Open Source sounds incredible. It’s free. You can try it before you purchase anything. You don’t need to pay for support. It adheres to open standards. No vendor lock-in.
That’s all good and well, but is Open Source right for you?
If you’ve spent any time at all researching Open Source versus other proprietary software, you’ve probably discovered that there are two very distinct ideologies behind this world. While some shout Open Source, others scoff at the very idea.
That said, even the information technology world isn’t so black and white. The shoe is not one size fits all.
If you’re considering Open Source, be sure to do your homework. Avoid being naively lured into the near zero cost of acquiring the software and look instead to the potentially large total cost of ownership that may be lurking around the corner.
While this article’s purpose is not meant to dissuade you from choosing Open Source, it is meant to inform you of some potential red flags that are often overlooked by businesses and entrepreneurs in the market for software solutions. Let’s dive into the 5 red flags that suggest Open Source isn’t right for you.
1. You don’t have a strong support team
While Open Source software can be easy to learn, it’s not necessarily easy to maintain throughout customizations, updates, and patches. Maintenance and attention is required to properly manage an Open Source environment. Businesses need to look to in-house administrative teams to handle this maintenance due to inconsistent support found within the Open Source community – as with many things, some vendors are better and more equipped to support your environment than others.
The burden to manage your customization and integration needs as time goes on will fall, in large part, on your in-house team. Solving technical problems can be quite the challenge if you don’t have the right team in place. If you don’t staff an in-house support team that’s ready to shoulder the burden at all, you’ll need to seek out an enterprise-level support team to take on the burden.
2. You don’t have resources to train
As you customize and upgrade your Open Source software, you’ll need to keep in mind that your teams on staff need to be thoroughly trained and ramped up to support this software and maintain the code. This requires thoughtful and education onboarding and training programs. What would happen if your top employees went on vacation or decided to leave the team? If such a situation would occur, you would need to be incredibly prepared to have the next team members ready to step in and take over. If your company isn’t positioned well to train employees through turnover, vacation time, or to put out any fires as they arise – proprietary software with vendor support built-in could be the safest option.
3. You don’t have financial flexibility
Teenagers and young 20-somethings often find that it’s more cost effective to lease a new car than it is to purchase an old one. Why is this the case? Simple – while rickety old cars have the allure of a one time payment, and very minimal monthly fees (as opposed to an expensive lease), the chances of the car needing unexpected and pricey maintenance is exponentially higher than that of a new car. It’s easy for young people to plan for a set monthly cost than it is for them to plan for horribly expensive maintenance on an old car.
If your business isn’t financially stable enough to handle unexpected maintenance costs for Open Source software, you might not be ready to go Open Source. While you may save money initially opting for Open Source, your costs to maintain it will skyrocket when you consider how much you’ll need to pay to hire a support team or third party vendor to manage your infrastructure and customize it to your needs.
4. You’re not interested in getting roped in
One of the major reasons that businesses choose Open Source is because they liked the idea that they could avoid feeling trapped with a certain vendor like IBM. The truth – while you might successfully avoid roping yourself into a relationship with one particular vendor, you still end up investing a huge amount of time, energy, and money into building and supporting your Open Source apps in every capacity. For some tech-oriented businesses, this poses no issue as they have the bandwidth and skillset to marry themselves to their apps. This isn’t the case for every business. IBM, Oracle, Microsoft, and all the ‘majors’ have teams whose sole job is supporting their customers use of their software. Most Open Source vendors just write the software, and offer very limited support afterwards.
5. You need something out of the box
While there are some ‘canned’ Open Source solutions, most companies that opt for Open Source build their own solutions out on the platforms. If you need a canned solution, or COTS (Commercial, off the shelf software), Open Source may fall short.
According to Miles Roty, VP of Services and Support at TxMQ, a premier IBM Business Partner, customers often choose Open Source because they aren’t aware that vendors like IBM offer extremely cost effective alternatives, like WebSphere Liberty, to Open Source. According to Roty, “Liberty is a free web application server, with the same code base as the full WebSphere application servicer, IBM’s enterprise grade app server”.
6. You need fires put out quickly
When you have an Open Source environment, you lack a vendor to rely on when you really need them most. A major benefit of proprietary software is that they offer custom-fitting support options to their customers who require all hands on deck to put out fires instantaneously as they arise. Rather than submitting a support question in a forum that may never receive an answer, your vendor may offer built-in support to solve your issues within your agreed upon service level agreement (SLA). Of course, you’ll pay more for that perfect support package, but if your bottom line depends on your software functioning at all times, you’ll want to make sure you have all your I’s dotted and t’s crossed if the time comes that you need a technical hand.
7. You require product stability
Proprietary software is, by nature, more stable than Open Source. This is not to say that your Open Source environment can’t be stable – it most certainly can. But if you’re a business in need of something that absolutely must, without question, be stable, proprietary software is worth some exploring. Software vendors are wired to try and pull you into a long and prosperous relationship with them. Perhaps this is the very reason you’d like to steer clear of proprietary software, but it might also be the reason you should explore it further. Support plans, clear-cut roadmaps for upgrades and patches – propriety software generally shows greater stability than Open Source.
8. You’re trying to save money
Open Source is “open” but it’s not necessarily “free”. While Open Source may lure you in for its zero cost upfront – it will cost you down the line. You will pay for maintenance support, patches, integrations, upgrades and more hidden fees throughout the years. If you’re only looking at Open Source because you think it will cost you less and save a few dimes here and there, rethink your justification. Truly do your homework and evaluate whether you can afford the time, energy, and resources that need to be allocated to standing up and maintaining a successful and healthy Open Source environment.
Wrapping it up
Open Source is a great option for businesses that have the skills in-house to manage and maintain their environments. That said, there are several technical aspects of Open Source that must be strategically factored into both business and financial plans before determining whether or not it’s safe to opt for Open Source. So look before you leap, and make sure you have a full understanding of the options, alternatives, and hidden costs before making your software choices.
Bio: Eden Fried is a full-time freelance writer and online marketer for EdenFried.com. In early 2016, she gave up her potential legal career when she bailed on law school to start writing full time. Eden frequently blogs on topics related to technology, careers and lifestyle. When she’s not at work, you can find Eden at the gym throwing around some weights, or at home, snuggled up to a good book.