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October 19, 2023

Why Open-Source Tools Might Fall Short for Test Data Management

You may have heard it said that the best things in life are free—but when it comes to test data management (TDM), free is not always the best choice. For businesses, finding the right balance of value, security, stability, and performance is paramount. And while open-source tools can score well in those areas, there’s a chance that they’ll let you down when you need them most. Here’s what businesses need to know to evaluate open-source test data management tools before they commit.

What Are Open-Source Tools?

Before we dive into open-source test data management tools, we need to have a quick conversation about the term “open-source” as the term isn’t always used consistently. Upfront, it’s important to understand that not all free tools are open-source, and because they tend to be community-developed, they don’t have the same expectations around security and customer support that closed-source tools feature.

Open-source refers to software “designed to be publicly accessible—anyone can see, modify, and distribute the code as they see fit.” Most of the software used in a business context isn’t open-source. For example, common applications like Outlook, Dropbox, or Google Workspace are closed source. The code that powers these applications isn’t published for review, and even if you got access to it, you wouldn’t be able to reuse it in your projects or modify it to run differently.

Open-source software, by contrast, is intentionally designed so that the code is publicly available. Users are allowed to reuse or modify the code and, in some cases, even contribute new code to the project. Because of its open nature, open-source tools are often developed jointly by a community of passionate developers rather than by a single company. While most open-source tools are free to use, not all software that is free is open-source. An application may be distributed for free, but it’s not open-source if the code isn’t available for reuse, modification, or distribution.

What are Open-Source TDM Tools Used For?

For companies, open-source software sometimes makes a lot of sense. They may cost little to nothing to adopt, and if the software has an enthusiastic community, it can often receive free updates improving functionality and security for the foreseeable future. While the feature sets between different open-source test data management tools vary, you could reasonably expect them to do a mixture of the following tasks:

  • Model your data structure
  • Generate test data sets by subsetting
  • Generate synthetic data
  • Provide access rules to restrict who can view data
  • Integrate with a variety of common databases

Some popular open-source tools in the test data management space include CloudTDMS, ERBuilder, Databucket, and OpenTDM.

Issues with Open-Source TDM Tools

For some purposes, the above list may cover all needs. But for businesses with more serious testing needs, there are several issues that can appear when using open-source tools, especially for test data management.

Limited Functionality and Quality

One of the core shortcomings of open-source tools is that they’re delivered “as is” at a pace that works for their developers. Unlike software with a team of paid developers, open-source does not guarantee future support. If the application doesn’t have a feature you need now, there’s a chance you may never get it. Unlike paid software, your requests for a new feature may carry no weight with the developers.

With open-source test data management tools, this primarily creates issues in two areas. The first is user experience. Because these are often unpaid projects, time is a precious commodity. Consequently, development teams tend to spend more time on creating new features, with things like design and user experience being much lower priorities. Unless a designer wants to donate their time, the interfaces you use on the tool may be confusing, slow, or even broken in places.

The second common issue is in reporting. Most open-source TDM tools come with a limited reporting capability at the very least. However, beyond small businesses with relatively small datasets, these reporting features might not be able to handle the complexity of a modern data environment. This can lead to inaccurate or misleading reporting, which can be especially damaging for businesses.

Increased Compliance Risk

Creating and using test data can carry substantial security and privacy risks, as it always begins with personally identifiable information. Under most modern data privacy laws, such as the GDPR or CCPA, documenting how your data is used is necessary for compliance. While you might worry that an open-source tool might leak your data, the reality is that you’ll usually be running such tools locally.

Instead, it’s more important to consider how well the tool integrates with your existing privacy and security workflow. Is it easy to integrate? Or does the connection keep breaking with each update? Does it provide good visibility into what and how data is being used? Or is it something of a black box? That’s not to say these tools generally have poor connectivity, just that they may not have the full range of integrations and security features you might expect from paid software.

No Guarantee of Long-Term Availability

When volunteers run a project, its continued existence often depends on their willingness to keep working for free. While an end to their work might not immediately remove the product from the market, it will eventually fall behind other programs’ features and security. And that means you will eventually need to make a change to avoid security issues or get the latest technology.

Some businesses will already be planning to upgrade their TDM solution regularly, so that might not be a big deal. For others, changing to something new, even if it’s a new open-source software, means costs in terms of retraining, lost productivity, and possible delays in development during the upgrade. That can be an enormous cost, and open-source solutions are more likely to shut down without significant notice than paid ones.

Limited Support

Service-Level Agreements are a huge part of the modern software experience. If something breaks during an upgrade, knowing that you have both easy-to-reach support and a money-back guarantee can provide significant peace of mind. With open-source software, you’re unlikely to have significant support options beyond posting on a forum, and you can forget about an SLA. That doesn’t mean that all open-source solutions are unreliable. However, if something breaks and your team can’t fix it, there’s no way of knowing when it will be fixed.

How Mage Helps with Test Data Management

For some companies, choosing an open-source test data management system will be a great move. But, some businesses need that extra layer of reliability, security, and compatibility that only paid software can provide. When evaluating these solutions, it’s important to understand the benefits and risks to choose the best option for your business. At Mage, we’ve built a solution designed to handle the most challenging TDM issues, from small businesses to multi-billion-dollar enterprises. Contact us today to schedule a free demo to learn more about what Mage can do for you.