Pros and Cons of Open-Source Backup Software

Pros and Cons of Open-Source Backup Software

December 27

There is a good chance you already rely on open-source backup or recovery. Rsync, Clonezilla, and Bacula are only a handful of popular tools IT professionals have used for many years. Most companies use a combination of open-source and commercial tools to cover all their backup and recovery needs.

Many companies dabble with open-source tools, especially if they have the technical talent in-house. Open-source allows small companies to find backup and recovery tools at a low cost. But due to the nature of open-source, these tools often come with both pros and cons.

This article is not meant to be a debate between open-source and commercial software products. Instead, it is designed to help you consider the pros and cons as you evaluate the needs of your company.

Hardware Compatibility

Many open-source backup products run on Linux along with many commercial offerings. Linux has a reputation for supporting a wide variety of hardware which can be both a blessing and a curse when it comes to backup.

When you purchase a backup appliance you are paying not only for the hardware, but also for the software compatibility testing and support of the device. This results in peace of mind because the last device in your server rack you want to babysit is your backup.

photo of components

The buy vs. build decision often comes down to cost considerations. Simply ask yourself how much risk you are willing to accept and what it’s worth to you. Stability and reliability are key when it comes to backup. Commercial appliances are far more likely to be “plug and play,” while running open-source backup software on a Linux box may take bit more attention and skill.


Most people compare the cost of the initial product investment. In this case, they might compare the cost of a server running open-source software to a commercial backup appliance, and find the initial cost for the appliance is higher.

A more comprehensive approach might be to assess the total cost of ownership for both products before you decide. Low upfront costs may result in higher support or maintenance costs. Always assess the skills required to keep your backup solution running smoothly. While some parties offer third-party support solutions, some smaller open-source tools may not. In those cases, your crew will be on the hook to handle any issues.


One benefit open-source software fans tout is how everyone has access to the source code. The belief is that having more people looking over the codes results in bugs and vulnerability getting fixed quickly.

When a vulnerability is found in, say, Windows Server, customers must patiently wait for Microsoft to release a security patch. Commercial software companies understand their reputation is on the line, so their products get fixed in a timely fashion.

If you stick to reputable software, be it open-source or commercial, you should see the community or company release patches quickly.

User Experience

Open-source products have a reputation for being less than user-friendly. Most are developed by technical people who put more time into the features of the product than they do the design and usability.

image of stick figure thinking about UX

You need to consider who will be using your backup products, technical expert or novice? That will allow you to assess the skill level needed for a successful implementation. Asking your marketing or finance department to click a few icons is very different than asking those same people to run a script or issue a command from the command line.

Commercial products tend to go through at least some usability testing. The backup appliances are especially simple to customize and configure. This could be valuable to a small company with fewer technical resources.


Debates about the virtues and vices of open-source and commercial software are been around for decades now. Over time, debates between the two approaches have slowed down a bit since most companies rely on both types of products for different needs.

But when it comes to backup and recovery options, you should carefully consider the pros and cons of each. Small companies may be tempted to roll their own backup server on open-source software without realizing the maintenance and support costs. When disaster strikes, nobody wants to be searching for the one person in the company who knows their way around Red Hat or Debian Linux.