Is Maintaining Open Source Software Economically Viable for Your Business?

Business owners and companies who choose to use open source software usually do so because open source solutions promise significant savings; this might be true. However, open-source solutions can end up costing more in the long run for maintenance purposes.

 Companies preparing to take the plunge into the wonderful world of open source software should answer the following questions before choosing an open-source solution:

Who’s going to maintain your software installation?

Open-source software options are alluring because it’s cheap to obtain and requires minimal start-up costs. Just because it’s cheap to get started, doesn’t mean these savings will be consistent in the future. So many things can happen after the software is up and running. It pays in spades to consider the possibility of future complications. After all, change is the only constant when it comes to business and technology. Company dynamics can change; IT personnel can change too. If team members leave, open-source software could be orphaned.
Investing in appropriate training for personnel and never rely too heavily on one team member. Doing so can be a costly mistake. Businesses that choose to utilize open source technology must always be aware of ensuring a continued ability to maintain software.

Who’s handling support services for open source solutions?

Maintenance is one aspect of the triune requirements of open source solutions. Most open-source software requires support, subscriptions, and maintenance. Paid software options typically include this in the price of the software.
Of course, many companies offer several different versions of support. Choosing an opensource solution means you’ll be handling support issues in-house. The software may not cost the business a dime, but the business must ensure that in-house resources have the capability of handling most software maintenance issues. It’s important to note that some major open source projects do offer support subscriptions for a fee. If this is the case, it would be a wise decision to opt for paying for support.

Who’s going to handle software updates?

Is there a plan in place to designate someone to keep up with software updates, bugs, and fixes? What if something goes wrong? Who’s handling backups and restorations? These are things to consider long before a problem occurs; the chances are good that something will go wrong at some point.
Again, training for personnel is a crucial factor in making opensource software a cost-effective solution. There are numerous support forums with fixes, solutions, and tutorials that can cover many problems IT might encounter, but having a certain level of skill is necessary to make using open source solutions worthwhile.
Additionally, before downloading opensource software, check out the site’s forums and blogs. Are they open to providing support, or do people who ask questions repeatedly get flamed or ignored? Forums are indicative of the level of help available should a problem occur.

Who’s in charge of keeping the code updated?

One of the biggest selling points for using open source software is having the ability to modify the code to meet company needs. Of course, these modifications must be coded into future updates. Is there someone ready and willing to handle this?
Companies should also consider the complexity of the software before making changes. Having one staff member change code and expecting others to fix issues or add the code to newer versions of the software can seem next to impossible when the task must be done right then.
Before changing any code, the following should be considered:

Contribute to the Open Source Community

Don’t make any massive changes to code without considering contributing the code back to the community. Having these incorporated into newer versions can save companies time and future headaches if future modifications are necessary.

Determine if Maintaining the Code is Realistic

If an organization has the right people with the right skills, investing in open source can be a win-win situation for everyone. If that isn’t the case, then choosing open source can lead to a financial disaster.
Essentially, before using an opensource solution, it’s best to understand the software and its complexity. Without an adequate understanding, it’s easy to run into problems and the need to fix these issues with more expensive solutions. Avoiding this scenario altogether is the best bet. Consider the total costs involved in using an opensource software solution before you choose to run with this option.

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