On Wednesday, Amazon Web Services announced a new document-database service based on technology from $4.4 billion open-source-software company MongoDB, confirming previous reports that such a product was in the works.
The new service, DocumentDB, fully supports MongoDB workloads, and customers can use MongoDB tools to run their work on Amazon’s cloud. Customers can also migrate their MongoDB databases to DocumentDB, where they’ll pay only for the capacity they use, Amazon says.
Notably, this comes just months after MongoDB announced a new license to push back on cloud providers taking its trademark open-source-database software and using it to turn a profit. AWS in particular has a reputation for selling free software from smaller companies as a service while contributing little code back to the open-source community that makes it all possible.
But Eliot Horowitz, chief technology officer and cofounder of MongoDB, told Business Insider that he’s not worried about this particular move from Amazon.
“While there has been some buzz, this is not something we’re super surprised about or terribly worried about,” Horowitz told Business Insider. “More than anything, it shows how much developers love the MongoDB API [application programming interface] and DB and how desperate Amazon was to have something in this case.”
Why MongoDB isn’t worried
First off, Horowitz said, Amazon’s DocumentDB is built to integrate with MongoDB 3.6, a version of the software that’s just over a year old. That’s because in October 2018, MongoDB announced a new license, called the Server Side Public License, or SSPL, in response to Chinese tech giants like Baidu, Tencent, and Alibaba repackaging and selling its free software.
Basically, the license says that if a company wants to sell MongoDB’s software, it has two options: It either has to release any new MongoDB-based software that it develops as free open source, or it has to pay MongoDB for a commercial license, after which it can do whatever it wants.
Because of the license, AWS can’t use the source code from more recent versions of MongoDB, which were built after the SSPL went into effect, for free. This means Amazon chose to build most of DatabaseDB from scratch rather than basing it on MongoDB and that it integrated it only with the older MongoDB 3.6.
“They could have [used our code] if they talked to or open-sourced some of the stuff, but they didn’t, so they can’t use any Mongo code,” Horowitz said.
Still, there’s some overlap between the MongoDB and Amazon DocumentDB products. But as part of the Amazon empire, it’s easy and convenient for AWS customers to set up and start running DocumentDB with just a few clicks, versus the relative difficulty of managing their own MongoDB servers. Still, MongoDB operates its own cloud-database service, called Atlas.
“To meet developers’ needs, we looked at multiple different approaches to supporting MongoDB workloads and concluded that the best way to improve the customer experience was to build a new purpose-built document database from the ground up, while supporting the same MongoDB APIs that our customers currently use and like,” Shawn Bice, vice president of nonrelational databases at AWS, said in a statement.
The competitive landscape
Microsoft Azure also offers a similar product called Cosmos DB, which Horowitz said is in some ways competitive with MongoDB. However, he said, many customers find that MongoDB offers more features than Cosmos DB.
Horowitz believes it will go the same way with the new Amazon database. Although DocumentDB is similar to MongoDB’s cloud database, he said there are some feature gaps compared to MongoDB’s enterprise product.
“DocumentDB is AWS trying to imitate MongoDB and specifically Atlas. They’re trying to offer the same service as Atlas,” Horowitz said. “It might work for some MongoDB applications, but for some serious MongoDB applications, it might not be the best choice.”
There has been controversy over whether MongoDB’s new license truly qualifies as open source, and the company is still seeking approval from the Open Source Initiative to use the term. Critics of the MongoDB SSPL say it undermines the core foundation of open source, which is that anybody — even large corporations — can use the software as they wish.
MongoDB currently does not have plans to change its licensing or business model and will continue looking into ways to protect its business, Horowitz told Business Insider.
“We’re always looking at things to do to protect our IP [intellectual property] and long-term growth to the MongoDB ecosystem,” Horowitz said.