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New AWS DocumentDB Service Stirs Open Source Controversy

Simmering tension between the open source community and increasingly dominant cloud platforms came to light with the introduction of the new DocumentDB managed service by Amazon Web Services Inc. (AWS), which uses open source MongoDB code.

Complaints and objections started soon after AWS announced the new managed Amazon DocumentDB service yesterday. Many addressed the issue of major cloud players like AWS infringing upon open source projects -- or their commercial backers -- by using their code as the base of optimized, proprietary cloud services.

"Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, so it's not surprising that Amazon would try to capitalize on the popularity and momentum of MongoDB," MongoDB CEO Dev Ittycheria was quoted as saying by CNBC.com. "However, developers are savvy enough to distinguish between the real thing and a poor imitation." MongoDB Inc. offers its own cloud service called MongoDB Atlas, which is also offered in the AWS Marketplace to run on the AWS cloud.

Twitter users also got in on the action, with posts such as: "This is the #MongoDB service. Not even API compatible. Almost a copy."

InfoWorld reported that Shawn Bice, vice president of nonrelational databases at AWS, said that even though "customers like MongoDB's flexible data model and other attributes, they struggle to get the performance and availability from it that they require."

The open source-vs.-cloud issue prompted an examination of the issue recently by GeekWire in an article titled "Why some open-source companies are considering a more closed approach."

The site noted a situation similar to the DocumentDB rollout occurred with the Redis database service launched by AWS in 2013.

"Since then, AWS has made 'hundreds of millions' of dollars offering Redis to its customers without contributing nearly as much to the open-source community that builds and maintain that project," the site quoted Ofer Bengal, founder and CEO, Redis Labs, as saying. "It's impossible to know exactly how much money we're really talking about, but it's certainly true that AWS and other cloud providers benefit from the work of open-source developers they do not employ."

GeekWire followed up with an article yesterday that reported MongoDB recently changed to a new software license "which stipulates that anyone offering MongoDB as a cloud service must release the code written to enable that managed service as an open-source project of its own." However, the site says, that license pertains to newer editions of the database, while AWS is using older MongoDB code in its service.

AWS made no mention of the open source use issue in its official news release or blog post.

"Today we are launching Amazon DocumentDB (with MongoDB compatibility), a fast, scalable, and highly available document database that is designed to be compatible with your existing MongoDB applications and tools," spokesperson Jeff Barr said yesterday. "Amazon DocumentDB uses a purpose-built SSD-based storage layer, with 6x replication across 3 separate Availability Zones. The storage layer is distributed, fault-tolerant, and self-healing, giving you the performance, scalability, and availability needed to run production-scale MongoDB workloads."

Just a couple hours prior to this writing, MarkeWatch reported that "MongoDB's stock tumbles after Amazon's AWS launches competitive service."

AWS charges customers on a pay-as-you-go basis with many different levels of usage for many different service aspects. DocumentDB memory-optimized instance costs range from $0.277 to $8.864 per hour, with an example configuration provided by AWS costing $245.52 in one month.

About the Author

David Ramel is the editor of Visual Studio Magazine.

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