Company Updates

A New License to Future Proof the Commoditization of Data Integration

Michel Tricot
September 27, 2021
5 min read

Ever since we launched Airbyte last year, our community has been asking us two recurring questions: 

  • “How are you going to monetize?”
  • “Are you always going to be under MIT license?” 

We’ve always been very transparent about both of these questions, and we published our strategy and our future business model.

Regarding monetization, our philosophy is the following: if it helps individual contributors or small teams, then it should be free and open source; if it serves an organization’s needs, then it should be monetized.

Regarding the open-source license, our goal is to commoditize data integration, so the less friction there is in building connectors and contributing to the code base, the better. So far, this strategy has proven right given how fast our contributor community has been growing.

Today, we want to share how Airbyte will be able to provide SLAs across thousands of connectors, while, as of this date, all the other technologies are unable to get past 200. 

Open Sourcing Airbyte as a First Step Towards Data Integration Commoditization

Airbyte’s mission to commoditize data integration can only be achieved if the following conditions are met:

  1. Airbyte offers pre-built connectors for the long tail of connectors.
  2. Airbyte offers a Connector Development Kit (CDK) to help customize those connectors to your needs, or create brand new ones in a matter of hours.
  3. Airbyte ensures a high-level SLA for the pre-built connectors. 

It is simple to maintain connectors when you offer only a small number of them, but this task becomes increasingly more complex as the number grows. That is why most ETL / ELT services plateau at around 150 connectors. It is very hard to support more connectors if you build and maintain them internally. 

If you want to cover the long tail of connectors with a good SLA, then you need to be creative. 

Open sourcing Airbyte was the first step in this direction. It helps us cover the long tail of connectors, but it won’t be enough to offer a SLA across all of them. We need to go beyond standard open source for that. 

We need a participative model.  

A Preview to Airbyte’s Participative Model

Before we explain what the participative model will be, let’s describe Airbyte’s monetization strategy. As we previously alluded to in a past article, we will be releasing Airbyte Cloud at the beginning of October. In addition to hosting and management, Airbyte Cloud will support new features, such as multiple workspaces, user access management, support for oAuth authentication in connectors, with more to come over the following months.

Now, regarding the participative model, there are still a lot of details to figure out, but the general idea is that maintainers of connectors would have the option to get a revenue share when the connectors are being used in the paid version of Airbyte. In exchange, maintainers would be responsible for SLAs, new features, and bug fixes for the said connector. 

This model will align the contributor community on our ambitious vision to commoditize data integration. It will also provide new revenue streams to vendors, agencies, and developers who are helping make Airbyte and the ecosystem better.

In the end, the community will not only benefit from a better product and better SLAs, but also from a financial perspective! 

All of this seems great, but can all of this be done with the existing MIT License?

Introducing a New License to Future Proof the Commoditization of Data Integration

Let’s imagine Airbyte stays under MIT license. Here’s what will likely happen. 

Some huge companies take the Airbyte project and start offering a clone of Airbyte Cloud. Yes, it has happened to MANY other open-source companies.

The story is widely known already, but here is what would happen. They start with a fork of Airbyte. They start building features that go against Airbyte’s vision. The quality is lower, which negatively affects the perception others have of Airbyte. The documentation is split across multiple vendors. They keep 100% of the revenues they make. They don’t invest in the community or share any of their revenues with contributors who are working hard at making Airbyte better. 

This results in a fragmented community, a weaker project, and we would fail to deliver on our vision.

We don’t want that to happen to Airbyte the same way it has happened to other open-source projects. In order to avoid it, we will change the Core platform license to use the Elastic License v2 (ELv2). It will very likely have NO impact on any of our users, and it helps us future proof Airbyte. Even more importantly, it allows us to future proof this new participative model. 

As described in the Elastic post, ELv2 is a very simple, non-copyleft license allowing for the right to "use, copy, distribute, make available, and prepare derivative works of the software,” and has only three high-level limitations. You cannot:

  1. Provide the products to others as a managed service; 
  2. Circumvent the license key functionality or remove/obscure features protected by license keys; or 
  3. Remove or obscure any licensing, copyright, or other notices.

Simple and Open. Exactly what we want for Airbyte!

Here is a small diagram to explain what is changing in the project:

As you can see, existing connector licenses won’t change and, as always, it is up to our contributors to decide what license they want to use.

What Changes When I Contribute?

Nothing changes here besides the introduction of a Contributor License Agreement (CLA). 

The code of Core will remain available, and we will continue to accept our community’s contributions. The same goes for non-ELv2 code. We will just be adding a CLA for new contributors. This will take the form of a check on PRs, and you will only need to sign the CLA once. 

Once it is signed, you won’t have to sign it again.

What Is Next?

Airbyte Core is under the ELv2 License, starting from 0.30.0 release. 

We created a License FAQ, and we will continue to add more questions and answers as they come up.

Stay tuned for the launch of Airbyte Cloud, and if you want to be an early member of our participative model, don’t hesitate to reach out to us

Thank you again for your support!

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