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Google Cloud gives open-source data vendors a break. Will that save open source?

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We’ve been getting early warnings from a number of open-source vendors that they will be “announcing something big at Google Next” for a few days now. Yesterday, the announcements from seven — if not magnificent at least leading — open-source vendors all came at the same time. An evaluation on the status quo, and the quo vadis, of enterprise open source has been long time coming for us, so this is a good time to do this. 

What was announced by Google Cloud yesterday was a series of strategic partnerships with leading open source-centric companies in the areas of data management and analytics. The companies are an all-star cast of sorts: Confluent, DataStax, Elastic, InfluxData, MongoDB, Neo4j, and Redis Labs.

The partnerships will offer fully managed services running on Google Cloud, a single user interface to manage apps, and unified billing — one invoice from Google Cloud that includes the partner’s service. What this means is that the services will be fully integrated in Google Cloud, users will pay one bill, and vendors will get a cut of the profits from Google. 

Also: Everything you need to know about the cloud, explained | Top cloud providers 2019

At a first level, this seems like a good move, and a good thing. It’s a win-win-win situation for all sides: Open-source vendors, users, and Google. There are nuances that deserve highlighting, but let’s start at the beginning. 

A way out for open-source vendors?

For vendors, this is a good thing, because it lets them do what they do best, which is build open-source software, without having to worry about building their own cloud infrastructure, or cloud vendors stealing their lunch.

Software vendors have a job, which is to build software. The kind of infrastructure software that these vendors build clearly has an interplay with hardware, and the evolution of the cloud has largely influenced software architecture. But the job of these vendors is not to procure, build, develop, or maintain hardware. Cloud vendors do a pretty good job there.

What complicates things is the fact that today a significant part of software such as data management software runs in the cloud. The economy of scale and technical leadership that cloud providers offer can’t easily be matched by on premise infrastructure. So as workloads move to the cloud, the expectation is for infrastructure software such as data management software to run there, too. 

gcloudbreak.jpg

Google is giving open source vendors a break, but that’s not the end of open source’s woes.

Of course cloud vendors can, in many cases do, offer infrastructure software as well. So rather than just rent out hardware, pre-packaged software such as a database can run on that hardware. This is convenient for users, who don’t have to put the extra work of setting up the software in the cloud, and get one bill including hardware and software cost from their cloud provider.

Sometimes, this is proprietary software developed in-house by cloud vendors. This is fair game, and users can choose whether they want to use this, or keep using their software of choice by another vendor. AWS, for example, has an entire product line of databases it has developed (or acquired, e.g., Neptune) and is offering on its cloud, and many people choose to use these.

Some obvious issues for users that choose this option is cloud vendor lock-in and best of breed: Proprietary cloud vendor software by definition only works on the specific vendor’s infrastructure, and its quality may not be on par with products developed not as part of a big portfolio, but as the only thing a specialized vendor does.

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