Another open-source enterprise technology company is walling off parts of its software from cloud infrastructure providers.
Confluent announced Friday morning that it is changing the terms of the licenses around several of the real-time data streaming open-source projects it has developed. Several components will no longer be available under the widely used and very permissible Apache 2.0 license: instead, they will be offered under a new license called Confluent Community License that is very similar to the Apache 2.0 license except for a clear restriction on providing KSQL and several other components as cloud services.
This new license does not change anything about Apache Kafka, the widely used open-source data-streaming project created by the co-founders of Confluent while working at LinkedIn. Last month at re:Invent 2018 Amazon Web Services unveiled a managed version of Kafka, a move that set off yet another round of discussion about how cloud computing is making it harder for companies built around open-source projects to sustain viable business models required to keep those projects afloat.
Confluent co-founder and CEO Jay Kreps explained the shift in a blog post announcing the licensing changes:
In a world in which data systems are delivered as on-premises software, we as an industry have figured out how to build sustainable companies that can drive this kind of virtuous cycle. It isn’t easy, but starting a company never is. In that model, we’ve found that permissive open source licensing such as Apache 2.0 can be the major component of a thriving software offering that sustains a healthy business. However, the world has significantly changed with the rise of cloud offerings that provide this kind of software as a service. In this new world, the cloud providers have significant advantages: they control the pricing of all resources a service provider will use and can tightly integrate their own services across all their offerings.
Confluent becomes the third major open-source tech company in the last six months to set restrictions on how some of the software it has developed can be used. Redis and MongoDB both made similar moves earlier this year, citing the ease at which major cloud providers can offer open-source software developed mostly by their own employees as a revenue-generating service without contributing anything back to the projects.
These moves have set off a firestorm of controversy in the open-source world over the right way to balance the egalitarian spirit of open-source software with business reality, sparked in part by two GeekWire reports on the state of this world. As the year winds down, it’s pretty clear that 2019 is going to be a pivotal year for the future of the open-source movement.