Database vendors have started using their own open-source style licenses in an effort to avoid cannibalization by big cloud players like Amazon Web Services.
The promise of open source database software is that users can freely use the code as they see fit. Open source is not just a marketing hook, but rather a well-defined set of licenses that have been approved as open source by the Open Source Initiative (OSI) and comply with the open-source definition.
Many database vendors have long used an open-core model, in which the fundamental model is an open-source licensed codebase, with additional enterprise-grade features for reporting, scalability, and management available under a proprietary license.
However, some database vendors, including MongoDB, Redis, Confluent, and CockroachDB, no longer use OSI-approved open-source database software licenses for their core projects and instead resort to creating their own. licenses. The overarching goal of these vendors has been to prevent a cloud-scale vendor like AWS from simply taking the code and running it as a service, returning no revenue to the original creator of the technology.
Although the approach taken by several database vendors to offer their own licenses is popular, Tony Baer, director of New York-based consulting firm dbInsight, argued that it was not the best strategy.
Tony BaerDirector, dbInsight
“The way you leverage these days with developers is with open source, especially when looking at new databases,” Baer said.
Developers don’t want to risk a proprietary platform potentially becoming orphaned in the future. With open source database software, the code is fully accessible, so even if the main vendor closes, the code is still available for another group to pick up and extend.
“I’m a big fan of open-core model“, Baer said. “It’s understandable and it’s well established.
Open source database software: the business software license
Among the vendors that have moved away from a traditional open source license is Cockroach Labs. the CockroachDB 19.2 The update that became generally available on November 11 is the first version from Cockroach Labs to use the Enterprise Software License (BSL). The New York-based provider previously followed an open core model, using the Apache Software License for his community project.
“It turns out that open core as a model isn’t very defensible if there’s a big enough player that has a platform,” said Spencer Kimball, co-founder and CEO of Cockroach Labs.
A large platform, such as AWS, can simply make the core of an open-core application available as a service that’s well-integrated with other services on the same platform, Kimball noted. It’s a competitive risk that Kimball said he doesn’t want to deal with anymore, which is why Cockroach Labs has embraced BSL.
The BSL is not an OSI-approved open source license, although Kimball pointed out that it is still open. The BSL converts to an Apache license after three years. Thus, the recent CockroachDB 19.2 update will become open source in three years under the Apache license. The big difference between Apache and BSL comes down to one big exclusion.
“You can’t offer CockroachDB as a database as a service,” Kimball said. “It really stops Amazon from just plugging us into RDS (Amazon’s Relational Database Service) and I had to do this to maintain the viability of our business in the face of predatory behavior from companies like Amazon.”
For its part, Amazon has strongly defended its participation in open source database software projects and the way it supports them. Amazon supports several open source organizations, including the Cloud Native Computing Foundation and the Apache Software Foundation.
“When AWS launches a service based on an open source project, we make a long-term commitment to supporting our customers,” wrote Adrian Cockcroft, vice president of cloud architecture strategy at AWS, in a blog post. “We provide the community with bug fixes, security, scalability, performance, and feature enhancements.”
While some database vendors view abandoning certified open source licenses as a way to survive, others do not.
Among these is San Francisco-based InfluxData, which licenses its open source time series database software InfluxDB as open source MIT license.
Paul Dix, Founder and CTO of InfluxData, said that while it’s appropriate that other vendors want to use licenses such as the BSL, he stressed that they are not open source. Truly open source licenses allow users to take the code and do with it what they want, he said.
If organizations want to keep the code protected, Dix suggested they just make the code commercial and closed. It’s actually a disservice to the community to have a source license available with limitations, he argued.
“The funny thing is, if Amazon wants to sue you, a license won’t save you,” Dix said. “The only thing that will save you is to execute well. The only thing you can do is to keep making a product that gets better and better over time.”