AWS Promotional Credits - A Twitter Follow-up

Read time: 7 mins

Updated: 10/15/2019 5:15pm est

At the All Things Open 2019 in Raleigh,North Carolina AWS made some announcements at the keynote on Monday Oct. 14th, 2019. Specifically, they announced AWS Promotional Credits for Open Source projects. I think this is another great step by the company and it’s appreciated that they are recognizing the significant impact open source has had on their company. I tweeted that I believe that they missed the mark and a rather lengthy twitter conversation ensued, which is the subject of this post.

The tweet that started the conversation:

I was responding to the slide below, which announces that they will be providing AWS Promotional Credits for Open Source projects with three conditions:

  • Preferably backed by a non-profit or foundation
  • Preferably using an OSI-approved license
  • Follow Amazon Leadership Principles

slide announcing AWS promotional credits and stating three criteria. 1. preferably backed by a non-profit 2. preferably using an OSI approved license 3. Follow Amazon Leadership Principles

My intent was not to be provocative or attack any particular individuals. There are a lot of awesome people at AWS that are doing great things to move that cloud giant forward, but at the same time that is kinda the point. Why is it so hard to get AWS to dive deep into Open Source when their entire business is literally built off Open Source? It would be impossible for them to build AWS without it. 

Before I get into why these three bullet points kicked off a lengthy Twitter conversation I want to highlight a few things I believe would be an impactful announcement from AWS. AWS can and should be a behemoth of good in the Open Source community and sustainability.

  • Dedicate a % of revenue from a service back to the project that powers the service
    • Glue/Athena back to Presto
    • EMR to Apache Spark (and others)
    • Sagemaker to Sci-kit, Jupyter, Python, R, Pandas, and more
  • Deeper direct collaboration with projects
    • This is happening through Linux Foundation (yay!), but my suggestion is that any publicly available service that has paid developers supporting it should be upfront and collaborative with the project it is based on
  • Be direct with consumers about the Open Source projects
    • The Sagemaker landing page states that one can use notebooks, but this page can be enhanced with a Jupyter logo, link, and a simple statement “Proudly built using the Jupyter Open Source project”
  • Encourage and provide a method for their customers to support the underlying projects
    • ex. “Click here to provide X% or Y flat rate to Open Collective to support the underlying project"
  • Make Tidelift a clickable option for all AWS clients to grep a dependency tree and have an easy option to make the tree sustainable

The AWS cloud is the current premier place for cloud hosting and it should be a place wherein open source projects feel proud and honored to be hosted on. At the moment though many open source projects fear getting noticed by AWS sensing a risk of having their work be monetized through rebranding, masking, and ultimately a capture of the innovation created. To quote Andrew Leonard’s post:

AWS is striking at the Achilles’ heel of open source: lifting the work of others, and renting access to it.

I refuse to believe it has to be this way. 

Amazon can be a huge force for good and they have some pretty amazing folks on staff that are doing really good things. They joined the Linux Foundation, are part of the Core Infrastructure Initiative, and are contributing to Open Source - change is in the air and it’s being moved forward by some great folks. 

My lackluster response to the Promotional Credits boils down to one thing - it Is a short-term solution. The credits only last a year and there is no stated commitment from Amazon to these projects. We need long-term solutions. 

Well over a decade ago Drupal was in a position where it needed server resources to host the many things the project needed (code repos, automated testing, code scanning, code packaging, FTP uploads/downloads, the actual website, etc. etc.) - the OSUOSL stepped up and helped us out, but it wasn’t short-term help. They committed to us indefinitely as they were committed to Open Source and we still use them. (Support them! They are amazing!). 

This is a welcome addition and my intent is not to look a gift horse in the mouth. The credits are appreciated, but for a project to be successful a lot more is needed. A non-exhaustive list includes:  

  • Fellowships/funding for salaries of non-AWS employees
  • Development time
  • Documentation assistance 
  • Bug fixes, PRs, issue management, etc
  • Support in the issue queues 
  • Grants and Scholarships for community members
  • Innovation and thought leadership

Again, and I cannot emphasize this enough. The funding is appreciated. however, this is a multi-billion-dollar company that made 25.7 Billion on AWS services in 2018 alone - which is built on open source software. Of course, the talented team at AWS adds tremendous amounts of value on top of OSS through their data centers, expertise, connectivity, and interfaces, but they could not exist or be as profitable without open source.

During the conversation it became known that the three criteria might have been miscommunicated so I am not going to dwell on them for too long. In summary the points made in refutation are the following:

  • Preferably backed by a non-profit or foundation
    • This does not need to be a requirement AWS can work with Open Collective if a legal entity is needed.
    • A project should not need to setup a foundation just to receive hosting credits and those with their own stand-alone foundation are probably further along wherein they consider this a donation and not a life-line to help the out. 
  • Preferably using an OSI-approved license
    • Let’s just remove the word preferably here. If it’s Open Source it’s OSI approved. 
  • Follow Amazon Leadership Principles
    • This appears to be miscommunicated. The Slides stated that the project must follow the Amazon leadership Principles, but the program page states “The Amazon Leadership Principles will be used as the guiding light to select the projects”.
    • This is quite a bit different and I believe that Amazon did not intend to convey that they were forcing open source projects to adhere to their method of working. 
    • Despite the miscommunication perhaps Amazon could offer leadership training to Open Source projects similar to GSoC or provide major signal boosting and funding to the Community Leadership Summit

Wrapping this up

It’s been a day and I think it was a great conversation on Twitter with some really good folks. It’s encouraging to know that the company is listening, changing, and making progress. I want to signal boost and give thanks to the folks in the thread that are really rooting for major change (Arun Gupta, Matthew Wilson, Matt Asay) and participated in a good dialogue. I would like to see their work continue at an accelerated rate and hopefully see tighter collaboration with the projects they use and the broader ecosystem for which they depend upon. 

Amazon has the power, clout, and money to be a force for good and really shore up the foundations of open source. 


At his request I had a great conversation with Arun Gupta while at the conference. I appreciate him taking the time out of his day to discuss this matter and discuss things in the real world vs. the Twitterverse. I learned a lot about their model and how they are supporting including the number of project maintainers that have on staff, which a very major way that a company can support Open Source. They, like many others (including my own place of employment), have a lot of work to do and this is a journey. It's encouraging to hear that they do see a path for more involvement although there is clearly a lot more work to do. Hopefully we can keep these conversations up and work collectively in the broader Open Source ecosystem to find sustainability across our projects.