This startup is giving away all its database software for free as open source, and it says it's not afraid of Oracle or Amazon

This startup is giving away all its database software for free as open source, and it says it's not afraid of Oracle or Amazon

yb founders


YugaByte cofounders Mikhail Bautin, Karthik Ranganathan, and Kannan Muthukkaruppan

  • On Tuesday, YugaByte announced it will make the entirety of the code behind its database software available as free open source, including features that customers previously paid for.
  • This is the reverse of the trend created by companies like Redis Labs, MongoDB and Confluent, which added more restrictions to how their software can be used after vendors like Amazon and Alibaba started selling their software on their cloud.
  • YugaByte also announced that its database management software will be under a Polyform Project license - a new type of source-available license authored by a group of open source licensing lawyers. That makes YugaByte the first to adopt a Polyform license.
  • Even though other companies have made defensive moves against Amazon to protect their business, the YugaByte co-founders explain why they're not worried about Amazon.
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The co-founders of the open-source startup YugaByte have been working in the database business since the early 1990s. Now, the team is working on an open-source database to challenge Oracle, the reigning champion in the database market - and it's bucking a trend in the open-source software world to do it.

YugaByte develops a database that's designed to run applications that are both cloud-based and more traditional - spanning the worlds of legacy IT and more modern cloud-native development. So far, it's raised $24 million from the likes of Dell Technologies Capital and Lightspeed Venture Partners to fund its approach.

That database is also based on open source software, or software that's free for anyone to use, download, or modify. Similarly, other companies like MongoDB, Redis Labs, CockroachDB, and Confluent built their businesses on open source software. But as cloud providers like Amazon started packaging up this open source software and selling it on their cloud, these companies pushed back by adding restrictions to how their software can be used.

YugaByte, on the other hand, announced Tuesday that it will make its database open source under the Apache 2.0 license, which means the code is completely free for anyone to use, download, modify, or distribute. YugaByte's previously commercial features, which customers had to pay to use, are similarly available for free under this scheme.


"We have already seen a lot of database companies change their licenses, but if you boil down to the gist of it, they ended up making their databases less open," Karthik Ranganathan, co-founder and CTO of YugaByte, told Business Insider. "The database is less open and less community friendly than before. At YugaByte, we have taken a 100% opposite step."

Although YugaByte is giving away its database for free, it plans to make money by charging for services: For paying customers, YugaByte will package its database up into a version designed to make it easy to run in the cloud. YugaByte will also maintain the database, monitor it for errors, and provide other customer support, so long as you're paid up.

Here's the rub, though: Previously, the management software that made all those premium features possible was run on code that was considered proprietary and closed.

Now, though, it will be handled under a brand-new type of software licensing agreement, authored by the Polyform Project - a team of open source licensing lawyers, including Heather Meeker, an attorney and prominent figure in helping MongoDB and the others in their defensive action against the major cloud providers.

Read more: Meet the programmer-turned-drummer-turned-lawyer who's helping open source startups stand their ground against Amazon's cloud amid a 'clash of ideologies'


In so doing, YugaByte will become the first company to use a Polyform license - at least, the first that's gone public about it. Specifically, YugaByte plans to use the Polyform Project's free-trial-only license. This means that the code is available for users to use and modify during the course of an evaluation period of the software, but may not distribute any changes they make.

"I'm thrilled that developers are seeing the value of this," Meeker told Business Insider. "It's something we put a lot of effort into based on market demand."

'World class people'

Kannan Muthukkaruppan, CEO and co-founder of YugaByte, spent his time at Facebook, which was "essentially bursting at the seams in terms of infrastructure scaling." There, he met YugaByte co-founders Ranganathan and Mikhail Bautin, who also worked on the social network's database infrastructure.

"We believe we can take the learning, our own learning, having worked at the scale of Facebook and deliver these solutions to the enterprise," Muthukkaruppan told Business Insider.

Together, the co-founders worked to create a new database. Since it was available as open source, the project was able to quickly spread in popularity and pick up updates from the contributions of coders who use it.


"These are world class people who have built the most skilled data products in the world," Ravi Mhatre, founder and managing director of Lightspeed Venture Partners, told Business Insider. "It's just exciting to see them take on the challenge which is to build a next generation, any time, anywhere, very scalable database. If they're successful, it's going to change the database industry."

The Polyform Project

YugaByte is now becoming a pioneer in the ongoing battle of open-source licensing agreements.

The Polyform Project was started by a group of lawyers who wanted to create standardized source-available licenses - that is, licenses that allow people to view the code for free, but has restrictions on how they can use the code.

Notably, they're not open-source licenses, which gives these companies the legal basis to place limitations on how their code can be used. That's important, because under terms like the popular Apache or MIT licenses, Amazon or anybody else is free to take code and use it however they'd like, even packaging it up and selling it, with no limitations.

Heather Meeker 100 list

Heather Meeker

Heather Meeker, open source licensing lawyer


MongoDB, Redis Labs, and Confluent have created their own licenses, considered "source-available," rather than "open source." That is to say, while developers can largely view and modify the code to such software, there are limitations on how that code can be distributed that keep it from being considered truly open source.

The Polyform Project intends to standardize such source-available licenses, using plain language that's easy for any prospective customer or developer to understand. The idea is to make these licenses more palatable to would-be users, who may be more familiar with traditional open source licenses.

"The Polyform Project has been the result of hard work by a lot of people," Meeker said."It's a really high quality product that we can feel comfortable using. The main thing they'll have to get comfortable with is plain language style."

'Knock yourself out, go to Amazon'

Still, all of that only applies to YugaByte's management platform. The core YugaByte database will be available as conventional open source - which raises the possibility that Amazon or another major cloud provider could take its code and sell it from their own platforms, which is something that's happened to many other open source startups.

However, Ranganathan says he's not worried.


"If you trust us, you will come to our cloud," Ranganathan said. "If you want a cheap place to run something, you might choose to go to Amazon, and it will not monetizable for us in the first place. Knock yourself out, go to Amazon."

If that were to happen, Ranganathan acknowledges that yes, there will be customers who still choose to go to Amazon for the convenience, but there will also be customers who care about the latest features and go to YugaByte.

"It is not possible to do a 100% value capture on open source," Ranganathan said. "That's what makes open source so awesome for the end customer. Competition gives the end user the best experience."

Chef and Cloudera also recently announced they are making their software available as open source.

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