AWS isn’t the largest corporate contributor to open source, but it’s increasingly involved in the projects its customers depend on.
AWS is quietly and steadily improving with open source. Secure, Corey Quinn could be right when he said that AWS has been “consistent and, in my opinion, incorrect” [tried] to shape a narrative where they contribute to the open source ecosystem on a level comparable to that of their peers at major tech companies.” But that’s what’s happening now.
Instead, AWS has found that a key to realizing its first leadership principle (Customer Obsession) is to appear meaningfully and contribute to the open source projects its customers care about. Apache Kafka is just the latest example of this.
Flipped a switch
Divij Vaidyas tweet Surprise me. Here’s an AWS engineer turned one of the most active contributors to Apache Kafka† Admittedly, that’s a little more than the past month. Looking at the Kafka PMC committeeit’s filled with individuals from Confluent and other companies who have contributed to Kafka for years, not months.
Still, it’s telling that when Vaidya joined the Amazon Managed Service for Kafka (MSK) team a few months ago, she immediately started contributing code to Kafka and is hiring a team that will focus on contributing code. to Kafka.
This is exactly what critics say AWS doesn’t do. And for years they were mostly right.
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AWS was, and is, much more concerned with taking care of customers than being popular with open-source audiences. So the company has targeting “Being the best place for customers to build and run open source software in the cloud.”
Historically, that was usually not involved in or required to contribute to the open source projects it continued to build managed services around. Many thought that was a mistake – that a company so dependent on open source for its operations was endangering its supply chain by not supporting the projects it depended on. There were plenty of good reasons for all thisbut there were also more compelling reasons to change and do more.
And so it has; though, generally not with trumpets and fanfare.
PostgreSQL contributor (and sometimes AWS open-source critic) Paul Ramsey pointed it out. like him told me recently it is “[f]eel like a switch turned at AWS a year or two ago. The strategic value of being a true stakeholder in the software they run is now recognized as worth the dollars spent making it happen.”
Taking care of customers
Years ago, Tim Bray, then a technical director at AWS, claimed that: operate open source software was at least as important as building it.
“The qualities that make people great at creating high-quality software from scratch aren’t necessarily the qualities that make them good at operations,” Bray added.
AWS may not have contributed a lot of code, the implication was, but making that code easy for customers to use was a big contribution in itself. All true.
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But what seems to be happening at AWS, albeit quietly and mostly behind the scenes, is a shift towards AWS service teams taking more responsibility in the open source projects they operationalize for customers. This allows them to deliver results more effectively, as they can help shape the roadmap for customers, and it ensures that AWS customers get the full open source experience, rather than a forked repo with patches that pile up like technical debt .
Vaidya and the MSK team are an example, along with Madelyn Olson, an engineer on the ElastiCache team at AWS and one of the five core managers for Redis† And then there are the AWS employees who contribute to Kubernetes† etc and more.
No, AWS is still not the major contributor to most of these. Not yet. Google, Microsoft and Red Hat tend to top many of the charts, as Quinn points out above. This isn’t morally wrong either, as Quinn also argued, “Amazon (and any company) is there to make money, not be your friend.”
But slowly and surely, AWS product teams are discovering that a key element of the customer obsession is taking care of the open source projects on which those customers depend. In other words, part of the “undifferentiated heavy lifting” that AWS takes on for customers has to be stewardship of the open source projects that those same customers demand.
Disclosure: I work for MongoDB, but the views expressed herein are my own.