Both “homegrown”, some based in open source and “proprietary”or “black box”solutions have had stigma associated with them. Most important, however, is selecting a solution with a clear understanding of your institution’s goals and how the available resources will be applied towards meeting those goals.
Industry analysts have evaluated open source solutions as compared to Commercial solutions and these are excellent resources for understanding the benefits and drawbacks of each ‘type’of solution. You do have to pay for their research or you can do it yourself (hmmm. would that be proprietary versus homegrown) and I recommend that all institutions subscribe to these resources to assist in your important decisions. Generally analysts will say that Open Source might be a good choice for organizations who have the technical resources to implement and support the solution and advise that those institutions pursuing open source solutions to prepare for a lot of integration, and most organizations who have experience will support that view. This means a strong development and integration team is likely needed, especially in the absence of vendor support. Furthermore most experienced implementers and the analysts will advise that you pay for support for open source solutions where it is available. Most important is to recognize that open source projects are not “free”. Categorizing a solution at one of the extremes as “closed”or “open”doesn’t do justice to the available solutions. Most Open Source companies are in business to make money and pay employees. As a large part of their mission they’ll offer services to meet your needs, and this has value. But anyone who as adopted a pet from the shelter knows that there is no such thing as a “free puppy”.
Furthermore, within the categories selecting the right open source or commercial solution requires an understanding of each of their benefits and drawbacks. Generalizations of any of the solutions rarely helps to get to the specific requirements of the institution and how to best utilize the resources in meeting the special needs of the university. Evaluating, and yes, talking to vendors, will give you the insight you need to make a good decision for the institution, as long as you know what your institutional needs are from all the stakeholders: technologists, educators, administration and management.
Clearly the position of Aegis Identity Software is that a vendor dedicated to the unique needs of education makes a great partner in meeting institutional goals. Is the product you are considering designed with that in mind? Are the tools and the vendor services focused and dedicated towards education? If a supported product with regular releases going to include those that you and other institutions requested because they’ll have broad application?
We believe one thing is for sure, a hybrid solution can make a very strong case for meeting the needs of education. A supported product to protect the institution in business continuity that is extensible and has vendor support for your specific needs and a willingness to work with the community to grow the supported features. While supporting open standards and a willingness to collaborate on the implementation and extension while hosting and creating a community that can share configuration ideas and code with the full enablement and support of the vendor.
Ames Fowler, Solution Engineering Manager