Amazon DocumentDB vs. MongoDB – Simplicity vs. Complexity

Amazon Web Services is making a habit of disrupting smaller enterprise software vendors. At its re:Invent conference, AWS caused quite a bit of pearl-clutching in various open source communities for its managed Apache Kafka service. The company was accused of strip-mining open source while failing to contribute back to the communities it was appropriating software from.

Last week, AWS went further by announcing a new DBMS with a MongoDB-compatible API (based on the 3.6 version). MongoDB responded predictably, but the Amazon DocumentDB announcement didn’t trigger the same reaction from the OSS community. I imagine there’s far less sympathy for MongoDB after it relicensed as a proprietary product. There have been several takes about what AWS’ announcement means for open source software, but I believe those miss the point. The point isn’t about open source. The point is about delivering what customers value and what they don’t.

The majority simply don’t value open source. In certain cases, customers value their relationships with the vendor, but only when the vendor is an engineering partner instead of merely a rent-seeker. However, those instances are exceedingly rare. Customers don’t value operational opacity and complexity, especially for technologies with extremely limited skills available in the market.

Amazon Web Services hasn’t capitalized on open source software. It has capitalized on customer demand for removing complexity. Kafka and MongoDB won’t be the last OSS projects to get blindsided by the cloud providers. I can think of at least two other “open core” enterprise software companies with overly complex products that end users would love to have someone else manage.