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Mikael Ronström
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Head of Data
Lex Avstreikh
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Head of Strategy
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Doubling Down on Open Source: How RonDB Upholds the Principles Redis Left Behind

March 25, 2024
9 min
Mikael Ronström
Mikael Ronströmlink to linkedin
Head of Data
Lex Avstreikh
Lex Avstreikhlink to linkedin
Head of Strategy



In the world of databases, the journey of Redis from a successful and dominant open source project to recently adopting a dual source-available licensing has evidently sparked quite the debate within the community. In short; Redis will no longer be open source. This transition touches on a core dilemma in our industry: the balance between open innovation and the need for sustainability. Open source databases, with projects like our own RonDB (open source since MySQL 4.1 released in 2004), have not only revolutionized the way we think about data management but fostered a culture of collaboration and shared growth. 

We argue that such a pivot not only alienates the grassroots developers who fueled Redis's rise but also sets yet another (following Hashicorp and Elastic) precedent against open source innovation at large. This highlights an essential truth: open source ecosystems thrive on collaboration and mutual respect between creators and corporate entities. This shift by Redis, seen as a compromise, underscores the need for other actors to keep a strong commitment to open source —principles that RonDB embodies with conviction.

We believe that RonDB, rooted in the MySQL Cluster technology developed by Oracle, stands as witness to the enduring power and potential of open source in advancing database technology; used in thousands of projects and systems across the world, it is now paving the way as the most resilient and efficient database for machine learning. 

RonDB thrives on being open source and contributes bug fixes and features back to the MySQL development. All the development happens in public trees and can be followed by anyone. As an integral part of Hopsworks, the new capabilities we develop are benefitting a new paradigm of platforms for machine learning, namely the feature store. But most of those capabilities are also very useful for community users, this being a core value of the project.

Open Source & Monetization 

During an open source conference a long time ago in Norway where one of us attended, examples were highlighted from communities where giving without expecting immediate return actually elevates standing and brings considerable social rewards. This principle, it was argued, applies directly to the tech world, developing an open source product gives the company and its developers a certain status not found in a company that develops a closed source product.

The underlying reality is that businesses must navigate the corporate landscape to ensure salaries are paid and operations continue. The most natural way to do this with open source products is to provide some services. Any product used in an enterprise setting must be provided support. Most open source products are sufficiently complex that this requires some level of attention provided by the developers of the product. Another possibility is to also sell the open source product as a closed source product, this is how MySQL does. Companies wanting to use MySQL without being affected by the GPL license can do so by buying a normal commercial license of MySQL.

However, the most common way to generate revenue derived from an open source software is to provide a service. Companies such as Percona and many large consultancy firms providing consultancy services are following that example. Still, we argue that the best strategy is to manage the open source product itself.

Using RonDB as an example. The product is fully open source using the GPL license. This means that anyone can use and sell services based on the data node binaries, the MySQL Server, the various connectors and the new REST API for RonDB. However there is still a fair amount of complexity in integrating RonDB in an enterprise environment. There needs to be UIs providing easy creation and deletion and changes of a running RonDB cluster. It requires integration into various cloud vendors, there also needs to be software handling the same thing for on-prem installations.

Thus a company that wants to make a business on open source products needs the following:

  1. Developers working on the open source product on a daily basis
  2. Developers working on the management software product on a daily basis
  3. Support personnel providing the day-to-day support of customers.

All of those parts are required to support the customers. However the benefit of the status of developing an open source product is lost if the company changes the license to no longer be an open source license. Obviously any company can start a competing business if so desired.

The fascinating consequence is that it makes the open source product even more popular since more people use it. If (and there is a big IF here) the new company also uses the open source model for developing the open source product it is beneficial to the product since it will get new features that benefits all players in the open source community. However many companies instead rely on their lawyers to avoid making their contributions open source although the license says so.

However, the greater reputation gain for a company and its developers only comes when the company actually provides the changes back to the open source community.

The Linux community is a good example where many companies see a need to contribute to its development. If a large company doesn't contribute to those mainstream open source products they eventually will have corporate buyers deciding on finding other suppliers. Corporations and maybe even more governments see the benefits to the global economy of open source products. Thus if a company is seen not playing according to the open source model, this will eventually bite them in the back since the lower standing means less business for the company. 

An Open Source RonDB That Goes Beyond the Stance

Our belief in, and obligation, to open source software is not just a philosophical stance but a foundational principle that guides the work with RonDB. The journey of Redis, serving as a reminder of the delicate balance between innovation and commercial interests.

Hopsworks follows this open source ethos; develops and even contributes patches back to the MySQL tree. At the same time Hopsworks develops software for a number of cloud vendors, for on-prem installations and working on Kubernetes support. There is a team to support both the open source development, the management software development and the support of these products.

As we are deeply embedded in the open source database ecosystem, the critical role of transparency, collaboration, and community support in advancing technology matters. RonDB’s commitment to open source principles paves the way for sustainable and innovative solutions that benefit all, not just the few. We believe that true progress in technology is achieved not through restriction but through freedom and shared purpose.


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