Welcome!

Eclipse Authors: Mano Marks, Liz McMillan, JP Morgenthal, Yeshim Deniz, Elizabeth White

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.


@ThingsExpo Stories
Internet of @ThingsExpo, taking place June 6-8, 2017 at the Javits Center in New York City, New York, is co-located with the 20th International Cloud Expo and will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world. @ThingsExpo New York Call for Papers is now open.
In the next five to ten years, millions, if not billions of things will become smarter. This smartness goes beyond connected things in our homes like the fridge, thermostat and fancy lighting, and into heavily regulated industries including aerospace, pharmaceutical/medical devices and energy. “Smartness” will embed itself within individual products that are part of our daily lives. We will engage with smart products - learning from them, informing them, and communicating with them. Smart produc...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Catchpoint, a leading digital experience intelligence company, has been named “Silver Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 20th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Catchpoint Systems is a leading Digital Performance Analytics company that provides unparalleled insight into your customer-critical services to help you consistently deliver an amazing customer experience. Designed for digital business, C...
More and more brands have jumped on the IoT bandwagon. We have an excess of wearables – activity trackers, smartwatches, smart glasses and sneakers, and more that track seemingly endless datapoints. However, most consumers have no idea what “IoT” means. Creating more wearables that track data shouldn't be the aim of brands; delivering meaningful, tangible relevance to their users should be. We're in a period in which the IoT pendulum is still swinging. Initially, it swung toward "smart for smart...
WebRTC sits at the intersection between VoIP and the Web. As such, it poses some interesting challenges for those developing services on top of it, but also for those who need to test and monitor these services. In his session at WebRTC Summit, Tsahi Levent-Levi, co-founder of testRTC, reviewed the various challenges posed by WebRTC when it comes to testing and monitoring and on ways to overcome them.
The emerging Internet of Everything creates tremendous new opportunities for customer engagement and business model innovation. However, enterprises must overcome a number of critical challenges to bring these new solutions to market. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Michael Martin, CTO/CIO at nfrastructure, outlined these key challenges and recommended approaches for overcoming them to achieve speed and agility in the design, development and implementation of Internet of Everything solutions with...
Every successful software product evolves from an idea to an enterprise system. Notably, the same way is passed by the product owner's company. In his session at 20th Cloud Expo, Oleg Lola, CEO of MobiDev, will provide a generalized overview of the evolution of a software product, the product owner, the needs that arise at various stages of this process, and the value brought by a software development partner to the product owner as a response to these needs.
In 2014, Amazon announced a new form of compute called Lambda. We didn't know it at the time, but this represented a fundamental shift in what we expect from cloud computing. Now, all of the major cloud computing vendors want to take part in this disruptive technology. In his session at 20th Cloud Expo, John Jelinek IV, a web developer at Linux Academy, will discuss why major players like AWS, Microsoft Azure, IBM Bluemix, and Google Cloud Platform are all trying to sidestep VMs and containers...
SYS-CON Events announced today that MobiDev, a client-oriented software development company, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 20th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY, and the 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place October 31-November 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. MobiDev is a software company that develops and delivers turn-key mobile apps, websites, web services, and complex softw...
Smart Cities are here to stay, but for their promise to be delivered, the data they produce must not be put in new siloes. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Mathias Herberts, Co-founder and CTO of Cityzen Data, discussed the best practices that will ensure a successful smart city journey.
Technology vendors and analysts are eager to paint a rosy picture of how wonderful IoT is and why your deployment will be great with the use of their products and services. While it is easy to showcase successful IoT solutions, identifying IoT systems that missed the mark or failed can often provide more in the way of key lessons learned. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Peter Vanderminden, Principal Industry Analyst for IoT & Digital Supply Chain to Flatiron Strategies, will focus on how IoT depl...
Big Data, cloud, analytics, contextual information, wearable tech, sensors, mobility, and WebRTC: together, these advances have created a perfect storm of technologies that are disrupting and transforming classic communications models and ecosystems. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Erik Perotti, Senior Manager of New Ventures on Plantronics’ Innovation team, provided an overview of this technological shift, including associated business and consumer communications impacts, and opportunities it m...
Manufacturers are embracing the Industrial Internet the same way consumers are leveraging Fitbits – to improve overall health and wellness. Both can provide consistent measurement, visibility, and suggest performance improvements customized to help reach goals. Fitbit users can view real-time data and make adjustments to increase their activity. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Mark Bernardo Professional Services Leader, Americas, at GE Digital, discussed how leveraging the Industrial Internet and...
"Tintri was started in 2008 with the express purpose of building a storage appliance that is ideal for virtualized environments. We support a lot of different hypervisor platforms from VMware to OpenStack to Hyper-V," explained Dan Florea, Director of Product Management at Tintri, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 18th Cloud Expo, held June 7-9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY.
There will be new vendors providing applications, middleware, and connected devices to support the thriving IoT ecosystem. This essentially means that electronic device manufacturers will also be in the software business. Many will be new to building embedded software or robust software. This creates an increased importance on software quality, particularly within the Industrial Internet of Things where business-critical applications are becoming dependent on products controlled by software. Qua...
Fact is, enterprises have significant legacy voice infrastructure that’s costly to replace with pure IP solutions. How can we bring this analog infrastructure into our shiny new cloud applications? There are proven methods to bind both legacy voice applications and traditional PSTN audio into cloud-based applications and services at a carrier scale. Some of the most successful implementations leverage WebRTC, WebSockets, SIP and other open source technologies. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Da...
A critical component of any IoT project is what to do with all the data being generated. This data needs to be captured, processed, structured, and stored in a way to facilitate different kinds of queries. Traditional data warehouse and analytical systems are mature technologies that can be used to handle certain kinds of queries, but they are not always well suited to many problems, particularly when there is a need for real-time insights.
In his General Session at 16th Cloud Expo, David Shacochis, host of The Hybrid IT Files podcast and Vice President at CenturyLink, investigated three key trends of the “gigabit economy" though the story of a Fortune 500 communications company in transformation. Narrating how multi-modal hybrid IT, service automation, and agile delivery all intersect, he will cover the role of storytelling and empathy in achieving strategic alignment between the enterprise and its information technology.
IoT is at the core or many Digital Transformation initiatives with the goal of re-inventing a company's business model. We all agree that collecting relevant IoT data will result in massive amounts of data needing to be stored. However, with the rapid development of IoT devices and ongoing business model transformation, we are not able to predict the volume and growth of IoT data. And with the lack of IoT history, traditional methods of IT and infrastructure planning based on the past do not app...
WebRTC is bringing significant change to the communications landscape that will bridge the worlds of web and telephony, making the Internet the new standard for communications. Cloud9 took the road less traveled and used WebRTC to create a downloadable enterprise-grade communications platform that is changing the communication dynamic in the financial sector. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Leo Papadopoulos, CTO of Cloud9, discussed the importance of WebRTC and how it enables companies to focus o...