AWS debuts OpenSearch project following spat over Elastic licence

open source icon by Alexander Lysenko via Shutterstock
open source icon by Alexander Lysenko via Shutterstock

AWS has unveiled the OpenSearch project – a community-driven open source fork of Elasticsearch and Kibana – in response to Elastic changing its licensing terms for these at the start of the year over what it regarded as AWS exploiting its open source code.

The newly announced project includes OpenSearch, which is derived from Elasticsearch 7.10.2, plus OpenSearch Dashboards, derived from Kibana 7.10.2. AWS said the OpenSearch project is also the new home for its previous distribution of Elasticsearch (Open Distro for Elasticsearch), which includes features such as enterprise security, alerting, machine learning, SQL, index state management, and more. All are available under the Apache License 2.0.

The move by the US cloud giant to develop its own fork of Elasticsearch follows the controversial decision in January by Elastic , developer of Elasticsearch and Kibana, to stop licensing its source code under the Apache License 2.0. Instead, starting with version 7.11, these are dual licensed under a Server Side Public License (SSPL) and the Elastic License, neither of which is recognised as a true open source license.

Elastic claimed at the time that this change would not affect the vast majority of users, with CEO Shay Banon posting on the Elastic blog to explain the company’s reasons.

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“If you are a customer of ours, either in Elastic Cloud or on premises, nothing changes. And if you’ve been downloading and using our default distribution, it’s still free and open under the same Elastic License. If you’ve been contributing to Elasticsearch or Kibana (thank you!) nothing changes for you either,” he wrote.

However, service providers such as AWS are affected by the SSPL. This is a licence that NoSQL database firm MongoDB developed to protect itself from cloud providers who made use of the company’s code without contributing anything in return. The licence requires cloud providers who have built a service using code such as Elasticsearch and Kibana to make that service’s entire source code available under the same licence.

In effect, Elastic claimed that its licence change was aimed at preventing companies from taking the Elasticsearch and Kibana products and providing them as a service without collaborating with the company, as it accused AWS of doing.

The result was a forking of the Elasticsearch code base, which could lead to a fragmentation of the Elasticsearch ecosystem, with companies such as Red Hat, SAP, and Logz.io joining AWS in backing the OpenSearch project.

AWS said today that getting OpenSearch to this point has required substantial work to remove Elastic features, code, and branding, and the initial code should be considered to be at an alpha stage in development. The company is planning to release a beta in the next few weeks, and expects the OpenSearch project code to be ready for production by mid-2021.

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