Open-source hosting has been around for quite some time and has gained a lot of traction the past two decades because of its advantages. These advantages include lots of customization and expansion possibilities. However, the biggest advantage is that the software is free to download.

But what exactly is open-source hosting? It means that people have free access to see, use, and modify downloadable software for their own organization, resulting in people being able to create their own platforms according to their wishes. Users are not bound to pay for upgrades or alterations to the program. All data is stored on servers which can be on-premise or with the open-source provider. All in all, that sounds like an amazing deal. Who wouldn’t want to have free software? It sounds pretty good. For the short term game. But there are some important aspects to be considered.

What type of hidden costs can you expect?

However, such seemingly free software comes with quite some hidden costs. There are some things to take into consideration before adopting an open-source learning management system. Some say it is like getting a free puppy. It’s free, it’s fun and exciting, but there’s much more work to it as you initially expected. And later you will realize that nothing is really ever free. The same goes for open-source hosting. At first, there are lots of possibilities to start out without upfront costs. After a while you will notice that these costs start to add up. The costs that you will notice are:

  • Servers
  • Maintenance costs for data security
  • Development and consultation costs

The costs of servers with open-source LMS

First and foremost, let’s discuss the servers. The more students a school has, the more servers a school should obtain in order to deal with the increased traffic. A server easily costs a few thousand euros. Not having enough servers can lead to an increased downtime of the system(s). Such a downtime results in students and teachers not being able to access the websites to attend classes, hand in and grade assignments, see their syllabus, etc. This causes annoyance amongst users and leads to a decrease in user satisfaction.

Data security within open-source LMS

Secondly, the maintenance costs include upkeeping the security of the systems and the hardware and software. In order to upkeep these, IT personnel is required and they might need to be trained in order to deal with the software code in a proper way. They have to constantly make sure everything is running properly and smoothly. Once a school grows bigger, the stress on them will increase as well. You might want to consider hiring someone else for the IT department. Especially because the security and breach risks increase. Upkeeping security and the data of users is important, as there can be quite sensitive data within a school’s system. Next to the normal activities, open-source software requires an update at least twice a year, which has to be done manually.

The inflexibility of an open-source LMS

Lastly, there are development costs that are added to it. To stand out from the competitors, it is useful to have a good reputation through for instance word-of-mouth advertisement or good reviews online. How up-to-date a school is with its tools and system affects how users perceive the school. Sometimes an open-source learning management system provider offers costly consultancy services to see where they can improve your system. Usually, to get such services, a school has to subscribe to become a member of the open-source community. The higher the monthly subscription fee, the higher the influence a school can have on the product and its functionality. In short: with an open-source LMS, schools are not flexible ór future-proof when it comes to the architecture and development of the system.

In conclusion, an open-source learning management system seems appealing, but after taking a closer look, the expenses run high. An open-source system requires a lot of time, money, and energy.  In a worst case scenario, all the hidden costs of an open-source LMS could even lead to bad word-of-mouth which results in a decrease of new students. That is why we always advise universities and business schools to plan and act for the long-term, and not get trapped in short-term offers.

What are possible substitutes?

If you are part of a larger organization, you could build your own learning management platform, but you would encounter similar problems as to when you download an open-source. Another solution would be cloud hosting. Cloud hosting does not make use of a single or a few servers. There are multiple interconnected servers where your data is safely stored. A cloud-hosted learning management system usually requires an annual subscription fee. The costs vary depending on which provider you choose, but they also depend on the size of your organization and what you want. You can upgrade your subscription level and get consultancy and services according to your level. The cloud-hosting partner will deal with updating the systems, answering questions you may have, and ensuring your online security.

What fits your situation? Open-source LMS or Cloud?

Pros per type of LMS Cloud-hosted LMS Open-Source LMS
Implementation Done for you Institution’s responsibility
Updates Done for you Institution’s responsibility
Staff Focussed Stressed and overworked
Data Security Security Team Manually by institution
Costs All-in monthly fee, hassle fee ‘Free’, with hidden costs

Do you have questions about open-source LMS or Cloud LMS? Would you like to discuss your situation with an EdTech Consultant? We’re happy to help.