Elasticsearch is neither free nor open

Published on the 22 January 2021 on Jamie's Blog

‘Doubling Down on Open’ v1

In February 2018, Elastic announced they were ‘Doubling Down on Open’ — making their commercial offering’s source code visible to the public, under their Elastic License. As part of this, their default distribution included their commerical offerings — and as such, was now licensed under their Elastic License.

In response, Amazon Web Services started the Open Distro for Elasticsearch — a entirely Apache 2.0 distribution of Elasticsearch, including a variety of plugins.

In the first release, we will include many new advanced but completely open source features including encryption-in-transit, user authentication, detailed auditing, granular roles-based access control, event monitoring and alerting, deep performance analysis, and SQL support.

The new advanced features of Open Distro for Elasticsearch are all Apache 2.0 licensed.

New – Open Distro for Elasticsearch AWS

The VP for platform engineering at Netflix said at the time:

Open Distro for Elasticsearch will allow us to freely contribute to an Elasticsearch distribution, that we can be confident will remain open source and community-driven.

New – Open Distro for Elasticsearch AWS

And how correct he turned out to be…

‘Doubling Down on Open’ v2

In January 2020, Elastic announced they would be moving the entirety of Elasticsearch and Kibana to a dual-license between the SSPL and their Elastic License, dubbing their move ‘Doubling down on open, Part II’.

They subsequently went on the offensive, blaming Amazon Web Services for their decision.

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.

Amazon: NOT OK - why we had to change Elastic licensing Elastic

Though they’ve touted their support for open-source, Elastic want to pick and choose what parts of the Open Source Defintion they follow — this isn’t open-source. They may mince their words, declaring Elasticsearch to be open and free — but make no mistake, it is now proprietary software.

Elasticsearch may be ‘open’ in the sense of having visible source, but it is not open-source. Elasticsearch may be ‘free’ in the sense of cost, but it is not free software. Some may even consider Elastic’s aim of preventing their products from being used as a service without working with them to be a cost — therefore making Elasticsearch not indiscriminately free (as in cost).

Ultimately, I see this going one of 2 ways — Amazon forks the current Elasticsearch, or cloud providers throw their weight behind Apache Solr, time will tell.

In closing…

But perhaps the most tragic part of this whole story, is the many contributors who worked in Elasticsearch in good faith that Elastic would reciprocate — they didn’t, and perhaps this serves as a good reason to be extremely wary of CLAs…


This article was originally wrote on the 20th, events have progressed since. Amazon Web Services have announced that they would be ‘Stepping up for a truly open source Elasticsearch’, forking both Elasticsearch and Kibana to maintain the Apache 2.0 License.