Enterprise Search: Flexible and Stretchy. Er, No.

January 21, 2021

Enterprise search, the utility service, thrills users and information technology professionals alike. There are quite a few search and retrieval vendors chasing revenue. Frankly I have given up trying to keep track of outfits like Luigi’s Box, Yext (yes, enterprise search!), and quite a few repackagers of Lucene; e.g., IBM, Attivio, Voyager Search, and more. There are some proprietary outfits as well.

Then there is the Compass Search sibling Elastic and its Elasticsearch. Open source search makes a great deal of sense to:

  • Companies wanting a no cost or low cost way to provide search and retrieval-type functionality to an application
  • Penny pinchers who want “the community” to fix bugs so that cash is freed up to lease fancy cars, receive bonuses, and focus on more important software features which can be offered for a fee and a license handcuff
  • Competitors who want to provide a familiar environment to those with cash to spend and wave the magic wand of open source in front of young believers who think proprietary software is a crime against humanity.

The history of Elasticsearch and Amazon reaches back to the era when Lucid Works (né Lucid Imagination) lost some staff to Amazon’s Burlingame, California, office. That was the bell which sounded when the Bezos bulldozer decided A9 was not enough. Sure, A9 works but the folks from the Lucene/Solr outfit would map the route from A9 to a more open, folksy world of open source search.

The open source version of Lucene was the beating heart of Elastic, the now public company.

Then Amazon does what Amazon does: The company shifted the bulldozer into gear and went for open source search developers who could seamlessly (sort of) move into the newly blazed path to AWS. Once inside, the fruits of the thousand plus services, features, and functions were just a click away. Policeware vendors, start ups, and some big outfits followed the Bezos bulldozer. The updated IBM slogan reads, “Nobody gets fired for buying AWS.”

Elastic was upset.

Amazon: NOT OK – Why We Had to Change Elastic Licensing” picks up this story and explains where Elastic fits into the world crafted by the Bezos bulldozer.

The write up explains:

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.

Elastic’s essay notes:

We think that Amazon’s behavior is inconsistent with the norms and values that are especially important in the open source ecosystem. Our hope is to take our presence in the market and use it to stand up to this now so others don’t face these same issues in the future.

The essay concludes:

I believe in the core values of the Open Source Community: transparency, collaboration, openness. Building great products to the benefit of users across the world. Amazing things have been built and will continue to be built using Elasticsearch and Kibana. And to be clear, this change most likely has zero effect on you, our users. And no effect on our customers that engage with us either in cloud or on premises.

Several observations:

  1. Commercial behemoths like Amazon use open source the way my neighbor burns firewood, old carpets, and newspapers. The goal is to optimize available cash.
  2. Amazon’s move into Elastic’s territory began more than five years ago. Amazon does kill off loser products like health and food delivery but it keeps others in tall cotton when it pays off.
  3. Those completing [a] Amazon certification, [b] partner indoctrination, or [c] inputs from free or low cost Amazon training arrive ready to do the search thing Amazon’s way.

Net net: Beyond Search understands Elastic’s anguish and actions. Perhaps the license shift and the assumptions about open source are unlikely to stand up to the Bezos bulldozer? Open source Elasticsearch is a bargain. It may be tough to compete with free plus discounts for AWS goodies and other Amazon benefits. Legal or illegal, fair or unfair, open source or closed source — the bulldozer grinds forward.

Stephen E Arnold, January 21, 2021

Comments

One Response to “Enterprise Search: Flexible and Stretchy. Er, No.”

  1. The AWS Bulldozer and Elasticsearch: Can the Rubber Trees Grow Back? : Stephen E. Arnold @ Beyond Search on January 22nd, 2021 9:33 am

    […] I wrote about Elastic search’s difficult decision to try to stave off the building of an information superhighway directly over the Elastic NV buildings in Amsterdam. You can find that essay in “Enterprise Search: Flexible and Stretchy. Er, No.” […]

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