Give back or no give

[ Disclosure: I work for iXsystems™ Inc. Views and opinions are my own. ]

If my memory served me right, I recalled the illustrious leader of the Illumos project, Garrett D’Amore ranting about companies, big and small, taking OpenZFS open source codes and projects to incorporate into their own technology but hardly ever giving back to the open source community. That was almost 6 years ago.

My thoughts immediately go back to the days when open source was starting to take off back in the early 2000s. Oracle 9i database had just embraced Linux in a big way, and the book by Eric S. Raymond, “The Cathedral and The Bazaar” was a big hit.

The Cathedral & The Bazaar by Eric S. Raymond

Since then, the blooming days of proprietary software world began to wilt, and over the next twenty plus year, open source software has pretty much taken over the world. Even Microsoft®, the ruthless ruler of the Evil Empire caved in to some of the open source calls. The Microsoft® “I Love Linux” embrace definitely gave the victory feeling of the Rebellion win over the Empire. Open Source won.

Open Source bag of worms

Even with the concerted efforts of the open source communities and projects, there were many situations which have caused frictions and inadvertently, major issues as well. There are several open source projects licenses, and they are not always compatible when different open source projects mesh together for the greater good.

On the storage side of things, 2 “incidents” caught the attention of the masses. For instance, Linus Torvalds, Linux BDFL (Benevolent Dictator for Life) and emperor supremo said “Don’t use ZFS” partly due to the ignorance and incompatibility of Linux GPL (General Public License) and ZFS CDDL (Common Development and Distribution License). That ruffled some feathers amongst the OpenZFS community that Matt Ahrens, the co-creator of the ZFS file system and OpenZFS community leader had to defend OpenZFS from Linus’ comments.

The other news, is about AWS (Amazon Web Services) taking from some open source projects, re-using and re-branding them as their own without giving back. The prominent victim was MongoDB®. After AWS launched their DocumentDB early last year, MongoDB® had to adjust their server side license to counter AWS’s encroachment into the quagmire of open source licensing politics. A Techcrunch article in 2019 even quoted the uncouth title of “AWS gives open source the middle finger”.

Open Source instant value

In my previous blog, I wrote about the instant value of some Open Source software projects. FreeNAS™, soon to be TrueNAS® CORE is definitely one of them. It was a genius masterstroke of FreeNAS™ 9.1 to incorporate OpenZFS v5000 back then.

FreeBSD Beastie and OpenZFS – A best of breed synergy

But that instant value should not always mean grabbing what is free and selfishly leeching from that freedom. It is a case of gratis versus libre or what Richard Stallman would put it “Think free as in free speech, not free beer“.

Abusing generosity of Open Source

I see scores of commercial storage vendors in the market today peddling Open Source storage software. They range from Linux file systems such as the popular (yet lacking enterprise strength) btrfs, GlusterFS, CephFS, to object storage like MinIO and many more. Some included OpenZFS or ZFS as the cornerstone of their storage technology solutions. In heresay, we often have the generosity of these open source projects abused. Yes, these open source projects are of free source codes, and often “free” in usability without the legal implications of a EULA (end user license agreement) of proprietary software. This “freedom” has amplified the proliferation of open source technology across many industries over the past few decades, but as in the case of AWS vs MongoDB (or maybe to be exact) vs Apache 2.0 licensing, contributions back to some open source projects are definitely lacking. To be fair, AWS isn’t the only vendor or cloud service provider who isn’t playing to the adherence of the open source license rules. MongoDB, due to its immense popularity, again was a victim of many other vendors taking advantage of its Community Server edition, especially in Asia.

On the storage side again, open source file systems such as GlusterFS, OpenZFS and storage platforms like Ceph and FreeNAS™ are subject to the same type of unkind exploitation by commercial vendors, large and small.

OpenZFS Summit

The OpenZFS Summit 2020 is happening virtually on October. October 6th and 7th to be exact. It is both courageous and fortunate that the OpenZFS open source development has been growing, and growing with a promising future since its inception in 2013. This growth has been fuelled by the generosity and efforts of many supporting companies and many individuals, including my company, iXsystem™ Inc. We were there last year, as well as in previous years.

OpenZFS Developer Summit 2020 logo

The list of presentations is exciting. The table of topics and the presenters are listed below:

List of topics & presenters of OpenZFS Developer Summit 2020

Giving back to grow

The OpenZFS annual summit continues to propel OpenZFS forward, for the greater good of technology innovation and for the industry. An open source project like OpenZFS should be reciprocated with the giving back by the commercial companies which have benefitted from the development of the maturing file system. And this creates a progressive evolution of innovative ideas, technology and more.

That is why is it so important to grow the open source projects, contributing back and reaping the benefits of the collective good built by many. All for one and one for all.

Cynical grumpy old man

On a personal note, I am cynical. I am hoping some of the commercial companies which have been benefitting from the open source project like OpenZFS to give back. And I would like customers or potential customers to question these companies. Those which have taken freely and selfishly, and have not given back. Ask them where their loyalty lie. Is it for their own profit a hundred percent? Or are they donating and contributing back to help make the technology better, and improve for the betterment of their customers and end users they serve?

Yeah, I am a grumpy old fart.

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About cfheoh

I am a technology blogger with 30 years of IT experience. I write heavily on technologies related to storage networking and data management because those are my areas of interest and expertise. I introduce technologies with the objectives to get readers to know the facts and use that knowledge to cut through the marketing hypes, FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) and other fancy stuff. Only then, there will be progress. I am involved in SNIA (Storage Networking Industry Association) and between 2013-2015, I was SNIA South Asia & SNIA Malaysia non-voting representation to SNIA Technical Council. I currently employed at iXsystems as their General Manager for Asia Pacific Japan.

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