5 Reasons to Consider Upgrading from Open Source to Sitecore


In our work as a leading implementor of Web Content Management Software (WCMS) platforms such as Sitecore, XCentium is frequently asked why clients should consider paying for a proprietary platform when there are open-source platforms available for free.

It’s a fair question--and the truth is that open source has come a long way in recent years. There was a not-so-distant time when open source was the source of some (partisan) snickering in the digital community—platforms suitable, out of economic necessity, for smaller not-for-profits and universities, but not for enterprise-class customers. That time is decidedly past. 

Today there are compelling pros and cons on both sides of the equation. Rather than try to address them exhaustively, here are a few reasons why an organization might consider “upgrading” to a proprietary like Sitecore: 

  1. “Free” doesn’t mean “inexpensive”  

I know what you’re thinking—but open source is free.  Well, yes and no. With open source the core software or “source code” is typically offered on an unpaid basis—but the features, functionality, hosting, and maintenance required to make it an enterprise-class solution are all far from free.  

It's an open secret in the digital world. With proprietary software, you will pay (sometimes considerable) licensing fees—but the cost of implementation, customization, and maintenance is relatively low (the software is, after all, maintained by the vendor). With open source, you won’t pay a licensing fee for the core software—but somehow after paid options, hosting, and support, the expenses end up evening out. 

Don’t believe me? Consider the fact that at more than $200 million per annum, Acquia—just one of many software tools and hosting providers in the open-source space—has higher revenue than proprietary software companies Sitecore or Optimizely. At >$190 million per annum, so does Automattic (of WordPress VIP fame). The numbers, as they say, don’t lie—“free” software is big business. 

  1. You get what you pay for 

There’s a reason that vendors like Sitecore and Adobe call their products “Experience Platforms”—they aren’t just content management systems, they’re full-featured (and tightly integrated) marketing platforms to help marketers craft rich digital experiences and track and analyze the results. 

Take personalization, for instance—a topic that has recently become de rigueur for those looking to attract more revenue online. Sitecore and its ilk have long woven personalization into the very fabric of their platforms, making it easy for marketing teams of any size to embrace, implement, and maintain it.  

Open source tends to treat personalization as an afterthought—which it is. Yes, you can pay for personalization tools from Acquia and others, but…see point 1 above. By comparison, Sitecore, Optimizely, and Adobe were all built with the needs of marketers in mind.  

Looking to create a simple brochureware site to provide information about your company? By all means, open source has you covered. Looking to actually drive business through your website? (And, really, even if you’re a non-profit, who isn’t at this point?) You should consider a platform with the rich capabilities needed to support that mission. 

Apart from personalization, is providing an end-to-end content lifecycle solution that enhances the customer journey. Sitecore offers a fully integrated solution of CMS, DXP, commerce, and Content Hub, which allows the entire organization to seamlessly plan, create, collaborate, manage, and publish content that provides a personalized digital experience.  

  1. Who built your platform? 

Because open-source platforms are generally built, and maintained by, the communities that have built up around them, there are a few inherent issues that go with them.  

The first is that the “code sprint”-driven releases and enhancements that tend to be rolled out can be, well, amateurish (unsurprising, as aspiring and/or rookie developers use these sprints as a means of learning their craft).  

But, the results are predictable. Missing drivers. Spaghetti code that can be unstable. Security protocols that wouldn’t pass muster under close examination (not to mention the potential for vulnerabilities that come with giving source code access to unknown entities). 

By comparison, proprietary platforms are built by teams of software engineering professionals under close supervision. Their vendors are on the hook--both legally and financially--should anything go wrong, so they have a vested interest in making sure they are built to the highest possible standards. They also lock down their code base (making it much more difficult for those with nefarious intent to insert malicious code).  

In addition, Sitecore’s architecture allows websites to cope with sudden changes in traffic volumes and perform better by adapting the Sitecore Experience Database (xDB). When configuring xDB, Sitecore offers a variety of scalability options making it more suitable for enterprises. This scalability helps businesses adapt their website to multiple territories and languages.  

  1. Who’s supporting it? 

Proprietary software companies offer support and maintenance either as an inherent part of their PaaS and SaaS licensing, or (in the increasingly rare case of on-premises deployments), as an additional annual fee. Support is typically provided by full-time, permanent employees of the software vendor, and is a direct conduit to other departments like product development (which listens carefully to feedback provided to support reps via the client base). 

By comparison, open-source support and maintenance are typically provided by third parties. Many of them are staffed by full-time staff who do a great job of supporting the given platform, others aren’t. Regardless, their connection to, and influence over, the underlying platform is indirect. 

  1. ...and, who has access to it? 

Open source is a bit of a double-edged sword. On the one hand, as a user you’ll have access to the source code, which is convenient from a customization perspective. On the other—so does everyone else, including the universe of hackers and cybercriminals you’ve spent so long defending your company against.  

By comparison, proprietary software companies go to great lengths to lock their source code down, and no external access dramatically reduces (without eliminating) the opportunity to slip in anything nefarious. 

Apart from code access, both platforms have great workflow functionality. However, Sitecore is more advanced and intuitive by providing trackable hierarchies for organizational members to review and manage content.  

Obviously, XCentium’s focus on proprietary platforms gives us an inherent bias, and we’re not even attempting to make this a balanced look—just to make the case that proprietary platforms make sense under certain conditions.  

A small organization with minimal marketing needs and no need for enterprise security features and support? Open source might make sense for you. Under most other conditions? It’s probably worth considering “paying up”. 

Choosing a CMS isn't a simple decision, organizations need to consider how easy it is to use, its flexibility, marketing support, and security. If you’re looking to embark on a long-term digital transformation project then we’d love to connect.