Confluent, an Apache Kafka service provider adopts a new license to fight against cloud service providers

4 min read

A common trend of software firms limiting their software licenses to prevent cloud service providers from exploiting their open source code is all the rage these days. One such software firm to have joined this move is Confluent, an Apache Kafka service provider, who announced its new Confluent Community License, two weeks back. The new license is aimed at allowing users to download, modify and redistribute the code without letting them provide the software as a system as a service (SaaS).

“What this means is that, for example, you can use KSQL however you see fit as an ingredient in your own products or services, whether those products are delivered as software or as SaaS, but you cannot create a KSQL-as-a-service offering. We’ll still be doing all development out in the open and accepting pull requests and feature suggestions”, says Jay Kreps, CEO, Confluent. The new license, however, will have no effect on Apache Kafka that remains under the Apache 2.0 license and Confluent will continue to contribute to it.

Kreps pointed out that leading cloud providers such as Amazon, Microsoft, Alibaba, and Google, today, are all different in the way that they approach open source. Some of these major cloud providers partner up with the open source companies offering hosted versions of their SaaS. Then, there are other cloud providers that take the open source code, implement it into their cloud offering, and then further push all of their investments into differentiated proprietary offerings.

For instance, Michael Howard, CEO, MariaDB Corp. called Amazon’s tactics “the worst behavior”  that she’s seen in the software industry due to a loophole in its licensing. Howard also mentioned that the cloud giant is “strip mining by exploiting the work of a community of developers who work for free”, as first reported by Silicon Angle.

Kreps suggests a solution, that open source software firms should focus on building more proprietary software and should “pull back” from their open source investments. “But we think the right way to build fundamental infrastructure layers is with open code. As workloads move to the cloud we need a mechanism for preserving that freedom while also enabling a cycle of investment, and this is our motivation for the licensing change”, mentions Kreps.

The Confluent license change move was followed by MongoDB, who switched to Server Side Public License (SSPL) this October in order to prevent these major cloud providers from misusing its open source code. This decision by MongoDB to change its software license was sparked by the fact these cloud vendors who are not responsible for the development of a software “captures all the value” for the developed software without contributing back much to the community. Another reason was that many cloud providers started to take MongoDB’s open-source code in order to offer a hosted commercial version of its database without following the open-source rules. The license change helps create “an incredible opportunity to foster a new wave of great open source server-side software”, said Eliot Horowitz, CTO, and co-founder, MongoDB. Horowitz also said that he hopes the change would “protect open source innovation”.

MongoDB had followed the path of “Common Clause” license that was first adopted by Redis Labs. Common Clause started out as an initiative by a group of top software firms to protect their rights. Common Clause has been added to existing open source software licenses in order to develop a new and combined software license. The combined license puts a limit on the commercial sale of the software.

All of these efforts by these companies are aimed at making sure that open source communities do not get taken advantage of by the leading cloud providers. As Kreps point out, “We think this is a positive change and one that can help ensure small open source communities aren’t acting as free and unsustainable R&D (Research & development) for tech giants that put sustaining resources only into their own differentiated proprietary offerings”.

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