Spending Our Money Twice

Mozilla Corporation is considering moving its email and calendaring infrastructure from an in-house solution to an outsourced one, seemingly primarily for cost but also for other reasons such as some long-standing bugs and issues. The in-house solution is corporate-backed open source, the outsourced solution under consideration is closed source. (The identities of the two vendors concerned are well-known, but are not relevant to appreciate the point I am about to make.) MoCo IT estimates the outsourced solution as one third of the price of doing it in-house, for equivalent capabilities and reliability.

I was pondering this, and the concept of value for money. Clearly, it makes sense that we avoid spending multiple hundreds of thousands of dollars that we don’t need to. That prospect makes the switch very attractive. Money we don’t spend on this can be used to further our mission. However, we also need to consider how the money we do spend on this furthers our mission.

Here’s what I mean: I understand that we don’t want to self-host. IT has enough to do. I also understand that it may be that no-one is offering to host an open source solution that meets our feature requirements. And the “Mozilla using proprietary software or web services” ship hasn’t just sailed, it’s made it to New York and is half way back and holding an evening cocktail party on the poop deck. However, when we do buy in proprietary software or services, I assert we should nevertheless aim to give our business to companies which are otherwise aligned with our values. That means whole-hearted support for open protocols and data formats, and for the open web. For example, it would be odd to be buying in services from a company who had refused to, or dragged their feet about, making their web sites work on Firefox for Android or Firefox OS.

If we deploy our money in this way, then we get to “spend it twice” – it gets us the service we are paying for, and it supports companies who will spend it again to bring about (part of) the vision of the world we want to see. So I think that a values alignment between our vendors and us (even if their product is not open source) is something we should consider strongly when outsourcing any service. It may give us better value for money even if it’s a little more expensive.

12 thoughts on “Spending Our Money Twice

  1. Yes, we should strongly consider that. We should also remember that the size of the deal to outsource email/etc would be quite small compared to certain other business deals with said vendor …

  2. FastMail has a pretty awesome IMAP + web email solution, and open sources at least its changes to the backend IMAP service. Perhaps it would make for a good candidate?

  3. Fair enough. But we’ve been “spending it twice” for years; what has that actually achieved for our mission in practice?

    I don’t know if we can find an email/calendar vendor who is so aligned with our mission that giving them money advances our mission more than spending that money on, say, Firefox developers. The latter seems like a safer bet to me.

    • If the unaligned vendor costs X, and the aligned vendor costs X + Y, then the calculation is whether to have X spent working against our mission, or X + Y spent (by others) advancing it. Now, if Y = 2X, so the aligned vendor is 3 times the price, then perhaps it is better to spend the Y on Firefox developers and accept that X is not “spent twice”. But if Y = 0.2 * X (i.e. aligned vendor is 20% more expensive), then I think it’s a closer call. Note: these figures are hypothetical; I don’t have pricing for a particular aligned vendor in mind.

      My overall point: cost is a factor, sure, but it’s not the _only_ factor.

  4. Would this move mean MoCo would use something else then Zimbra which is behind the “Great Wall of Mozilla”? If Calendering can be opened up more where things can be shared more with contributors I’m all for it. It is a shame my team has to export from Zimbra to ICS because Calendar is walled off.

    • Yes, there is a hope that over time this can happen. However, I don’t think that it absolutely requires choosing the currently-under-consideration vendor to get this benefit.