Open Source or Proprietary: What’s the Best Solution For Managing Your IT Assets

ITAM Software / January 2018

When choosing your next ITAM solution there are several options to consider, one of which is choosing either open-source or proprietary software.

The choice between open-source or proprietary ITAM Software essentially comes down to a few factors. These are costs, features, and licensing options.

In this guide, you’ll understand the difference between open-source and proprietary software. With the aim of helping you decide what solution is best for you when it comes to managing your IT assets.

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The Difference Between ITAM Open Source and Proprietary

All leading open-source and proprietary solutions have enough functions to get you started on ITAM. Both are capable of supporting small and medium-sized businesses as well as large enterprises.

However, once you start looking beyond basic functions, that’s when you’ll start seeing the difference between open-source and proprietary software.

The Difference Between ITAM Open Source and Proprietary Software

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Focusing on basic functionality, both solutions are practically equal. That includes functions such as IT inventory, service desk, ticketing system, and contract management. As well as change management, cost tracking, configuration management, IT service management, and SLAs.

What Is Open-Source Software?

Open-source software is designed to be available and open to anyone, enabling them to edit, change, and customise a system’s coding. An open-source system provides several benefits, such as:

  • Greater flexibility from an ITAM system
  • Little to no purchasing costs
  • Wider support from a community of users

These solutions are often expandable and customisable. However, you’ll need a skilled developer who is also familiar with the product before you can do any customisations.

Naturally, cloud-based deployments come with the inherent benefits of typical cloud solutions. Like anytime-anywhere access, superior scalability, and auto-updates. But, most open source solutions are usually deployed on-premise.

What Is Proprietary Software?

Proprietary solutions are copyrighted and needed to be purchased from the individual or company who owns the product. These can be easily enhanced through readily available third party plug-ins and add-ons.

There are other features that aren’t as critical as the basic functions but provide great value nevertheless. For example, some industry-leading proprietary products such as ManageEngine, SysAid, and Solarwinds can be deployed on-premise but can also be run on the cloud.


Open Source

Basic FeaturesSupports basic functionsSupports basic functions
Advanced FeaturesRelatively easily availableRelatively hard to find
LicensingComes with several restrictions. Not free.Based on free software licences; practically devoid of restrictions
SupportComprehensive and easily availableLimited and hard to find
Initial CostPriceyAlmost zero
TCOUsually the same as open-source.Usually the same as proprietary but can sometimes be more expensive.

What Are Your Licensing Options of Open Source and Proprietary Software

This is the part where these two sets of products diverge from one another. The licences of open source ITAM solutions are mostly based on popular free software licences. Like GPL or the GNU General Public licence.

licences based on the GPL allow users to run, study, share, and even modify the software without any financial obligations. GLPI, one of the most popular open-source asset management programs, follows the GNU/GPL version 2 licence and can be distributed for free.

Proprietary product licences are the exact opposite. These licences typically contain several prohibitions. To mention a few, customers of open source ITAM applications are prohibited from copying, modifying, reverse engineering, distributing, leasing, and using the product in an outsourcing environment.

Some of these proprietary licences are only valid up to a certain period and need to be renewed for the customer to enjoy certain benefits such as support and upgrades. By comparison, support and upgrades are practically free of charge for open source products.

The Cost of Open Source and Proprietary ITAM Tools

This is where open source ITAM solutions have an edge over their proprietary counterparts. Open source customers don’t have to spend much to start using their software. In fact, in terms of licensing, open-source tools are basically free. You just have to adhere to the terms of the licence, which are not as restrictive.

Proprietary solutions, on the other hand, can be very costly. Depending on the number of nodes the software is supposed to monitor or manage, the price can go north of $100,000. And that’s usually only for a licence with 1st-year maintenance. You’ll usually have to renew your maintenance every year.

But, not all businesses can afford the up-front and annual expenses.

Of course, the cost won’t be that high if you have only a few IT assets to monitor and manage. Be warned though that some solutions only monitor a set of devices.

This means, in some cases, you’ll need to purchase licences for a server and application monitor. As well as another for a network performance monitor, a patch manager, and so on.

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Understanding Your Total Cost of Ownership

Initial costs don’t give you the complete picture even if you just compare the two from a financial standpoint. Although open source ITAM programs are considerably more affordable at the start, they’re not necessarily cheaper if you consider the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO).

If you take into consideration all expenses incurred throughout its lifetime, open-source solutions can match or even exceed the costs of their proprietary counterparts. The biggest expense of most open-source investments usually comes from support costs.

Open-source solutions are usually limited to less manpower-intensive types of support. Such as documentation and articles. While proprietary solutions usually offer a wide range of support materials at minimal additional cost. These include:

  • User guides
  • Knowledge base articles
  • Product videos
  • Ticket-based support
  • Forums
  • Live online support
  • On-site support

Open-source solutions are also known for providing support through their communities. These mainly consist of loyal enthusiasts, experts, customers, and end-users. However, unless the product is as ubiquitous as something like Linux or MySQL, you’ll rarely find a supportive community that’s large enough to respond to your needs.

Oftentimes, if members of the community do respond, the response won’t be as quick as say the 24/7 tech support teams provided by large software development companies.

Hence, if customers of open source solutions need help, they’re often forced to hire people who are highly skilled in these solutions. But, because ITAM programs are highly specialised, the required talent will be hard to find.

And so, you could a fortune on installation, deployment, maintenance, troubleshooting, and integration.


The trade-offs between open source and proprietary IT asset management software are clear. If you have a limited budget and want to save on upfront costs, you should consider an open-source solution. Just be ready for the difficulties you may encounter in troubleshooting, maintenance, and integration.

If you have a good IT team who knows how to code, then you might be able to pull off going the outsourcing route. However, if you don’t have the in-house talent for these types of challenges, then proprietary is the only way to go. It might even work out cheaper in the long run.