Open Cloud: Open Source or Paid SaaS?
Marianna Mills is a freelance writer for the TeamWox collaboration software, who is also keen on music. When she is not writing, she enjoys photography, tennis and salsa dancing!
We’ve witnessed an increased interest in cloud services from both corporate clients and the public sector during the recent years. However, as with any emerging young market, there is an increasing number of various offers that are often very similar. Sometimes cloud products are marketed as free or open source cloud. Many clients feel that these are basically the same things, however, I beg to differ. The fight between open-source and paid platforms escalated recently and I decided to look into the matter and come up with the solution. Is there a place for unselfishness up there in the clouds?
Defining the Obvious: Free VS. Open-Source Cloud
One may argue that free and open-source are basically the same thing. True, but as Richard Stallman stated in his great article (Why Open Source Misses the Point of Free Software), these products “stand for views based on fundamentally different values”. What is open source? It is a software program that you are free to modify. What is a free piece of software? It is a product you get for zero money. I agree that open source today is essential for building a great internet-based platform, but should we all consider going completely open-source?
As a technology journalist Reuven Cohen wrote in one of his blog entries: “I enjoy both free speech and free beer, sometimes together.” This is completely relevant when we talk about modern open-source cloud platforms. There is nothing wrong with using open-source software for building your “cloud fortress”, but there should be serious advantages. Being totally free today is obviously not enough.
The Value of Free
SaaS stands for Software-as-a-Service. But where is service in open-source technologies? The value of any open source product is defined not by its initial features, but by its community. Users enrich its functions, they help to make software bigger, stronger and fancier than some of the proprietary products. However, no matter how great open source software is, it does not provide clients with the necessary service. There are other disadvantages: no deadlines for new versions (development can take years), no product fragmentation, and no big strategic goals.
Being free and open-sourced does not mean you will be able to save money. I’m not talking about additional maintenance costs from the client’s side, but about future growth. What if there’s suddenly not enough space for you in the cloud? What if the platform suddenly freezes and you lose half of your day’s sales? This is your money we’re talking about. Which brings me to my point – paying for a SaaS.
Pay Money to Save Money
Have a look at Gmail – it’s a free product and it’s not open source. Google provides it to anyone in the world. Then take any paid E-mail-service: it gives you the same functions but you have to pay for it. Why? Service.
Service gives you control. It gives you perspective, space and flexibility. When a user buys software from Microsoft, he pays for these things. He could easily use some open, free UNIX-platform and works with it, but than he will always stay alone with his technical problems. When a user goes for a paid SaaS-product, he doesn’t just buy a cloud platform to work with his clients and manage the database. He pays for the whole team of specialists, for user-friendliness, for ability to control the future of his own business.
IT analyst James Governor wrote: “Experience always comes before open.” Proprietary systems fulfill the client’s requirements better than open source products, especially when we grasp the broader situation. The market is very young and there’s still much we have to learn before we can go totally open source.
Recently North Bridge Venture Partners published the results of their annual Future of Cloud Computing Survey, which supported by 39 industry leaders and prominent startups. Among the main findings of this survey is the following statement: “Software as a service remains the primary type of cloud investment. 88% of contributors expect to use it five upcoming years.”
There you have it. The market has spoken. The majority of clients want to go into the cloud. They want to use its collaboration tools and processing powers. Therefore they use paid services, because they are more accessible to newcomers. When open source solutions will become as simple and reliable as paid cloud platforms, we will have something to talk about. But for now, don’t expect to get your business running on the cloud for free.