Snowflake pushes back at… whom?

In two recent blog posts (“Striking a balance with ‘open’ at Snowflake” and (“Where open helps and where it hurts”), Snowflake spent 6,064 words arguing a very simple concept: All software need not be open—open source, open standards, open APIs. It’s not a particularly objectionable argument and reflects the reality that while virtually all software includes open source code, most software isn’t licensed as open source. Snowflake, in other words, is safely within its rights to keep its software closed.

And yet the company clearly felt the need (twice) to justify its decision, reflecting the strong gravitational pull of open source, open standards, and open APIs, even when its customers don’t appear to be clamoring for them.

Open sourcing data

Nearly a decade ago, Cloudera Co-founder Mike Olson made a bold declaration: “No dominant platform-level software infrastructure has emerged in the last 10 years in closed source, proprietary form.” Olson was mostly correct. Splunk had emerged in that time and perhaps a few other examples, but, on balance, he was right.

Fast forward to 2021 and Olson’s pronouncement has remained pretty accurate with few exceptions. Snowflake is one of them. The company that bills itself as the data cloud company has managed to build a big business with a proprietary SaaS offering in an industry awash in exceptional open source data infrastructure like Apache Hadoop, Apache Arrow, Apache Spark, and more.

This perhaps reflects a more nuanced reality: Enterprises may intuitively want “open” but they place a bigger premium on “working.” This has been clear for years as companies have introduced managed services to make it easier to consume open source software or, in the case of companies like Fauna and Snowflake, provide managed services that aren’t based on open source at all. Getting both “open source” and “operationally easy” in the same service is the holy grail, but if enterprises must choose one, they’re going to pick the solution that is easiest for them. After all, a customer can turn to Apache Spark, Dremio, or any number of tools to build data warehouses or data lakes, yet thousands of customers spent roughly half a billion dollars with Snowflake last year.

So why is Snowflake defending a position that its customers seem to like?

Copyright © 2021 IDG Communications, Inc.

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