Open Source vs. Closed Source: The Managed Services Debate

Open Source vs. Closed Source: The Managed Services Debate

Open Source vs Closed Source Managed Services DebateWindows vs. Linux. Oracle vs. MySQL. Now, the closed source vs. open source debate is moving into the managed services market -- where a growing list of open source options are permiating the industry. But are we all asking the right questions amid the latest open- vs. closed-source debate? Or are we blinded by emotion?

Unfortunately, the open source industry is filled with "journalists" who typically defend open source at all costs. Loyal readers know I generally support open source (our latest media site, WorksWithU, focuses on Ubuntu Linux for business). But I certainly realize open and closed source have their merits.

And plenty of managed services experts are joing the debate. Pundits like Nimsoft CEO Gary Read say open source remote management tools can't match the scalability of their closed source alternatives. In stark contrast, entrepreneurs like CentralPointe CEO Mike Proper are building next-generation MSP and server systems entirely on open source.

So who's got the winning strategy: Gary Read or Mike Proper? Nimsoft or CentralPointe?

One Size Doesn't Fit All

My advice: Skip the emotional debates stirred up by the media. Focus instead on specific facts and your individual company needs. And look beyond the MSP market to see how the open- and closed-source industries are evolving.
  • Sometimes, a software solution will be a blend of open and closed source (SugarCRM running on SQL Server and Windows NT Server; Oracle running on Linux; and the list goes on).
  • Don't let anyone tell you open source (example: Linux) has killed closed source (example: Microsoft and Windows). Yes, Microsoft faces a range of challenges and I do believe their empire is in decline. But remember: Red Hat is the only publicly held company that focuses purely on open source solutions. And despite Red Hat's impressive gains, Microsoft's annual revenues are roughly 120 times larger than Red Hat's revenues.
  • Open source pundits talk a lot about the power of their online communities. But let's give equal time and credit to closed-source communities. PSA (professional services automation) software providers like Autotask and ConnectWise have massive, loyal, engaged online communities of their own.
  • Hyperic, an open source remote management tool provider, offers eight items to include in your software evaluation checklist. Some of them pertain specifically to open source. But I like the fact that most of the tips really have little to do with the open source vs. closed-source debate.
  • Check out the funding and business models associated with your potential open- and closed-source partners. For every GroundWork Open Source (which just received more funding), dozens of open source companies are struggling to attract investment dollars and customer service contracts.
  • Meet with management to see if they have the smarts -- and the focus -- to grow a software company in a down economy. Ask them if they need to raise more money to keep the company going. Grill them -- the same way a prospective customer would grill you.
Don't asked or worry about whether the solution is open source or closed source until the end of the conversation. At that point, you can use your personal preference (open or closed source) as a potential swing vote in case you're finding too difficult to choose between two solutions.

And most importantly, ignore passionate editors who evangelize open source at the expense of basic facts. And if MSPmentor begins to sound like an open source cheerleader, feel free to beat us up until we offer both sides of the debate.

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