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Redis License Change: A Look at the Competitive Game between OSS and Cloud Computing Giants

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Background

In the wave of cloud computing, the ecosystem of open source software is undergoing a dramatic transformation. On March 20, 2024, this change was epitomized by Redis. Redis's commercial company CEO, Rowan Trollope, announced that Redis would transition from the BSD 3-Clause license to a dual license model, including RSALv2 and SSPLv1. The impact of this change will start from Redis v7.4 and continue to all future Redis releases.

On the Spirit of Open Source

Some may misconstrue this change as Redis abandoning open source. However, this is not the case. Just as laws need to be updated and adjusted with the development of the times, so do open source licenses. The law pursues fairness and justice; the spirit of open source is not equivalent to a license, but more of a philosophy, a pursuit of freedom, fairness, and sharing. With the advent of the cloud computing era, open source licenses need to be adjusted to adapt to the times, to protect the core values of open source. The license change of Redis is actually protecting the spirit of open source, preventing it from being eroded by the monopolistic advantages of cloud vendors.

The Call for Fair Competition

On the one hand, cloud vendors are constantly reaping the benefits of open source, while on the other hand, they have set up many unfair competition terms to hinder open source software from providing services in the cloud. This has led many open source software to become free labor for cloud vendors, greatly dampening the enthusiasm of open source software developers. These unfair cloud rules include cross-AZ traffic fees, cross-VPC communication traffic fees, etc. For example, as pointed out in Confluent's blog[1], nearly 60% of the cost expenditure of Kafka on AWS cloud is network traffic fees, while AWS's own Kafka managed service MSK does not need to pay these extra fees. Cloud vendors can arm themselves with rules to gain competitive advantages, and open source software can naturally optimize open source licenses and compete with the services provided by cloud vendors in a fairer environment.

The current unfair competition relationship between cloud vendors and open source software in the open source managed cloud service can be somewhat analogous to the past relationship between the IE browser on Microsoft Windows operating system and other browsers. Even without directly using other browser's code, the Windows browser still monopolized the Windows browser market for many years, suppressing many browser innovators, leading to a situation where bad money drives out good money. In this unfair competitive environment, innovation cannot progress, and the ultimate harm is to the end users.

The license change of Redis is more of a necessity for open source software in the face of the increasing capture by cloud vendors. No one can continue to work for love in this situation. I think we can already feel this change in attitude from Redis CEO Ofer Bengal's words[3].

The community now understands that the original concept of open source has to be fixed because it isn't suitable anymore to the modern era where cloud companies use their monopoly power to adopt any successful open-source project without contributing anything to it

If the protocol of open source software no longer updates and iterates, the entire open source ecosystem will also be unsustainable. Only in a fair market environment can free competition give birth to a vibrant ecosystem and excellent products.

Maintain the Original Intention of Open Source, Reject Leading the Rhythm

In the face of Redis's license change, we should understand the reasons behind it, rather than being led by some stakeholders to directly attack Redis for no longer being "open source". These people may attack this because they can no longer use open source software to gain benefits. But we need to understand that the spirit of open source is not to advocate plagiarism and copying, but to encourage sharing, learning, and innovation. When the existing open source licenses cannot meet the current cloud era, in the face of the impact of cloud vendor's open source managed services, we should support open source software to resist as necessary, to protect its own development and the health of the entire open source ecosystem.

Why We Adopt the BSL Open Source License

Like other open source enthusiasts, we as entrepreneurs also enjoy sharing and disseminating knowledge. However, considering some lessons from the past, in order to avoid competing with cloud vendors on an unfair premise, our project, AutoMQ, adopted the BSL license. The BSL license[2] is a new open source license proposed by MariaDB, which nicely balances the development of open source software and malicious commercial competition. After MariaDB, well-known projects such as HashiCorp (Terraform), CockroachDB, etc., have also adopted this license. As an emerging star in the Infra entrepreneurship field, AutoMQ has learned a lot from the experiences of many basic software entrepreneurship pioneers, and finally chose the BSL license, mainly for the following reasons:

  • Sustainable Development : We firmly believe that AutoMQ's cloud-native technology architecture is leading even on a global scale. But as the saying goes, "No matter how high the martial arts, one is afraid of kitchen knives." The current competition between innovators and cloud vendors is inherently unfair. The essence of the BSL license is to give innovators enough space for development, to avoid small players from completely losing their competitive advantage in the face of large players under unequal game rules.
  • Stick to the Original Intention of Open Source : As a startup team with a strong engineering culture, we are inherently willing to share. The BSL license is only used to restrict large players who directly use AutoMQ's source code for commercialization and compete with AutoMQ. Essentially, we still hope to use an open source license that is more in line with the current era to ensure that we can freely share knowledge and technology. For tech enthusiasts or users who use it internally in companies, AutoMQ's BSL license is almost equivalent to Apache License 2.0. The code constrained by the BSL license will automatically change to Apache License 2.0 after 4 years. In the future, AutoMQ will continue to stick to the original intention of open source, share our excellent views and technologies, and strive to fulfill our mission - leading messaging and stream storage towards the cloud-native era.

References

[1] A Guide to Mastering Kafka's Infrastructure Costs

[2] Wiki:Business Source License

[3] The battle between real open source vs. faux open source heats up