Redis, a very popular tool for data storage previously under an open-source BSD License, has shifted its licensing to a Source Available License and Server Side Public License (SSPL).

The software project and the company backing it seem to very clearly know why they are doing this. That’s something Redis CEO Rowan Trollope put into words on March 20: While Redis and volunteers have sponsored most code development for the project, “the majority of Redis’ commercial sales are channeled through the largest cloud service providers, who commoditize Redis’ investments and its open source community.” Breaking that down a bit, “cloud service providers hosting Redis offerings will no longer be allowed to use the source code of Redis free of charge.”

To put that further into perspective: “Amazon Web Services and the smaller cloud giants will not just keep reselling Redis to the tune of your $90 billion business without some sort of licensed contribution back.”

This has generated quite the conversation, blowback, and action. The biggest thing? A fork of the Redis project, Valkey, which is backed by The Linux Foundation and, crucially, also Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud, Oracle, Ericsson, and Snap Inc.

The Valkey is “fully open source,” Linux Foundation execs note, with the kind of license that Redis sported until recently. You might note the exception of Microsoft from that list of fork fans.

As Matt Asay, formerly of AWS where he ran open source strategy and marketing, observed, “Most developers are largely immune to Redis’ license change.” Asay went on to summarize further in a piece published at TechRepublic that, besides individual contributions from AWS engineer and former Redis core contributor Madelyn Olson (who contributed in her spare time) and Alibaba’s Zhao Zhao, “The companies jumping behind the fork of Redis have done almost nothing to get Redis to its current state.” Olson, speaking with TechCrunch, said that she was “disappointed” by Redis’ license change but not surprised. “I’m more just disappointed than anything else,” said David Nally, the current director of open source strategy and marketing at AWS, asked if AWS had considered purchasing a Redis license from Redis Inc. prior to forking.

“From an open-source perspective, we’re now invested in ensuring Valkey is successful,” said Nally.

This includes previous forks to keep it open, for example, OpenSearch (from ElasticSearch) and OpenTofu (from Terraform), part of the past shifts in open-source licensing. Despite some core contributors and the backing of the Linux Foundation, Valkey is bound to soon be a far departure from being a drop-in Redis replacement, and Redis is likely to follow. The downside: With a technological background, it’s hard to make sense of this for someone who doesn’t own a gigascale cloud provider or sit on the board of a source code licensing foundation if you’re reading all this. Each side of the party is doing what is allowed by law in the given case, and certainly, the public is benefiting from the output software of the two parties. Taking the ball and going home is an old tradition since time itself when there is disagreement about software goals and priorities among parties. But it feels as though there should have been another way that this could have worked out.