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SaaS Content Management Systems (CMS) vs Open Source Software

by Chris Sutton | April 4, 2013

A question we often get asked by potential clients is what is the difference between open source systems such as Magento, Wordpress etc., and proprietry SaaS CMS systems. At SiteSuite we've been developing our own SaaS online business suite for over 13 years, as well as having some experience in the use of Magento in particular. Over the course of a few blogs we'll share our knowledge and experience on these two technology models and the implications for online businesses.

In many ways, open source software such as Magento has been a driving force for e-commerce, and there is considerable attraction for a cash poor start-up to be able to use what seems to be a "no cost" software solution. However, although there are many benefits to be derived from the use of open source software, the true costs are very frequently underestimated and developers often ignore the value of alternatives.

For many businesses, SaaS (“Software as a Service”) CMS products provide a more robust and easily maintained environment than does a pure open source product. SaaS CMS products are often built on open source platforms but provide a complete development, and support environment with planned scalability to handle long term growth and changing business needs.

Pure open source products are usually best when single installation sites are built and configured by a skilled web developer who can keep the installation up to date with security patches or new versions, and has the ability to work with the source code when errors occur.

Benefits of SaaS

SaaS software, with one cohesive code base rather than one installed instance of the software for each site, enables the end user to focus on business goals rather than the technology. It is especially beneficial when there are a large number of instances of the software in use, it is hosted in the cloud and updates are immediately available to all users rather than having to be installed site by site.

In the CRM field for instance, has transformed the market with its SaaS product and is now the dominant player in this market.

Ease of Setup

There is still a school of thought amongst developers that an open source CMS is the most affordable option for a small site. Experience indicates that this is normally true at the time of set up, however, when you add in the overhead of setting up an open source CMS, customising it, training in its use and maintaining the software etc, a free open source system can be expensive.

With a SaaS CMS system, sites can be created very quickly, and while monthly costs can appear to be cheaper for an open source CMS, SaaS CMS systems typically offer hosting, support and in some cases a wide range of other services.


When creating a site using an open source CMS, the developer often assembles a variety of components that include the core CMS and an assortment of plug-in modules. These plugins can be hugely appealing as they can provide a huge range of functionality, however the difficulties they cause are often not immediately apparent. Compatibility issues frequently occur when the core CMS is updated and the developer of the plugins doesn’t update their component promptly. Something as simple as version updates of Internet Explorer or Firefox can break the site and at times render a site inoperative.

Beyond the software itself, open source CMS systems are usually installed on single server hosting environments, whereas SaaS systems are more likely to be housed in a well planned and maintained high availability hosting environment that provides effective security, redundant servers at all levels, usually with layers such as caching servers, load balancers, application servers, database servers, backup systems, system monitoring and mail systems. For any serious online business, a high performance high availability hosting environment is essential, but that sort of level of focus and skill is often beyond the developers of many open source sites.


The other key differentiating factor between SaaS CMS and open source CMS is support. While open source software usually has a substantial community of users, and there are many forums that provide answers to users’ questions, the timeliness of answers cannot be guaranteed. The other source of support is the software author but often plugin authors abandon their creations to move on to other projects. While such an approach can be perfectly acceptable for hobby software, for an e-commerce business, getting fast responses on any problem is usually critical. A good supplier of a SaaS CMS system will provide responsive support that ensures sites stay online and perform and function effectively

SiteSuite Website Design - Online Marketing Blog Author Chris Sutton

Co-founder and Managing Director of SiteSuite Australasia, Australian pioneers in web design and ecommerce since 1997. For more from Chris you can follow him on Google+ or Twitter, and for further professional musings and thoughts on his other passions in life,

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