Welcome!

Apache Authors: Elizabeth White, Pat Romanski, Liz McMillan, Christopher Harrold, Janakiram MSV

Related Topics: @CloudExpo, Open Source Cloud

@CloudExpo: Article

Open Source Software License Obligations in Cloud Applications

Most software applications today incorporate some open source software directly or indirectly

The latest technology buzz, after the Internet, telecom, and mobile, is cloud computing. Hype or not, in various names and forms, cloud computing providers - platforms and applications alike - are counting on more than $40 billion in revenue in 2011 alone, growing to more than $241 billion in 2020, according to a recent report on "Sizing the Cloud" by Forrester Research.

Open Source Software in the Clouds
Most software applications today incorporate some open source software directly or indirectly (dynamically linked). Developer's resourcefulness, code reuse, and efficiencies of development make open source an attractive option for all technology organizations. Cloud applications are no exception and many applications deployed in clouds are either entirely open source (think OpenStack or OpenERP Server), or have a significant amount of open source in them. According to the "Future of Open Source Survey" released by Northbridge Venture Partners, there are now more than 470 open source projects targeting cloud computing.

The use of open source software in a cloud application is governed by certain obligations, usually contained in the associated open source license. Managing compliance with software licenses is like any other quality management process. A good quality assurance process makes sure that the deficiencies are discovered and corrected before a product is released to the market.

Once the market discovers a quality problem, correcting it could be costly. Until now, open source software license management has been more rigorously applied to products that were distributed in volume, such as desktop applications, networking devices, entertainment products or mobile devices. Ownership and licensing issues abound in the mass products domain - think Sony vs. LG, Apple vs. the world, Microsoft vs. Google, SFLC vs. Cisco/Linksys, SFLC vs. Samsung/Verizon, etc.

Cloud computing technology and platforms don't introduce new risks on their own, rather cloud-based software applications do. What separates a software application deployed in a cloud from other applications is that generally these applications are not distributed. They are perceived to be less visible from market scrutiny, and also don't fall under many of the obligations associated with copyleft licenses.

Open Source Licenses
The variety of licenses currently governing the use of open source software is extensive, with approximately 80 recognized by the Open Source Initiative (OSI). In reality, less than two dozen are exploited. Almost all open source licenses can be widely categorized into several varieties.

  • Public Domain licenses are basically free-for-all licenses you can do anything with (except sue the author).
  • Permissive licenses, such as MIT, BSD and Apache licenses are most common, as they can be modified and used in any open source or proprietary application as long as the attributions (copyright comments and the names of original authors/organizations) are not deleted.
  • Copyleft licenses have more or less protective (also referred to as restrictive) terms associated with them.
  • Weak copyleft licenses, including Eclipse Public License (EPL) and Mozilla Public License (MPL), allow modification and mixing of the open source code with proprietary code, as long as you make the non-modified open source code available somewhere on line and point to it in the documentation. LGPL (Lesser GPL) licenses are strongest in this category as they require modified code to be released in the source form (unless the application only links to the open source LGPL code and does not statically include it in the application).
  • Strong copyleft licenses, such as GPL version 2 and version 3, impact software that is distributed. Almost all of these licenses require software (using all or part of a copyleft open source software) be released under copyleft obligations (hence the term viral used for these licenses). Any proprietary code that is a modified version of the GPL code must also be made available in source form. GPLv3 specifically disallows use in its entirety or modified form in any DRM applications.

Alfero GPL and Cloud Applications
The Alfero version of the GPL (AGPL) license, issued by the Free Software Foundation in late 2007, goes one step further, extending the GPLv3 rules to applications that are not distributed. These include software developed mainly for in-house applications and software deployed in web services or cloud applications. Specifically, if the software deployed in a cloud application contains, in its entirety or modified form, any AGPL-licensed software, the source code for the entire running application must be made available to the community.

AGPL obligations, in summary, are the following:

  • Freedom of use - no license fee to use, modify, redistribute.
  • Copyleft - reciprocal usage and disclosure/permission requirements.
  • Source Code Provision requirement - source code must be provided with any distribution (propagation) of code (original and modified).
  • Modifications are allowed, but all modified files must have their source code freely available for use and modification by others.
  • Combination with other code is NOT permitted unless the other code is compatible or can be converted to GPL terms [copyleft].
  • Anti-Circumvention Protection - no code covered by GPLv3 may be included in or constrained by any anti-circumvention mechanism (technical or legal).
  • Software Patent License Grant - a software patent that is based in any part on GPLv3 code and distribute the product, you are deemed to grant a license to use, modify and redistribute that patent to all downstream users of the product.
  • "Tivo-ization" clause - if your product (that uses or is based around GPLv3 code) is bound by other licensing terms that are restrictive or otherwise incompatible with GPLv3, you may not convey (distribute) the product.

Certain versions of popular web applications such as SugerCRM, Launchpad and PHP-Fusion are licensed under AGPL.

Last Word...
Just like traditional software, it's important to know what is in your code as early as possible before it goes to market. As with all quality management processes, discovering your license obligations early in the development process reduces the cost and time spent fixing problems right before the product is released. Many cloud applications are not distributed, and therefore don't fall under obligations associated with many copyleft licenses, except the recent ones such as AGPL. To gain a clear understanding of third-party components and their license obligations a process must be put in place where external content is identified, tracked and managed. This can be done within a structured open source adoption process, either manually, or increasingly deploying automated tools.

More Stories By Lacey Thoms

Lacey Thoms is a marketing specialist and blogger at Protecode, a provider of open source license management solutions. During her time at Protecode, Lacey has written many articles on open source software management. She has a background in marketing communications, digital advertising, and web design and development. Lacey has a Bachelor’s Degree in Mass Communications from Carleton University.

Comments (0)

Share your thoughts on this story.

Add your comment
You must be signed in to add a comment. Sign-in | Register

In accordance with our Comment Policy, we encourage comments that are on topic, relevant and to-the-point. We will remove comments that include profanity, personal attacks, racial slurs, threats of violence, or other inappropriate material that violates our Terms and Conditions, and will block users who make repeated violations. We ask all readers to expect diversity of opinion and to treat one another with dignity and respect.


IoT & Smart Cities Stories
The best way to leverage your Cloud Expo presence as a sponsor and exhibitor is to plan your news announcements around our events. The press covering Cloud Expo and @ThingsExpo will have access to these releases and will amplify your news announcements. More than two dozen Cloud companies either set deals at our shows or have announced their mergers and acquisitions at Cloud Expo. Product announcements during our show provide your company with the most reach through our targeted audiences.
Machine Learning helps make complex systems more efficient. By applying advanced Machine Learning techniques such as Cognitive Fingerprinting, wind project operators can utilize these tools to learn from collected data, detect regular patterns, and optimize their own operations. In his session at 18th Cloud Expo, Stuart Gillen, Director of Business Development at SparkCognition, discussed how research has demonstrated the value of Machine Learning in delivering next generation analytics to impr...
The challenges of aggregating data from consumer-oriented devices, such as wearable technologies and smart thermostats, are fairly well-understood. However, there are a new set of challenges for IoT devices that generate megabytes or gigabytes of data per second. Certainly, the infrastructure will have to change, as those volumes of data will likely overwhelm the available bandwidth for aggregating the data into a central repository. Ochandarena discusses a whole new way to think about your next...
The hierarchical architecture that distributes "compute" within the network specially at the edge can enable new services by harnessing emerging technologies. But Edge-Compute comes at increased cost that needs to be managed and potentially augmented by creative architecture solutions as there will always a catching-up with the capacity demands. Processing power in smartphones has enhanced YoY and there is increasingly spare compute capacity that can be potentially pooled. Uber has successfully ...
Chris Matthieu is the President & CEO of Computes, inc. He brings 30 years of experience in development and launches of disruptive technologies to create new market opportunities as well as enhance enterprise product portfolios with emerging technologies. His most recent venture was Octoblu, a cross-protocol Internet of Things (IoT) mesh network platform, acquired by Citrix. Prior to co-founding Octoblu, Chris was founder of Nodester, an open-source Node.JS PaaS which was acquired by AppFog and ...
The deluge of IoT sensor data collected from connected devices and the powerful AI required to make that data actionable are giving rise to a hybrid ecosystem in which cloud, on-prem and edge processes become interweaved. Attendees will learn how emerging composable infrastructure solutions deliver the adaptive architecture needed to manage this new data reality. Machine learning algorithms can better anticipate data storms and automate resources to support surges, including fully scalable GPU-c...
Predicting the future has never been more challenging - not because of the lack of data but because of the flood of ungoverned and risk laden information. Microsoft states that 2.5 exabytes of data are created every day. Expectations and reliance on data are being pushed to the limits, as demands around hybrid options continue to grow.
JETRO showcased Japan Digital Transformation Pavilion at SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo® at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. The Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) is a non-profit organization that provides business support services to companies expanding to Japan. With the support of JETRO's dedicated staff, clients can incorporate their business; receive visa, immigration, and HR support; find dedicated office space; identify local government subsidies; get...
René Bostic is the Technical VP of the IBM Cloud Unit in North America. Enjoying her career with IBM during the modern millennial technological era, she is an expert in cloud computing, DevOps and emerging cloud technologies such as Blockchain. Her strengths and core competencies include a proven record of accomplishments in consensus building at all levels to assess, plan, and implement enterprise and cloud computing solutions. René is a member of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) and a m...
With 10 simultaneous tracks, keynotes, general sessions and targeted breakout classes, @CloudEXPO and DXWorldEXPO are two of the most important technology events of the year. Since its launch over eight years ago, @CloudEXPO and DXWorldEXPO have presented a rock star faculty as well as showcased hundreds of sponsors and exhibitors! In this blog post, we provide 7 tips on how, as part of our world-class faculty, you can deliver one of the most popular sessions at our events. But before reading...