SaaS vs. Open Source
SaaS (Software as a Service) is, most likely, one of the biggest changes over the few years in the way that nonprofits implement software solutions. Of course SaaS has been around quite a while, primarily in the CRM/Fundraising space, with products like eTapestry, Convio, Kintera, and, most recently, Salesforce.com and Common Ground (Convio's fundraising application built upon Salesforce.com).
In the most recent version of the NOSI primer, we added a SaaS column in our software choice worksheet. So how does SaaS relate to Open Source, and, if you are choosing software to implement, how do you weigh the open source vs. SaaS options?
When you implement a SaaS solution, you are, first and foremost, not buying or obtaining software. You are purchasing a service. You are incurring a monthly service fee (sometimes there is a setup fee, sometimes not.) At one level, whether or not the software underneath the SaaS is open source is not really relevant. You are not obtaining the software, and whether or not you can see the code, or modify it, is really not the key issue here. There is a post up on my blog explaining why this is actually more complex than it seems.
Because SaaS is a service, there is nothing to install, and nothing to maintain. There will be, of course, migration of data, customization and configuration, and all of those sorts of things. But you won't have to deal with doing upgrades, or installing security patches, or maintaining the server - these are things that can be a real benefit to nonprofits without many technology resources.
Advantages of SaaS over Open Source:
- Support is generally included in the monthly fee
- No installation
- No server to maintain
- No upgrades to deal with
Advantages of Open Source over SaaS:
- You keep your own data and have complete control over it
- There are no ongoing monthly costs for the software itself
- You can modify the software
- You control software upgrades
- There is an active developer community to contribute to and tap
Of course, in making software decisions, features and such are key, but these are some important components of the decision process.