Elasticsearch is neither free nor open, Part II

Published on the 31 January 2021 on Jamie's Blog

This article continues on from Elasticsearch is neither free nor open, given significant events have since occured.

‘Truly Doubling Down on Open Source’

On the 20th January, Logz.io announced they would be working with “a few partners” to “launch a true open source distribution for Elasticsearch and Kibana”. They declared that they wanted to build the distribution to be driven by multiple organisations, and that in future such project could exist under an open-source foundation.

They are planned to be Apache-2 forever and community-driven, so they can ultimately be contributed to foundations such as the ASF or the CNCF as the steering committees suggest.

Truly Doubling Down on Open Source Logz.io

As predicted, Amazon announced on the 21st January that they would be forking both Elasticsearch and Kibana — giving the community a wholly open-source alternative to Elastic’s offering. They rebuked Elastic claims that their decision was due to their actions.

We didn’t make them do anything. They believe that restricting their license will lock others out of offering managed Elasticsearch services, which will let Elastic build a bigger business.

Stepping up for a truly open source Elasticsearch AWS

On the 22nd January, Logz.io further announced, following Amazon’s announcement, that they would be working with Amazon to “work towards a single distribution”. They also touched on many of their partners, detailing how businesses large and small were coming together to build a new distribution.

In the next couple of weeks, we are going to work closely together with AWS and a few other partners, to establish a true open-source, community-driven distribution that people and organizations can use and rely upon.

Truly Doubling Down on Open Source #2 Logz.io

‘Doubling Down on Permissive Licensing’

On the 27th January, Crate.IO the developers behind CrateDB (a database management system that utilises components from Elasticsearch) announced they will no longer use “Elastic’s Elasticsearch” as the upstream project and instead use a fork.

In their announcement they detail how they would never have used Elasticsearch in the first place if it wasn’t for its previous permissive licensing.

All of this happened because Elasticsearch was licensed under the permissive Apache license. We would never have chosen Elasticsearch in the first place, had it been licensed under the GPL [...]

[...] I’m also sure that using a permissive license was one of the key factors for the huge adoption of Elasticsearch besides being a sensational product, of course.

CrateDB Doubling Down on Permissive Licensing and the Elasticsearch Lockdown Crate.IO

While they agree with Elastic that Amazon’s use of the ‘Elasticsearch’ trademark is “not ok”, they make the case that’s a seperate issue from licensing. They detail how Elastic’s changes have forced their hands into switching to a fork.

What is “not ok” is the fact that switching to a GPL based license forces projects depending on the code like CrateDB to use a fork since it kills the business model. I’m having a hard time believing that Elastic forgot about those projects while fighting against Amazon’s SaaS solution.

CrateDB Doubling Down on Permissive Licensing and the Elasticsearch Lockdown Crate.IO

They said that they plan to migrate to a “maintained fork”, and how they “looked forward to joining forces”. They also highlighted their asperations that Elasticsearch could become a more modular codebase.

This move might also pave the way to a more modular design, which would allow downstream projects to easily contribute and use the upstream as a framework.

CrateDB Doubling Down on Permissive Licensing and the Elasticsearch Lockdown Crate.IO

As a final note, they announced that they would be open-sourcing their entire codebase — under the Apache License 2.0. They noted having observed the communities reaction to Elastic’s decision that they were “even more confident that this is the right decision”.

Whats next?

There is currently an ongoing effort to remove all proprietary code, marketing, and telemetry from the Elasticsearch and Kibana codebases.

Keep in mind there is a TON to do — these are very large code bases and we are carefully evaluating each file and making surgical commits to remove anything to do with non-open source code.

The team estimates that the overall progress for Elasticsearch is about 40% complete, but note that progress is sadly not linear. No estimate has been given on Kibana progress thus far. An update is expected next week.

On the 29th January, Open Distro for Elasticsearch released a FAQ document going into further detail on how Elastic’s decision has changed their role — most notably that they are a fork now, not a distribution.

  • They are in the process of deciding a new project name, since the current one “no longer descriptive”.
  • While they have not settled on any governance structure yet, they were looking at a “shared governance model”.
  • The Elasticsearch and Kibana forks will be apart the Open Distro project.
  • They are not currently considering forking Logstash and Beats.