Why Commercial over Free and Open Source IT Monitoring

January 15, 2019 | Ken Leoni


The conundrum between deciding to deploy commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) software or free and open source software has existed since the dawn of computers.

Early technologies were born from both academia and corporate research, so code sharing was prevalent. Later, as development expenses escalated, companies had to implement commercial licensing to cover their costs.

Fast forward to today, globalization and easier collaboration have created a resurgence of free and open source technology, but is it right for you?

Why Commercial over Free and Open Source IT MonitoringIn some respects, COTS verses free and open source has always been in an opposing cycle. COTS is viewed as having a cost, hence the migration to open source technologies. Open source technologies are perceived as free or inexpensive, but management often does not want devote as much time and resources that implementing an open source solution can require. Another factor is often the expertise needed for a successful implementation is hard to come by. IT management may also be wary of betting their business on "free", which can lead to a push back to COTS.

While open source certainly has its advantages in terms of its perceived low cost and a shared development community it is not without its share of challenges.

Ultimately the COTS challenge centers around capability and cost. Commercial technology thrives only by addressing needs both technically and economically.


Setting IT's expectations:


Commercial technology must balance capability, ease of use, and cost. This means developing technology that meets the need of a variety of user situations, but yet is as streamlined as possible.


COTS technology is driven by profit; there is a natural incentive to make sure the technology lives up to its value proposition and is delivering based on sound technical and economic principles. 

IT professionals have every right to have the following expectations when paying for COTS.

  • Must be easy to install (no editing of ini files)

  • All technology components integrated in single self-contained install

  • Functionality by design not by happenstance

  • Minimal learning curve

  • Must be fast to deploy and more importantly maintain

  • No scripting or editing of configuration files

  • Knowledge transfer of how to use and maintain the technology must be seamless


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Free and Open Source

Open source is very much based on developing and maintaining technology via contributions from the community.

Open Source community is constantly adding new and different functionality, there is less incentive to balance ease of use with the time required for implementation.

IT professionals will have to settle for a different set of expectations with free and open source software.

  • Installation and implementation will take more time

  • The technology may be a bit rough around the edges

  • Must be willing to dedicate an indeterminate amount of IT resources

  • Technology may be a bit complex with:

    • editing files and scripting configuration

    • multiple installations and "gluing" of the pieces together

    • deployment of agents

  • Knowledge transfer of how to use and maintain the technology may well be problematic


The Economics of Commercial over Free Open Source IT Monitoring

The Economics of Commercial over Free Open Source IT MonitoringWhen deploying IT monitoring technology, we need to consider exactly what it is we are paying for. The reality is that nothing is free, especially when it comes to IT. One way or the other an organization is paying, be it licensing, support contracts, and IT/contractor resources.


Stating the obvious, commercial organizations are in business to make money. With that said what you are purchasing often impacts the vision and direction of the IT Monitoring technology.


License revenue provides a natural incentive for commercial organizations to devote resources to the technology itself.

  • Revenue is generated based on license and support

  • Commercial companies are profitable only when they deliver technology that is delivers on its value proposition - technically and economically

  • Technology that is expensive to develop and maintain is unsustainable, end users will reject higher license and support fees


Free and Open Source

Let’s again acknowledge that there is no such thing as truly free software. Open source is rarely created out of altruism. In fact, there is a sizable industry of companies and consultants that make a living deploying and supporting "free" and open source technology.

A support only revenue model can cause a conflict of interest as technology has to not work or require additional guidance and help in order justify continued support contracts.

  • The technology might be no cost, but technical support (if offered) has a cost

  • IT and consultant time certainly is not free

  • Revenue generated exclusively by technical support provides disincentive to make the technology easy to use or address certain issues



Commercial technology provides distinct advantages in terms of ease of deployment, functionality that addresses the needs of the the most common customer usage scenarios, and specific accountability when there is a problem.

Open source provides the advantage of no to minimal up front cost to implement. However the quality and serviceability of the open source technology, and the degree of engagement of the open source community can create a wide variation in the ultimate costs an organization experiences in deploying and running an open source solution. Certainly if the factors are not right the open source costs can rival or exceed COTS.

There is certainly something to be said for point-and-click out-of-the-box IT monitoring, and technical support directly from the author of the technology.

In the end, you have to ask yourself what you are willing to go through to take advantage of free and open source technology and if is it worth it.  A key consideration is where and how free and open source software is supported – who is accountable and how are problem resolved?


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