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And just like that, Amazon Web Services forked Elasticsearch, Kibana. Was that part of the plan, Elastic?

Fork that noise, says cloud giant amid licensing drama


Amazon Web Services has responded to Elastic adopting more-restrictive software licenses by simply forking the latter's Elasticsearch and Kibana products with an open-source license.

This basically means developers have a choice: use software developed by Elastic that has a somewhat limited license, or an open-source offshoot developed by a gigantic technology company that also offers it as the Amazon Elasticsearch Service in the cloud.

Last week, Elastic announced it will drop the open-source Apache 2.0 licence for its ElasticSearch and Kibana projects, and instead use the non-open-source Server Side Public License (SSPL) and Elastic licence in a dual-licensing approach. It said it may add provisions to have the code revert to the Apache 2.0 licence after a period of up to five years.

For those who don't know: ElasticSearch is a database manager designed for enterprise search, and Kibana is a data visualisation tool.

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Defending the change, Elastic CEO and co-founder Shay Banon said he wanted to "prevent companies from taking our Elasticsearch and Kibana products and providing them directly as a service without collaborating with us." And by companies, the chief exec means Amazon Web Services. The license overhaul would have strong-armed the web giant into sharing any internal improvements made to the software when it is provided as a cloud service.

"The SSPL allows free and unrestricted use, as well as modification, with the simple requirement that if you provide the product as a service, you must also publicly release any modifications as well as the source code of your management layers under SSPL," Banon wrote.

Well, AWS has responded by instead detonating an atomic bomb under Elastic, and forking the Apache-licensed code as it stands right now to itself maintain separately. In a missive on Thursday, Amazonians Carl Meadows, Jules Graybill, Kyle Davis, and Mehul Shah wrote:

Last week, Elastic announced they will change their software licensing strategy, and will not release new versions of Elasticsearch and Kibana under the Apache License, Version 2.0 (ALv2). Instead, new versions of the software will be offered under the Elastic License (which limits how it can be used) or the Server Side Public License (which has requirements that make it unacceptable to many in the open source community). This means that Elasticsearch and Kibana will no longer be open source software.

In order to ensure open source versions of both packages remain available and well supported, including in our own offerings, we are announcing today that AWS will step up to create and maintain a ALv2-licensed fork of open source Elasticsearch and Kibana.

The cloud-hosted Amazon Elasticsearch Service will start using AWS's fork and all of its new features, and will maintain backwards compatibility so customers don't have to change their applications to continue using the service. Programmers writing software that uses Elasticsearch and Kibana will figure out Elastic is acting, as Amazon put it, "fishy." The internet goliath thus hopes developers will adopt its fork, which it described as a "long-term" project, rather than continue to use Elastic's offerings.

"We look forward to providing a truly open source option for Elasticsearch and Kibana using the ALv2 license, and building and supporting this future with the community," the AWS team beamed.

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Then there's the issue with Amazon's Open Distro for Elasticsearch, which was launched in 2019 and is an Apache-2.0-licensed not-a-fork of Elasticsearch. It is intended to be entirely open source without any intermingling of proprietary code, and was run as a collaboration with upstream development. In future, though, with Elasticsearch and Kibana forked from version 7.10 of Elastic's open-source codebases, the forks will replace the pair in Open Distro. In other words, not-a-fork Open Distro will become a fork.

Responding to Amazon calling Elastic's bluff, Banon said: "When we announced the [licensing] change, we sadly expected this. This is what made it so hard. But I am also relieved. Relieved we are free to focus on products versus battle abuse. Relieved that I can trust our community will see through this misinformation and confusion."

We also note that Elastic is still pursuing Amazon through the courts, claiming the mega-corp is ripping off its Elasticsearch trademark.

Meanwhile, other upstarts based on open-source projects – notably Confluent, MongoDB, Neo4J, and Redis Labs – have also tried variations of software licenses to make it more difficult for Amazon and its ilk to out compete them. ®

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