, and will work in a way that fosters healthy and sustainable open source practices—including implementing shared project governance with a community of contributors.
AWS, however, is not the only group taking exception to Elastic’s attempt to monetize the Elasticsearch, Logstash, and Kibana (ELK) stack. Aiven, a cloud startup with a portfolio of community-led open-source projects, also doesn’t like Elastic’s approach one darn bit.
Aiven CEO Oskari Saarenmaa, believes “Elastic’s announcement is hypocritical. Many pieces of software that have now been restricted by the owner were built on top of an array of other open-source projects one way or another. While licensing challenges in open source are far from over, it’s important to distinguish real community-led open-source projects from products created by one owner that seeks to take advantage of their open-source roots.”
Yet another company, Logz.io, a cloud-monitoring company, and some partners have announced that it will launch a “true” open source distribution for Elasticsearch and Kibana. Tomer Levy Logz.io’s co-founder and CEO said, “Our goal is to have these two new projects be driven by multiple organizations and not by a single commercial organization. They are planned to be Apache-2 forever and community-driven, so they can ultimately be contributed to foundations such as the ASF [Apache Software Foundation] or the CNCF [Cloud Native Computing Foundation] as the steering committees suggest.”
Logz.io has the resources it needs to make this fork happen. As Levy said, “Outside of Elastic, Logz.io has one of the largest concentrations of engineering expertise in these projects.”
On a personal note, Levy added, “I always looked up to Elastic and I can even say that I admired the company’s culture, leaders, and the business they built. That’s why their recent step is even more disappointing.”
“Portraying Elastic as a deprived and poor entity is ironic,” continued Levy. “Another way to put it is a multi-billion dollar corporation that is trying to brutally block competition, force community users to pay for Elasticsearch, and fully monetize an ecosystem.”
This is not a case of David vs Goliath. Levy thinks Elastic is putting out “a lot of FUD about open-source. Elastic benefited tremendously from having Elasticsearch and Kibana available to the community as ‘open-source.’ It seeded the market, drove adoption, and built a ±$15B business. After doing that, suddenly claiming that they need to close source because other organizations can benefit from it seems opportunistic.” Finally, ironically borrowing from Elastic’s statements, “That is not OK.”
It’s not just companies that don’t care for this change in license. Before Elastic changed its license, Bradley M. Kuhn, Policy Fellow at the Software Freedom Conservancy, was already talking about how “companies have searched for methods to combine traditional proprietary licensing business models with FOSS [Free and Open-Source Software] offerings.”
Kuhn despites this business model because it “has a toxic effect on copyleft at every level. Users don’t enjoy their software freedom under an assurance that a large community of contributors and users have all been bound to each other under the same, strong, and freedom-ensuring license.”
Elastic, as Stephen O’Grady, a co-founder of RedMonk, the developer-focused analyst company and open-source licensing expert said: “Clearly Elastic is legally within their rights to make the change, but I am not in general a believer that licenses are a solution to business model issues.”
It appears that many other companies agree that Elastic’s approach to open-source license is not a solution for them.