AWS makes an open-source power play

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AWS has a checkered history with the open-source community, but with the launch of OpenSearch this week it appears determined to show that it can be a responsible steward of a community project.

The new project is a proper fork of Elastic's Elasticsearch and Kibana projects, which help companies search their internal archives of files and logs for data that can be used to improve their businesses or products. The original open-source project was written by Shay Banon in 2009 under the permissive Apache 2.0 license, and Elastic was incorporated in 2012.

But after AWS noticed the popularity of Elasticsearch and launched its own version of the project in 2015, tensions grew between the two companies. That friction built until earlier this year, when Elastic decided to change the licensing structure on those projects to discourage third-party cloud companies from offering that code as a service to their customers.

  • Elastic's frustration with AWS was somewhat understandable. For years, the cloud leader used the "Elasticsearch" trademark — clearly owned by Elastic, the company — for its Amazon Elasticsearch managed service.
  • But the licensing change did not sit well with some open-source advocates and long-time contributors to the Elasticsearch family of projects. The Apache 2.0 license allows anyone to use an open-source project as they desire, and changing it meant Elasticsearch contributors were now essentially working for Elastic's interests alone.
  • AWS signaled its intention to fork the project in January: "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."
  • Dropping the Elasticsearch name is a concession that should help avoid confusion, which is at the heart of a trademark lawsuit filed by Elastic that is working its way through the court system.

The right to fork is key to open source. OpenSearch (Elasticsearch) and OpenSearch Logs (Kibana) will be based on the last Apache 2.0-licensed releases of those projects, which dropped in January of this year just before Elastic's licensing change announcement.

  • AWS will release OpenSearch under the Apache 2.0 license, which means rival cloud providers will be able to offer it as their own commercial managed service — and will also be able to include the trademark — if momentum builds behind the AWS-backed version.
  • The new project will include some of the additional features that AWS incorporated into the Open Distro for Elasticsearch, which it released in 2019 after complaining that Elastic was making it difficult to determine whether certain lines of code in Elasticsearch were open source or proprietary.
  • And the AWS-managed version of the project (which will be called Amazon OpenSearch Service) will be backwards-compatible with previous Amazon Elasticsearch versions.

AWS is poking a rival here. But it's also a sign that AWS is taking new steps to contribute some of its formidable resources toward the open-source community.

  • AWS has been criticized as an indifferent taker of open-source software over the years, unwilling to contribute time and talent back to the projects that helped it consolidate that power (despite no legal responsibility to do so).
  • But the company seems to have recognized this problem, hiring several high-profile open-source advocates to lead internal teams focused on open-source contributions over the past several years.
  • It has also released original projects like Firecracker — essentially a blueprint for how AWS runs its serverless services — under permissive open-source licenses.

Will Amazon follow Google's recent path in open source?

  • After releasing Kubernetes to the Cloud Native Computing Foundation in 2015, Google attempted to keep closer control of projects like Istio and Knative with control of a majority of the seats on key decision-making committees before relenting to community pressure.
  • AWS has not specified a governance structure for OpenSearch, but a company representative pointed to industry launch partners such as IBM's Red Hat, SAP and Capital One as evidence of its intention to incorporate other voices when shaping the future of the project.

Governance will be the next big question for Amazon. A production-ready version of OpenSearch isn't expected to be available until the middle of 2021. If adoption picks up by this time next year, concerns around governance will get a little louder.

— Tom Krazit


Open-source computing is going gangbusters — and that's good news for those seeking better and stronger security in the enterprise. With the growth of hardware platforms, ISVs and CSPs using trusted execution environments to protect data in use, open source-licensed projects are a natural way to encourage experimentation, learning and adoption.

Learn more

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Five Questions For...

Pedro Bados, CEO, Nexthink

What's the best piece of advice you could give to someone starting their first tech job?

The best piece of advice I could give anyone starting their first job, especially in a technical field, is to go for your first job based on the amount you are going to learn and not on other considerations like salary or status.

What was the first computer that made you realize the power of computing and connectivity?

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What has changed the most at your company in 2020?

The massive shift to remote work this year combined with our growth is a testament to the market, and how seriously companies are taking employees' digital experiences. As the future of work becomes increasingly digital, a seamless technology experience is essential to success.

What was the biggest reason for the success of cloud computing over the past decade?

As we have entered the age of digital transformation, organizations have looked to increase computing power and storage. The cloud has enabled access to valuable data from anywhere as well as the ability to enhance analytics with greater flexibility and scalability. Ultimately, companies want to focus on creating business value, and not relying on an underlying infrastructure, allowing for a more cost-efficient process and faster insights.

What is one book that changed your professional mindset?

"Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don't" by Jim Collins. Using tough benchmarks, Collins and his research team identified a set of elite companies that made the leap to great results and sustained those results for at least 15 years. The research and case studies Collins distilled down have been a continued resource to me as a leader growing a market-changing company.

Around the Enterprise


Open-source computing is going gangbusters — and that's good news for those seeking better and stronger security in the enterprise. With the growth of hardware platforms, ISVs and CSPs using trusted execution environments to protect data in use, open source-licensed projects are a natural way to encourage experimentation, learning and adoption.

Learn more

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