“If I want AWS to ignore me completely all I have to do is open a pull request against one of their repositories,” quipped cloud economist Corey Quinn in April, while also complaining that the real problem is “how they consistently and in my opinion incorrectly try to shape a narrative where they’re contributing to the open source ecosystem at a level that’s on par with their big tech company peers.”
But on Friday tech columnist Matt Asay argued that AWS is quietly getting better at open source. “Agreed,” tweeted tech journalist Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols in response, commending “Good open source people, good open-source work.” (And Vaughan-Nichols later retweeted an AWS principle software engineer’s announcement that “Over at Amazon Linux we are hiring, and also trying to lead and better serve customers by being more involved in upstream communities.”) Mark Atwood, principle engineer for open source at Amazon, also joined Asay’s thread, tweeting “I’m glad that people are noticing. Me and my team have been doing heavy work for years to get to this point. Generally we don’t want to sit at the head of the table, but we are seeing the value of sitting at the table.”
Asay himself was AWS’s head of developer marketing/Open Source strategy for two years, leaving in August of 2021. But Friday Asay’s article noted a recent tweet where AWS engineer Divij Vaidya announced he’d suddenly become one of the top 10 contributors to Apache Kafka after three months as the founding engineer for AWS’s Apache Kafka open source team. (Vaida added “We are hiring for a globally distributed fully remote team to work on open source Apache Kafka! Join us.”)
Apache Kafka is just the latest example of this…. This is exactly what critics have been saying AWS doesn’t do. And, for years, they were mostly correct.
AWS was, and is, far more concerned with taking care of customers than being popular with open-source audiences. So, the company has focused on being “the best place for customers to build and run open-source software in the cloud.” Historically, that tended to not involve or require contributing to the open-source projects it kept building managed services around. Many felt that was a mistake — that a company so dependent on open source for its business was putting its supply chain at risk by not sustaining the projects upon which it depended…
PostgreSQL contributor (and sometime AWS open-source critic) Paul Ramsey has noticed. As he told me recently, it “[f]eels like a switch flipped at AWS a year or two ago. The strategic value of being a real stakeholder in the software they spin is now recognized as being worth the dollars spent to make it happen….” What seems to be happening at AWS, if quietly and usually behind the scenes, is a shift toward AWS service teams taking greater ownership in the open-source projects they operationalize for customers. This allows them to more effectively deliver results because they can help shape the roadmap for customers, and it ensures AWS customers get the full open-source experience, rather than a forked repo with patches that pile up as technical debt.
Vaidya and the Managed Service for Kafka team is an example along with Madelyn Olson, an engineer with AWS’s ElastiCache team and one of five core maintainers for Redis. And then there are the AWS employees contributing to Kubernetes, etcd and more. No, AWS is still not the primary contributor to most of these. Not yet. Google, Microsoft and Red Hat tend to top many of the charts, to Quinn’s point above. This also isn’t somehow morally wrong, 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 obsessing over customers is taking care of the open-source projects upon which those customers depend. In other words, part of the “undifferentiated heavy lifting” that AWS takes on for customers needs to be stewardship for the open-source projects those same customers demand.
UPDATE: Reached for a comment today, Asay clarified his position on Quinn’s original complaints about AWS’s low level of open source contributions. “What I was trying to say was that while Corey’s point had been more-or-less true, it wasn’t really true anymore.”
Read more of this story at Slashdot.