AWS launches Elasticsearch distro to guard customers against “muddy open source waters”

AWS has partnered with companies such as Netflix and Expedia Group to release Open Distro for Elasticsearch in a bid to “keep open source open”.

In an introductory blog post AWS’ Chief Evangelist Jeff Barr made sure to point out that the project shouldn’t be seen as a fork, but rather a “value-added distribution of Elasticsearch that is 100 per cent open source and supported by AWS”.

VP Cloud Architecture Strategy at AWS Adrian Cockcroft explained the reason behind the new project was Elastic adding more and more proprietary code to the Elasticsearch code base, which led to a “lack of clarity as to what customers who care about open source are getting and what they can depend on”.

“At AWS, we believe that maintainers of an open source project have a responsibility to ensure that the primary open source distribution remains open and free of proprietary code so that the community can build on the project freely, and the distribution does not advantage any one company over another. This was part of the promise the maintainer made when they gained developers’ trust to adopt the software.”

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According to Cockcroft, AWS customers and partners found the changes in the Elasticsearch code “concerning”, and since discussions with maintainer company Elastic seem to have lead nowhere in particular, the company came up with the new distribution to “ensure users have a feature-rich option that is fully open source”.

Contributions and patches will still be sent upstream, but to give people an incentive to give the new distribution a closer look and put some work in as well, the project includes some additional features AWS developed for their Elasticsearch service.

The initial release addresses issues like security, event monitoring and alerting, as well as SQL support, but also adds better performance analysis. Amongst the new security features are “encryption-in-transit, native Active Directory, LDAP, and OpenID authentication, roles-based and granular access control, and audit logging”.

It’s not the first time Amazon started a project like this out of customer concern: its OpenJDK distribution Coretto came about when people weren’t sure how Oracle would go about supporting certain Java versions or if a change in licensing terms was on the horizon. Cockcroft phrased his employers’ approach as follows: “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.”

While it is true that the situation with Elastic might cause uncertainty in users, companies such as MongoDB and Redis Labs might question AWS’ attitude towards open source. Both recently changed licenses of some of their open source offerings to prevent certain cloud giants “from gaining commercial benefit from software that was not developed by them”.

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