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Infrastructure as Code

Linux Foundation Adopting Terraform Fork Provokes Ire of HashiCorp CEO

Less than a month after a handful of small companies forked HashiCorp's flagship IaC software, the Linux Foundation swooped in to support the project. This did not sit right with HashiCorp CEO David McJannet.
Oct 25th, 2023 12:25pm by
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Feature image by Edar from Pixabay.

If open source foundations sponsor open source forks, “There’ll be no more open source companies in Silicon Valley,” HashiCorp CEO Dave McJannet recently said.

McJannet was referring to how the Linux Foundation had quickly adopted a fork of HashiCorp’s once-open source flagship Infrastructure as Code (IaC) tool, Terraform.

In August, HashiCorp replaced Terraform’s open source license for the Business Source License (BSL).

Immediately responding to this change, several companies — such as Terrateam, Harness, Gruntwork, Spacelift, env0, Digger, Massdriver, and Terramate — that had relied on the open source version of Terraform immediately launched a fork. Although Scalr CEO Sebastian Stadil said it was the other way around, “Our position is that HashiCorp has forked its own projects under a different license.

Fork or not, the new open source version of Terraform, OpenTofu, is already out.

Semantics aside, we’ve seen this scenario play out before. A company decides it’s more profitable to dump the open source development path that saw its success, leaving some of its users and partners in the lurch, and those left in the lurch fork the program.

One thing that was different about this particular fork is that The Linux Foundation quickly gave it its support. At Open Source Summit Europe, Jim Zemlin, the Linux Foundation‘s Executive Director, “OpenTofu embodies our collective dedication to genuine open collaboration in infrastructure as code. It stands as a testament to our shared goal of delivering dependable, accessible tools for the tech world.”

Those were fighting words to HashiCorp. In a news post. McJannet said that open source foundations are just “a way for big companies to protect themselves from innovation, by making sure that if Hadoop becomes popular, IBM can take it and sell it for less because they are part of that foundation.”

It’s unclear why McJannet mentioned Hadoop in this context since Hadoop is popular. It’s the top big data analytics software framework with, according to 6Sense, a B2B software market analysis company, 18.8% market share, which is more than its chief rivals, DataBricks, Azure DataBricks, and Talend, can claim Hadoop has always been and still is, under the open source Apache license. And, last but not least, IBM already makes money from Hadoop across its product and service lines.

McJannet also claimed that its customers praised its decision to leave open source behind. Indeed, he claimed that “Every vendor over the last three or four years that has reached any modicum of scale has come to [the] realization that the open source model has to evolve, given the incentives that are now in the market.”

In a Register interview, McJannet explained that in this evolution, “For all intents and purposes, [Terraform’s code is] open source unless you happen to be a commercial vendor trying to monetize our market.” Chris Aniszczyk, Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF) CTO, simply replied, “Source available is not open source.” It never has been. It never will be.

McJannet continued that open source worked “really, really well” at first to get a project off the ground, but once a project became popular, “clone vendors [would]  start taking that stuff.” McJannet further claimed that “My phone started ringing materially after we made our announcement from every open source startup in Silicon Valley going ‘I think this is the right model.'”

McJannet did not cite any examples.

We do know, however, that at least one major Terraform user wasn’t pleased. Global insurance power Allianz announced it was switching to OpenTofu. Mike Sutton, Allianz CIO, said, “While it’s still early days for our use of OpenTofu, its community-driven ethos aligns well with our long-term objectives and seamlessly integrates with our existing technology stack.” That strikes me as a clear vote for an open source approach.

NoSQL database provider MongoDB, the first open source company to dump its license for the non-open source Server Side Public License (SSPL), isn’t keen on McJannet’s aggressive stance.

Matt Asay, MongoDB’s vice president of developer relations, took back his defense for Hashi’s CEO for moving to the BPL, tweeting, “There’s no reason to attack foundations, which do a lot of great work for open source.”

And. after all, if it wasn’t for open source, and the foundations that empower them, Terraform never would have gotten off the ground.

Publicly, many open source people were ticked off at McJannet.  Joe Brockmeier, Percona‘s head of community, said, “The ability to fork is sacred. It’s an insurance policy for the larger community, including businesses that deploy open source software, that everyone has the ability to pick up the software and continue using, improving, and distributing the software.” It’s not an evil abused by open source foundations, it’s a feature.

Open Sores

Federico Lucifredi, product management director for IBM/Red Hat Ceph Storage, tweeted, “HashiCorp CEO [is[  demonstrating no understanding of Open Source ethos, ecosystem or (critically) FOSS Business. It is not tragic that the [Linux Foundation] adopted OpenTOFU; rather pity that folks with no understanding of FOSS get to lead companies like Hash.”

Also critical, Mike Dolan, the Linux Foundation’s SVP and GM of Projects, observed that the Foundation isn’t creating the fork. “We have a grand total of zero OpenTofu engineers. … I don’t think their CEO understands how open source works. They could have kept Terraform MPLv2 and built all BUSL features around it.”

Dolan added, “BSL companies aren’t complaining about all the truly open source code in their dependency trees that would take them decades to recreate and enabled them to rapidly go to market… but apparently foundations are a tragedy.”

Indeed, without open source, today’s technology doesn’t exist. As a GitHub study showed, open source is now the foundation of more than 90% of the world’s software. Very little of that is the product of open source foundations, they’re the greenhouse under which open source projects can grow.

But, what open source developers and their supporters say is one thing. What does the market say?

Since HashiCorp announced its license change, Robert DeFrancesco, managing editor of Tech-Stock Prospector, said that its “stock [recently] hit a new record low of $21.11. The shares are down 22% YTD and are off 27% since the latest earnings report in late August. HashiCorp went public in December 2021 at $80 a share.” And, this is while OpenTofu is still in alpha.

HashiCorp declined to comment for this post.

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TNS owner Insight Partners is an investor in: Spacelift, 6Sense.
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