Long-time open source advocate Matt Asay writes in InfoWorld:
OpenSearch shouldn’t exist. The open source alternative to Elasticsearch started off as Amazon Web Services’ (AWS) answer to getting outflanked by Elastic’s change in Elasticsearch’s license, which was in turn sparked by AWS building a successful Elasticsearch service but contributing little back. In 2019 when AWS launched its then Open Distro for Elasticsearch, I thought its reasons rang hollow and, frankly, sounded sanctimonious. This was, after all, a company that used more open source than it contributed. Two years later, AWS opted to fork Elasticsearch to create OpenSearch, committing to a “long-term investment” in OpenSearch.
I worked at AWS at the time. Privately, I didn’t think it would work.
Rather, I didn’t feel that AWS really understood just how much work was involved in running a successful open source project, and the company would fail to invest the time and resources necessary to make OpenSearch a viable competitor to Elasticsearch. I was wrong. Although OpenSearch has a long way to go before it can credibly claim to have replaced Elasticsearch in the minds and workloads of developers, it has rocketed up the search engine popularity charts, with an increasingly diverse contributor population. In turn, the OpenSearch experience is adding a new tool to AWS’ arsenal of open source strengths….
As part of the AWS OpenSearch team, David Tippett and Eli Fisher laid out a few key indicators of OpenSearch’s success as they gave their 2022 year in review. They topped more than 100 million downloads and gathered 8,760 pull requests from 496 contributors, a number of whom don’t work for AWS. Not stated were other success factors, such as Adobe’s earlier decision to replace Elasticsearch with OpenSearch in its Adobe Commerce suite, or its increasingly open governance with third-party maintainers for the project. Nor did they tout its lightning-fast ascent up the DB-Engines database popularity rankings, hitting the Top 50 databases for the first time.
OpenSearch, in short, is a bonafide open source success story. More surprisingly, it’s an AWS open source success story. For many who have been committed to the “AWS strip mines open source” narrative, such success stories aren’t supposed to exist. Reality bites.
The article notes that OpenSearch’s success “doesn’t seem to be blunting Elastic’s income statement.” But it also points out that Amazon now has many employees actively contributing to open source projects, including PostgreSQL and MariaDB. (Although “If AWS were to turn forking projects into standard operating procedure, that might get uncomfortable.”)
“Fortunately, not only has AWS learned how to build more open source, it has also learned how to partner with open source companies.”