When to scale from free software to cloud services

When organizations hit the wall of scalability and support, cloud services are the logical next step


To many people, free software (including open source) usually means no cost. Similarly, in-house developers often use free software to create tools that help streamline or automate processes, thereby removing the need to purchase software. 

Not only can IT leaders save money by using no-cost software and homegrown developer tools, but they can also bypass the red tape involved with executive buy-in and budget approval. Sounds good, right?

Not so fast. For small businesses on a shoestring budget, free software — for example, accounting, photo editing, task tracking apps — can make a lot of sense. However, when it comes to enterprise companies running mission-critical applications, there’s a time and place for trialing “free” software and building your own quick-fix solutions in-house, and there’s a time to invest in managed cloud services and applications.

[Related article: Key strategies for CIOs to safely and smartly move to the cloud and speed digital transformation]

When to consider cloud services

Every company is different. For example, a large technology company like Google or Facebook typically employs an army of software developers committed to developing and managing software and infrastructure. In their cases, adopting open source at scale and building in-house tools can make sense. 

However, for medium to large businesses whose core focus is not technology (think Macy’s, Home Depot, Starbucks), managed cloud services make a lot of sense for the following reasons:

Superior support 24/7

With mission-critical applications — apps that impact revenue and productivity — businesses can’t afford any downtime. A cloud services provider offers service tiers and service license agreements (SLAs) so that companies can have the peace of mind that they have backup and immediate support when they need it. 

Awesome API integrations

As new technologies emerge at a breakneck pace, advanced programming interfaces (API) are becoming essential to businesses in every industry. APIs enable apps to communicate and exchange information in the cloud (as well as with on-premises apps) and help to automate tasks such as creating and scaling deployments, integrating with existing workflows, and testing.  

APIs can also open up a whole new world of business opportunities. In fact, according to Mulesoft’s 2022 Connectivity Benchmark report, organizations that use APIs generate more than a quarter (27%) of their revenue from those APIs (and related implementations).

Cloud services providers offer tried and true APIs, which means a business’s in-house development team doesn’t need to spend time building custom APIs that may or may not work.

Cost efficiency

Although no-cost software may seem free, there are many hidden costs. These expenses can sometimes include infrastructure costs (hardware, software, network resources), as well as the significant cost of recruiting and hiring developers with specific skill sets to build and maintain the infrastructure. 

A cloud services provider (CSP) has the infrastructure and expertise in place to keep services and applications up and running so that a company can focus on its core business. Essentially, the customer is simply paying for what they need in terms of resources and talent.

No more “homegrown” headaches

Many IT organizations build homegrown or in-house tools to fix a specific problem.  Over time, more employees and services rely on this tool. The homegrown solution becomes legacy, is not maintained or documented, and can pose security threats. These homegrown tools are also difficult to integrate with other IT solutions, which leads to more time-consuming work for in-house developers.

And what happens when the employee who built the tool leaves the company? It can be challenging to find someone with the skillset (and desire and patience) to figure out how to fix and maintain a homegrown tool. And during that time, the tool or a connected service may become unavailable, which can impact revenue and productivity.

With a cloud services provider, businesses can rest assured that the software solutions they rely on are properly governed and supported by legions of developers and support teams.

Sky’s-the-limit scalability

When an app or service goes down, serious consequences ensue. Not only can it result in lost revenue and productivity, but it can also result in customer dissatisfaction and a negative perception of the brand. For example, during the holiday season, retailers often see extreme spikes in site traffic and need the resources to ensure 100% uptime and availability. Any time can be disastrous. A cloud services provider can ensure a company’s websites and applications scale and run optimally during peak load times.  

Top-notch security

According to security firm Veracode, open-source security flaws exist in 70% of applications. And due to developer resource constraints, it can take months to address those flaws — even if it’s a simple patch. As part of its offering, a cloud services provider has the appropriate technical and organizational measures in place to protect against unauthorized access. Further, it can help eliminate vulnerabilities and counter security threats at scale, as well as perform essential tasks such as patching and backups.

Nothing is free

The adage “nothing’s free” certainly rings true when it relates to using free software in an enterprise environment. Although no-cost software is great for assessing, learning, and testing a program, when revenue and productivity are at stake, businesses will gain many benefits — not to mention peace of mind — by engaging a cloud services provider.  

Julie Campagna is a freelance technology writer based in northern California.