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Amazon Elasticsearch Service is so flexible it wants to be called by a new name

Meet Amazon OpenSearch Service, more or less the same code, without the trademark infringement

Amazon Web Services on Thursday fulfilled its commitment to rename Amazon Elasticsearch Service with its expected new identity, Amazon OpenSearch Service.

The name change was necessary because AWS and Elasticsearch BV fell out over the licensing of the Elasticsearch open source software and the eating of one another's lunch.

AWS launched a cloud-based version of the search, analytics, and monitoring software in 2015, which became unwelcome competition for Elasticsearch BV, the company formed to commercialize the project.

Elasticsearch BV went public in 2018 but its relationship with AWS didn't improve. In March 2019, AWS effectively forked the Elasticsearch project when it released its own version of the software under the name Open Distro for Elasticsearch.

Six months later, Elasticsearch BV filed a trademark complaint against AWS for using its name. That complaint is still being litigated.

By 2019, concern that AWS or another major cloud services company might launch a service that exploits open source code without sharing the wealth had become widespread among software startups trying to build businesses. Redis Labs and MongoDB both tried alternative software licenses as a defense against cloud provider predation, but the open source community hasn't really resolved the problem.

In January, 2021, Elasticsearch BV CEO and co-founder Shay Banon announced the ElasticSearch and Kibana projects would drop the open-source Apache 2.0 license and adopt new licenses, the Elastic licence and the non-open-source Server Side Public License (SSPL).

"Our license change is aimed at preventing companies from taking our Elasticsearch and Kibana products and providing them directly as a service without collaborating with us," explained Banon at the time.

In April, 2021, AWS gave its open-source fork of Elasticsearch and Kibana a new name, OpenSearch, and promised to apply the rebranding to Amazon Elasticsearch Service at some point. That day has arrived.

"Today, we rename Amazon Elasticsearch Service to Amazon OpenSearch Service because the service now supports OpenSearch 1.0," said Channy Yun, principal developer advocate for AWS, in a blog post.

"Although the name has changed, we will continue to deliver the same experiences without any negative impact to ongoing operations, development methodology, or business use."

More than just a name

OpenSearch and Elasticsearch (v7.10) are no longer the same and while they may still be interoperable, that won't last forever. The OpenSearch Service configuration API, introduced in January, works with both OpenSearch and legacy (Apache License v2.0) open source Elasticsearch. But 21 API operations have been given new names unencumbered by trademark concerns – e.g. CreateElasticsearchDomain has become CreateDomain.

While AWS promises that OpenSearch Service APIs will be backward-compatible with the existing service APIs (open source Elasticsearch 7.10), meaning no backend or client app changes should be necessary, building against new OpenSearch Service features means there's no going back. AWS says that upgrading from existing Elasticsearch 6.x and 7.x managed clusters to OpenSearch is irreversible.

According to Yun, OpenSearch 1.0 (the AWS fork) supports three features unavailable in the legacy Elasticsearch versions still supported in Amazon OpenSearch Service: Transforms, Data Streams, and Notebooks in OpenSearch Dashboards.

And AWS in its FAQ makes clear that breaking changes may occur. "All future OpenSearch 1.x releases will be backwards compatible with Elasticsearch 7.10, although some APIs will be deprecated," the company says. "If functionality requires a breaking change, we will introduce a new major version of OpenSearch and provide tooling to make migrating to the new major version simple."

What's more, Amazon OpenSearch Service incorporates various other capabilities not present in the open-source Elasticsearch code, like security integrations (Active Directory, etc), reporting, alerting, and other such things. Cloud provider lock-in can become an issue even when there's compatibility between hosted open source services and the projects they're based upon.

What started out as an exercise in copying, the most lucrative form of flattery, has become a race to differentiate, or – to use the words of former Microsoft VP Paul Martiz when telling Intel representatives in 1995 about how Microsoft would deal with Netscape – "Embrace, extend, extinguish" [PDF].

Elasticsearch BV declined to comment. ®

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