Enterprise acceptance of open source software has grown tremendously over the last few years. Few voices in the open source community complained about the newfound popularity, but maybe they didn’t know that hanging with the cool kids came with expectations.

It’s Just Business

Damien Katz, creator of NoSQL repository CouchDB, announced via his blog that he and members of his team are stepping away from the open source, community-managed Apache CouchDB project to focus on commercial venture Couchbase, formed in early 2011 when CouchOne and Membase merged. The announcement sparked criticism and a bit of outrage from supporters of open source.

According to Katz, his team will implement significant portions of the next version of Couchbase in C/C++ instead of Erlang to optimize the repository’s performance. (Since there is no such language, I’m assuming he means C++.) It is unlikely that such a major shift would have been approved with a community consensus approach to delivery.

The Apache Software Foundation has managed CouchDB since its inception. The product has several features like local replication and support for mobile development that propelled it to a leadership position in the NoSQL market. However, according to Katz, the project has outgrown the model,

And now, as it turns out, I have a chance to do it all again, without the pain of starting from scratch. Building on the previous Apache CouchDB and Membase projects, throwing out what didn't work, and strengthening what does, and advancing great technologies to make something that is developer friendly, high performance, designed for mission critical deployment and mobile integration, and can move faster and more responsively to users and customers needs than a community based project.”

Enterprise clients that have embraced CouchDB and desire to move to its shiny new offspring, Couchbase 2.0 might have a hard path to traverse: there does not appear to be a straight forward upgrade path. That’s a mistake. The NoSQL market is too new and too competitive for Couchbase to snub existing users. Some of those users might jump ship to another product since they have to endure a painful move anyway.

What This Means for NoSQL

The NoSQL market is growing up and ardent open source supporters will have to accept what that means. It’s great to write software for the “love of the game,” but competing in the enterprise market requires enterprise-level supportability, and honestly, that is difficult to achieve with a community-managed model that only moves forward by consensus of technical decision makers. The open source community cannot continue to thrive in the enterprise market without playing by enterprise rules. 

Katz’s move is not unlike what Yahoo! has done with its spinoff Hortonworks, which focuses on Hadoop. As the NoSQL market matures, we will see acquisitions and additional commercial entities emerge from open source roots in the NoSQL market. This is the reality of the software market, or as Katz said, it’s just business.