Amazon Web Services is working hard to increase its street cred with the world of open-source software — even as it comes under fire for a move that some see as an unfair strike at a smaller company.
In a talk at the Open Source Leadership Summit on Tuesday, Andi Gutmans, a general manager with Amazon Web Services, shed some light on how the company approaches open source and why it has chosen to make moves that some see as unduly aggressive.
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Specifically, Gutmans said Amazon isn’t a big fan of the moves made by companies including MongoDB, Confluent, and Redis Labs to put more restrictive licenses on their open-source code. Those companies have said the moves come as a way to prevent major cloud providers, including Amazon, from reselling their software at a profit.
In Amazon’s estimation, Gutmans said, this goes against a core principle of open source, which is that you can use the code however you want, even if it means using it for commercial purposes. Modifying the license to change it is tantamount to breaking a promise to customers, he said.
“From our perspective, open source should be open source, and proprietary software should be proprietary,” Gutmans said onstage. “There’s a promise to the end customer that they can use open source however they want. If you do open source, you do open source. If you do proprietary, you do proprietary. There’s nothing wrong with proprietary software.”
Amazon is under a microscope
Gutmans was also at the summit to discuss Open Distro for Elasticsearch, a new open-source project announced this week by Amazon Web Services (AWS), in conjunction with Netflix and Expedia.
It’s a version of the popular Elasticsearch open-source search software, originally created by a company called Elastic but shepherded instead by Amazon. Gutmans, who’s responsible for Amazon’s Elasticsearch products, said that AWS wants Open Distro to attract a community of its own.
“Our goal is to truly build a meritocracy here where it’s not just Amazon but also others who are contributing to this project,” Gutmans said.
He said that AWS chose to make its own version of Elasticsearch because developers have been adding proprietary code to the main project. Furthermore, he said, Amazon felt that innovation in Elasticsearch had been faltering, making the company feel like it had to take matters into its own hands. However, he said, it’s not up to Amazon alone to steer the project.
“This is true open source from our perspective. This is not Amazon open source. This is community open source,” Gutmans said. “We saw innovation slow down on the open-source side … Our goal is to continue innovating on open source and give that code back to the community, and make sure people who are interested.”
It should be noted that Elastic feels differently. Its CEO wrote a blog post taking Amazon to task for “hijacking” and “abusing” its brand with this product, and accused it of using that same proprietary code in question to build Open Distro.
There’s a general belief in the tech industry that Amazon doesn’t give as much back to open-source software as its peers — a data analysis by Google developer advocate Felipe Hoffa shows that AWS lags behind Microsoft, Google, and even Red Hat in contributing to open-source projects, although that started changing in 2018.
In recent months, however, AWS has worked to turn around this perception, launching two major open-source projects: Firecracker and Neo-AI.
Gutmans said that Amazon cares about open-source communities and keeping them healthy because it’s ultimately good for AWS customers if their open-source software stays updated and current over the long haul. If it sees signs that an open-source project might be letting customers down, that’s when it might step in, as it did with Open Distro, Gutmans said.
“We’re a very customer-obsessed company,” Gutmans said onstage. “We don’t look at our competition, we don’t think about what’s the coolest, nicest technology, and we don’t think about our short-term results. Our goal is to build relationships with customers that outlast any of us as individuals. That’s also how we think about open source.”