How to Choose the Best Open Source Software

Open source software

Open source software can bring many benefits to businesses.

The term “open source” refers to software that is designed and built to be publicly available, so that people may use, modify or share it as needed. This means that anyone can access and modify the source code – the engine room of the software.

One of the big advantages that draws people to open source software is that it is free. If I can use LibreOffice to create documents and presentations for free, why should I pay for Microsoft Office?

There are actually several advantages and disadvantages to using open source software in your business, so it’s important to weigh these up. If you’re making the decision to go with open source software, do so knowing how to make the best choices. Let’s take a closer look:

Free download: Get our checklist for choosing open source software

The risks and advantages of open source software

Advantages of open source software

  • There are usually no or very few licensing fees. Open source software can also be installed on unlimited machines or devices, as opposed to limits set by licensing agreements.
  • Saves companies time and money by providing software that is ready to use. (You don’t have to spend months creating a proprietary code).
  • Open source means many experienced people have had access to code the software and fix bugs. This can also mean rapid fixes if anything goes wrong – you don’t have to wait for the next release from a software company.
  • You can customize open source software for your own needs. For example, you might create your own plugins or mix and match features to suit.
  • It tends to have good longevity. Anyone can access it so it is evolving continuously to suit current conditions.
  • Any security issues tend to be fixed promptly due to so many people being available to take care of them. (Sometimes you will wait a long time for vulnerabilities in licensed software to be fixed).
Open source software

Disadvantages of open source software

  • Sometimes the GUI (Graphical User Interface – the bit you use on the front-end) is not particularly user-friendly. Many open source software focus on getting some kind of big job done, not so much on the interface.
  • You probably won’t have great support. Licensed softwares often have 24/7 support desks in case you have the need. There are forums for open source software which can be very helpful, but you’re still going to wait.
  • With anyone able to access the source code, there is a chance that some people with malicious intentions might do so, creating security vulnerabilities.
  • If you are reliant on open source software and there is a problem that needs immediate fixing, you may find that you need to pay considerable amounts to developers to get the issue fixed yourself.

Open source software can be a time and money saver, but not without potential risk Click To Tweet

Tips for choosing open source software

If you’ve decided to go for open source software, or any other kind of software, the first thing we would do is make a list of all of your requirements that need to be met. This will help you to choose or eliminate options. Does it already have, or can you add the features that you need?

Once you have a short list of open source software options, here are a few things we would look for:

The track record or reputation of whoever is behind it

What do reviews say about the software? Who founded it and what is their background? Do they have a good track record for keeping open source projects going?

Sometimes people offload their open source projects or simply cease to work on them. That might be fine with you if you have the expertise to keep it going, but you will probably find all upkeep is now on you.

One clue that the software will probably be available and maintained into the future is if a company has developed a tool for in-house use, then opened it up. If they’re still using it in-house, then it’s probably here for the longer-term.

The security protocols and vulnerabilities

Look for regular updates to the software – what version is running and how long has it been going? Look for the last stable version. There is virtually no software that is without bugs, so if Version 1.0 is still in use a few months after launch, there’s a good chance that issues aren’t being picked up, or at least aren’t being fixed.

You’re looking for clear evidence of ongoing effort, that is, unless you’re quite happy to pick up the package as-is and deal with any bugs in-house. Given that you can access the source code, this option is available to you.

Your company has the skill set to deploy and maintain the software

One of the cons of open source software is that you don’t usually have readily-available support. You can turn to forums, but there is no one there waiting to answer support questions, unlike licensed, proprietary software.

This means that open source software is best deployed in a company that has the available skill set to maintain it themselves. What if you were reliant on the software for critical activities in your business? You need to have any issues fixed as soon as possible.

There are active communities

If a software is popular and has active communities around it, then it will be more likely that it is maintained. You’ll find that if it’s not the original developers, other groups of core users will take over maintenance.

You’re looking for regular contributors – if the software has not been updated in a long time, then there’s a good chance it’s about to die.

An active support community is also a very good sign. Look at popular open source software such as WordPress (which now powers at least 30% of websites) – there are huge communities around it and constant flow of information. While your choice of software might not be as big, you still need to see an engaged community.

Good documentation and clean coding

It’s always helpful to have clear documentation to help with implementing and maintaining the software. Documentation is also a good sign that the software project is being taken seriously and is intended to continue.

You should also examine the code base for the software (or get someone with the right experience to check it). You’re looking for clean coding that has clearly been well thought-out. This is a good indication that seasoned professionals are behind the software and that it has the potential to be maintained in-house.

Open source software

Have an open source policy

If your company is going to use open source software, it’s a good idea to implement an open source policy. This helps to ensure that everyone understands how and when open source software is to be used. Having a policy helps you to maximize the benefits of open source software by enabling employees to use it effectively.

Your policy for open source software should also tackle how you will minimize any associated risk. Companies are often concerned with the implications, should anything go wrong with the software. You might include a risk assessment, using some of the key disadvantages outlined here as a starting point.

You should also clearly identify key stakeholders and outline your strategy for how open source software is selected, used and maintained. Make sure you have buy-in from all key stakeholders.

Get our checklist for choosing open source software here

Final thoughts

Open source software can be a real gift to businesses, helping them to save into the hundreds of thousands of dollars, and a whole lot of time on proprietary development. Open source gives you access to all sorts of features and to improvements made by developers from all over the world.

Of course, the nature of open source means that it also comes with risks. It’s important to weigh up the risks and benefits, and establish criteria for assessing possible software choices. Lastly, establish a policy for open source software in your company. This helps to ensure orderly selection, implementation and maintenance.

What Are You Getting From Your Web Hosting Provider?

Web hosting

What are you really getting when you hire a web hosting provider?

If you’ve ever tried a Google search for hosting, you would have found that you get inundated with results. Some sound cheap, some sound expensive and some you may not understand exactly what it is that they’re selling.

There are different types of web hosting and this can reflect in the price and what is included. It’s important to know what you’re looking at – which type of hosting will be the best fit for your needs?

Here is a breakdown of types of hosting and what they commonly include:

Free download: Get our checklist for finding a website host here

Types of web hosting

Website hosting can take many forms depending on your level of expertise, or the level of need that your website has. “Hosting” is simply the task of making a website available for visitors to use. This is done by storing the files of the associated website on a server.

Big companies with complex needs might use many of their own exclusive servers – think of a bank, for example. Small companies or hobby websites might pay for space on a “shared server”, where a hosting company manages it.

Shared hosting

Shared hosting is at the very basic end of website hosting options. It’s usually one of the cheapest (sometimes even free) and is widely available. It works by having many websites rent space on the same server – sometimes there may be into the thousands of small websites on a server.

This type of hosting tends to be best for entry-level websites, such as blogs or small hobby sites. The positives for using this type of hosting is that the technical side is taken care of and that the cost is reduced considerably. Many websites on one server means that the cost to run that server is shared among the customers.

There are some major limitations that go with shared hosting, meaning that this is not a great option for many businesses. For example, shared resources equate to sharing the RAM (Random Access Memory) and CPU (Central Processing Unit) of the server. If some users of the server experience a sudden surge in traffic, this can lead to major delays in processing speed for everyone, or sometimes even websites going offline. Picture a major sale event, such as Cyber Monday; clearly, an ecommerce store should steer clear of this type of hosting!

There’s a term known as the “bad neighbor effect” to describe hiccups with hosting your website as a result of what others on the same server are doing. Most hosts work to mitigate this, but if you’re only paying $5 per month, they’re probably not working that hard on it…

Some shared hosting can leave you vulnerable to the “bad neighbor effect” Click To Tweet

Another thing to be aware of is that not all shared hosting providers meet the same standards. Some might cram as many websites as possible onto one server, leading to frequent issues. Some might use older technology which can also lead to technical difficulties. This is a good reason to look much further than price when it is time to choose a hosting option – what exactly are you getting? The old saying “you get what you pay for” tends to be true for hosting.

Here are some tips for what to look for with shared hosting:

  • How many visitors per month are you allowed?
  • How much storage do you get? This is file storage for your website – the bigger and more involved the website, the more GB of storage you need.
  • How much bandwidth do you get? This is a reflection of the amount of data that can transfer between your site, website users and the internet. An average blog uses only around 10 GB per month, but you also need to factor in a buffer for any traffic surges.
  • Is the host suitable for your type of website? For example, if you are running a WordPress website, we offer WordPress packages at Hostirian. This means that we have the specific technology that runs WordPress smoothly.
  • What support options are offered by the host? If you are self-managing your website, you might need help sometimes and it’s important to know that it will be available when you need it.

VPS hosting

VPS stands for “Virtual Private Server.” This can be described as the next level up in shared hosting. It will cost you a bit more than the basic level, but you avoid some of the problems associated with shared hosting.

A VPS is a good step in-between shared hosting and getting your own dedicated server. While websites still share the hardware of the server, a VPS houses multiple separate virtual machines, which dedicate slices of computing technology. This means that you are much less at risk from the “bad neighbor” effect. If a website reaches its limit of allocated resources, the site might be throttled or go down, without impacting others on the server.

This makes VPS a good option for those who have the budget to pay the hosting charges and who get a decent amount of website traffic. If you get a lot of traffic and require a lot of storage space, VPS may not have enough for you.

The VPS environment also allows you to make changes to customize your environment. This isn’t possible on a shared server because all sites share the same environment. You also get the opportunity to scale if needed, simply by requesting an increase in the resources made available to you.

Tips for choosing VPS hosting are the same as our shared hosting tips, with a couple of additions:

  • Is management of the VPS fully-managed or self-managed? For example, most developers will opt to self-manage because this offers them greater flexibility. If self-managing is out of the question for you, make sure there is a fully-managed option.
  • Do you get root access? This allows you to implement things like scripts, automation and command controls.
Download our checklist for finding a website host here

Dedicated server

This is just as it sounds – a dedicated server (or servers) all to yourself. These are for businesses or organizations that require a lot of space, and who prefer to do the management of the server themselves (although there is managed dedicated server hosting as well for those who cannot take on the management aspect).

Key advantages include that you get a lot of space and computing power to yourself. There are no bad neighbor issues (you have no neighbors) and no security issues potentially introduced by other websites.

You also get the most flexibility with this option. You can customize many aspects, including the operating system and other hardware elements.

The cons of dedicated servers include that they are more expensive than shared or VPS. Your company needs to have the knowledge and resources to manage the server – you might need to hire server admin at an additional cost. Some will find it a con that they are entirely responsible for the server. If there are any failures, you have to make decisions about monitoring and making other arrangements, whereas with other types of hosting, other modules can take over in case of failure.

We have dedicated server options to suit every type of business – check them out here.

Besides space, data speed and management of the server, here are some other things to check out:

  • The server technology. For example, does it use the latest fast NVMe SSD?
  • Security. What are the security protocols and how secure is the data center?
  • What tier is the server rated at? Tier 4 is the best, providing the least amount of downtime per year (99.99% uptime).
  • How is your data backed-up? Servers should not go live without a backup, as there is a danger of losing data.

Final thoughts

The three types of hosting outlined are some of the most common and are all options that you can discuss with us. We also have Colocation as an option, which is where you rent the rack space in our data center, but bring in your own server hardware. This option is for those with the technical know-how to run their own hardware.

The type of hosting most suited to you very much depends on your budget and what you need performance-wise from your website. Some options also require you to have or have access to the technical knowledge to operate them.

There are pros and cons to each type of hosting, so it’s important to truly know what you are buying before you take the plunge. Feel free to contact us with any questions!