Last week I had the opportunity to spend a couple of days in the hallway at SpiceWorld in the Austin Convention Center. Well, really I was in the SolarWinds booth, but the vendor booths were in the hallway, so there I was nonetheless.

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SpiceWorld is the annual conference of SpiceWorks, which, functionally speaking, is a very large online community of ITPros who hang out and help each other with their day to day challenges. This was SpiceWorld’s first year in the Austin Convention Center, having outgrown the University of Texas’s Conference Center. Over a thousand people attended this year, and next year the goal is 2500! For two days ITPros, generally associated with SMBs, MSPs, and non-profits, shared each other’s physical presence, chatted with vendors, attended educational sessions on a myriad of topics ranging from Intro to PowerShell to Advanced Storage, and enjoyed the Austin nightlife. For a look back at the intensity that is SpiceWorld, you can review the SpiceWorld forum on SpiceWorks.com.

 

SpiceWorks also makes software. IT Management software, to be specific. One of the themes of the questions we were asked at SpiceWorld was “How does SolarWinds compare to SpiceWorks?”, “When/Why would I convert/migrate/upgrade from SpiceWorks to SolarWinds?”, or in a more general context, “When should I consider paying for software, rather than using free software?”

 

I’m going to take a moment here and share my answers to those questions, hopefully for the greater good. I’ll also point out that these considerations do not just apply to the SpiceWorks vs SolarWinds question, but apply to any scenario in which you find yourself comparing a “free” solution to a “not free” solution.

 

I think there are two significant points to keep in mind in the free vs not-free scenario: feature development and technical support.

  1. Generally speaking, “free” software does not have as rich a development cycle as “not free” software would have. In some cases, free software is built once, for a single purpose, and unsupported and not maintained for the rest of its life. In other cases, such as open-source software, its development cycle may be at the mercy of the availability of volunteer resources who are interested in particular feature sets. You need to consider the impact of the development lifecycle on the product and how that will affect your usage. Is it likely that at some future time you’ll outgrow the free product?
  2. Because it’s free, many of these products also do not have a rich support ecosystem. One of the advantages you’ll often find with paid products is that the vendors provide 24x7 technical support services for those products. If you’d rather invest your worktime doing something productive, rather than trying to track down an unexpected behavior in a free product, that might be the time to move to a paid product.

 

It’s interesting to note, though, in all fairness to SpiceWorks, they don’t actually fit the mold of your typical “free product” vendor because they do have a rich full-time development team and a very active support system and community. SolarWinds does also, I should mention, so if you’ve not yet joined Thwack, you should definitely check it out. By the way, the other thing that SolarWinds has a lot of is Free Tools! So, this discussion even applies when comparing our free tools to our own paid products.

 

In the end, the question of when to migrate from SpiceWorks to SolarWinds is a bit more complex and probably needs to be evaluated on more of a case-by-case basis. Or, it can also be viewed as a very simple question: Is your “free product” still meeting your business needs? If so, it’s very hard to justify spending money you’re not already spending. But if it’s not, there are options! :-)