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Amazon Has Gone From Neutral Platform to Cutthroat Competitor, Say Open Source Developers

Community leaders say AWS increasingly poses an existential threat

Andrew Leonard
Published in
14 min readApr 24, 2019

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OnOn March 11, a Vice President at Amazon Web Services, Amazon’s cloud computing behemoth, published a blog post announcing the release of its own version of Elasticsearch, a powerful open-source software search engine tool.

Elastic is a public company founded in 2012 that is currently worth over $5 billion; the vast majority of its revenue is generated by selling subscription access to Elastic’s search capabilities via the cloud. It’s based in Amsterdam and employs more than 1,200 people.

In the blog post, Adrian Cockcroft, VP of cloud architecture strategy at Amazon Web Services (AWS), explained that the company felt forced to take action because Elastic was “changing the rules” on how its software code could be shared. Those changes, made in the run-up to Elastic’s 2018 IPO, started mixing intellectual property into Elastic’s overall line of software products.

Open-source software is defined as code that can be freely shared and modified by anyone. But now Elastic was telling customers that certain elements in its product mix could not be accessed without payment and that the code could not be freely shared.

Elastic did not explain its strategic shift at the time. But industry observers interpreted the changes as a response to increasing competition from AWS, which had incorporated Elasticsearch’s code and search functionality into its own suite of computing services.

Elastic isn’t the only open source cloud tool company currently looking over its shoulder at AWS. In 2018 alone, at least eight firms have made similar “rule changes” designed to ward off what they see as unfair competition from a company intent on cannibalizing their services.

In his blog post, Cockcroft argued that by making part of its product suite proprietary, Elastic was betraying the core principles of the open source community. “Customers must be able to trust that open source projects stay open,” Cockcroft wrote. “When important open source projects that AWS and our customers depend on begin restricting access, changing licensing terms, or…

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Andrew Leonard
OneZero

20-year veteran of online journalism. On Twitter @koxinga21. Curious about how Sichuan food explains the world? Check out andrewleonard.substack.com