The ongoing cost of an Open Source CMS

Posted by Richard Johnson on 23 June 2010

We often find that a lot of people we talk to about content management do not fully understand the cost implications of running an enterprise CMS, and sometimes even just the basic costs of maintaining a simple website. In this post I'll explain a little about what an Open Source CMS is, the initial implementation, everything after launch, and give you some links to popular Open Source vendors (products).

What is an Open Source CMS?

An Open Source CMS (Content Management System) is essentially a piece of software or program that is issued with an Open Source license. This licence usually states the the background coding of the CMS and is available for you to download, install and operate. There are a few variations when it comes to software licences, some of which allow you to completely modify the source code of the product, others restrict what you can do with the code. I'll put together another post soon highlighting the differences and what they they might mean in the real world.

This software or CMS is primarily used to update and manage websites. These can be small 5 page micro-sites up to massive news portals with 1million articles of content. This is a good time to point out the other two types of CMS licence. The first is commercial, as in you pay for user licences and these are usually recurring each year (and often get quite expensive) which the second is bespoke. A bespoke CMS is a solution that is custom created for you (or several companies) usually by a single entry (company). There is a slight downside to bespoke CMS's. Again, I'll leave this for another post...

The initial implementation

The cost of the initial implementation of your chosen CMS (and all the feature that you want) can range from £5,000 to £500,000 (no single company would deliver the latter range). This phase is also the biggest and usually most complex. However, when the project is launched, signed-off and completed it isn't never actually "finished".

From the moment the CMS is launched

As soon as the CMS is live and operating there are a series of tasks and services that you need to consider:

Technical Support / Help Desk

Every CMS implementation is different, and each company using the CMS have different requirements, staffing levels and technical experience available. This is why you have to consider technical support and help desk options. Costing such a thing depends completely on:

  1. The amount of time you require from an agency.
  2. The technical people you need available.
  3. How quickly you require responses.

As an example, most of our customers are happy to be charged on the clock whenever they call up or e-mail a request. We track our time and bill to the second, so it is the fairest way to manage.

Secure Managed Hosting

Obviously your CMS has to be hosted somewhere. There are normally only three options: (again there is a lot more to this point than we have space for in this post)

  1. Hosting with the CMS vendor / web agency.
  2. Hosting the CMS yourself on your own servers.
  3. Hosting with a third party such as Byte Mark Hosting.

I won't go into the the pros and cons of each of these, but I will say that the cost implications can be a little deceiving. For example: if you decide to host the CMS yourself and your technical team doesn't have the specific experience to install, update and manage the particular CMS, they are going to need help from somewhere. This is technical support that you are going to be charged for. I've been involved in many projects where the amount of time we have spent helping the customers IT team or whoever, fix, setup and deploy the CMS on their own hardware cost more that the price of just hosting with us for the ENTIRE year. I'm not exaggerating, our entry level hosting package for SilverStripe CMS is £600 per year the same as our daily support rate! You can see how quickly these costs can add up?

CMS Upgrades / Maintenance / Service Level Agreements

I thought the hosting section would have been smaller than that! I'm going to have to get to the point...

As the CMS is a constantly evolving piece of software, it means that you need to make sure it is continually upgraded to the latest stable version, and all available security fixes are applied. There are two benefits to this:

  1. You usually get to use new and improved features that help you work and manage your website
  2. You don't end up in a position in 3 years time where you have a CMS that is out of date, and that it takes literally weeks of development time to get it to the latest stable version. This amount of work will of course create quite a large bill.

Some agencies like GPMD offer Service Level Agreements. These are ongoing contracts where we allocate time and resources to make sure your system is always up to date and secure. We actually offer a few valuable additions to our SLA such as Priority Response Time, Inclusive Support Time, System Up Time Guarantees and more...

Additional Training

Finally the last item I want to talk about is additional training. Now this sounds like a really minor point, but unless you plan the training and make sure your team are up to speed it won't be as effective as it could be. It is much better to have some refresher training for yourself than continuously phoning up or emailing requests about small task that you could easily perform with a little guidance. (and probably faster than the time to take to report it and get a response). This is about being more effective with your CMS. 

The CMS should make your life easier!

Now that we have covered the most common ongoing costs to running an Open Source CMS I think it's important to make one point clear. The purpose of having a CMS in the first place is to make your life easier when updating and managing your website(s). If it becomes a burden or a headache something isn't right, but it can be corrected. Get in touch if you would like to discuss this further...

Our choice of CMS at GPMD

We use the SilverStripe CMS and have implemented many solutions at various levels. If you want to find out a little more about SilverStripe visit our SilverStripe section.

Open Source CMS Vendors

  • Alfresco - open source WCMS and DMS - origin US.
  • ATutor - a PHP/MySQL based solution - origin Canada.
  • AWF-CMS - a PHP/MySQL based solution - origin Germany.
  • Back-End - PHP/MySQL based solution.
  • Bitflux - based on php, MySQL, XML and XSLT - origin Switzerland.
  • Bricolage - perl, Postgres solution with DMS and CMS.
  • Campsite - a Java based solution with good feature list.
  • Cofax - a web based text and multimedia publication system.
  • Contenido - PHP/MySQL based solution - origin Germany
  • Dotnetnuke - built on MS platform
  • EasyCMS - a php based solution that needs no database.
  • Easypublisher - a solution based on Zope.
  • eZ publish - used as platform for portals, websites and intranets - origin Norway.
  • Mambo - OS project with communities across Europe.
  • Midgard - a php based content management solution.
  • MMbase - a open source publication system.
  • MySource Matrix - an open source solution - origin Australia.
  • OpenCMS - a Java/XML based solution - origin Germany.
  • phpCMS - a php based solution - origin Germany.
  • postnuke - a php based solution.
  • Redhat - rebadged ArsDigita solution, Java/Oracle/Unix based.
  • SilverStripe - a php based BSD license CMS origin New Zealand.
  • Simple - a php, MySQL based solution - origin Switzerland.
  • Typo3 - a PHP/MySQL based solution.
  • Apache Lenya - a 100% Java based solution based on open standards.
  • Zope - an Object Oriented solutions based on Python.


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