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Nick Phillips
September 4, 2018


In a survey conducted by BetterCloud.com, close to three quarters of the companies responded that they expect at least 80% of their business apps will be hosted on a SaaS by 2020. That is a tough number to beat, but the restrictions and price points on many SaaS solutions can easily affect the bottom line for small and medium enterprises. There are a variety of self-hosted alternatives to popular SaaS applications. SaaS applications are usually setup to cater to a broad spectrum of users. You may even end up paying for features that you would never use, for e.g. a toll-free number for your help desk when you may already have one from your phone provider. Self-hosted solutions are often modular, so you add the ones you want, switch off the ones you don’t need. Adding small customization’s like an additional field or a custom validation in a form, shouldn’t be a major obstacle.

If you needed an additional reason to switch, this article will list those that will not cost a cent, yet have a good developer network and active community.


Before we dive in, here is a quick guideline I used to select applications. The focus is on multi-user SaaS applications. All price points for the SaaS solution are based on a 5 member team. I have avoided mailing, VPN solutions for reasons from how easy it is to get yourself blacklisted to the self-hosted solution requiring your regular attention. Also excluded are web-application Suites such as Office 365. Not only do alternatives require a team to manage, they also have to work extra hard to maintain compatibility with popular formats.

Slack vs Mattermost

Communication is key in today’s world. A decade ago, email was popular and was key to collaboration in a workplace. If you had a question, you sent it to a large distribution list hoping someone would answer and in the process, ticking off a wide number of folks who have nothing to do with your question. There was no instant communication, emails could sit in an inbox for hours or days before someone responded. Instant Messengers worked only to a degree. There was no history. Enter Slack, a new way to communicate within an organization. With channels, conversation was more organized and focused on a smaller group that would benefit/contribute to the discussion. You could share files, links, images and it would remain there accessible to all and searchable. Emojis made conversations fun. Though as a small business, Slack for 5 team members costs you $40/month when billed monthly.

Introducing Mattermost, the open source self-hosted Slack alternative. It has the same features as Slack right upto Webhooks and oAuth integration. Mattermost also has Mobile Apps that work even if you are not on their Enterprise Edition. If you needed a reason to switch to Mattermost, the easiest one I can give you is data privacy. With new rules like GDPR, you can control where your data is stored and how long to store this information.

Asana vs OpenProject

If you thought projects would be self managed and everyone would automatically do what was next, it would be wishful thinking. You need a good project management software. Asana is a popular project management SaaS solution that works with different project management styles. You have the new Kanban features, you could fall back to the old Gantt chart methodology or simply just put stuff in a list and begin working. With Asana, you can create projects, have team members by project and assign tasks with due dates. Team members can comment on tasks, collaborate and discuss the project or a particular task. It also integrates with other SaaS systems like Dropbox (to share larger files) and GitHub (to automatically create tasks when commits are made). Asana for your small 5 member team costs $37.50/mth when billed monthly.

At the other end of this head-to-head stands OpenProject. Supporting different types of projects, you can create Roadmaps for your product and supports the Agile methodology of working out of the box. Tasks can be commented on and managers can watch projects. One place where OpenProject beats Asana is that Time tracking is available in the latter only with integration with 3rd party applications.

While we are on the topic of tasks & management, a quick sub-section introducing WeKan as a solid alternative for Trello. WeKan runs on Nodejs and uses MongoDB backend. You can install it on your existing VPS and if you have Nginx, reverse proxy requests to WeKan’s default 8000 port.

Zendesk vs Zammad

As an organization, you have customers (internal or external) that need help with issues. A helpdesk is almost mandatory in today’s world. Zendesk is one of the most popular helpdesk systems. They have expanded their services to offer live-chat and call center operations. Plans start at $5/agent/month so a 5 member support team will cost you $25/month. This plan also gives you access to the Lite versions of ZenDesk Guide (for creating a Knowledge Base) and ZenDesk Chat (online customer chat)

Zammad is a good alternative that runs on Ruby with support for MySQL/MariaDB/PostgreSQL backends. For upto 40 agents, Zammad recommends a 4 core 4GB server, though the minimum requirements are a 2 core 2GB server. Like Zendesk, you can automatically create tickets from emails, tweets or online forms. A nifty feature with Zammad is that you can create shorthand words like “tq” which will automatically be expanded to the phrase of your choice. “tq” could become “Thank you for contacting us.” Chat widget is included and all users can connect to the chat window and answer questions.

GitHub vs GitLab

Code Repositories are the backbone of development teams. Allowing for multiple collaborators and smooth integration, they are essential to the DevOps concept that is taking projects by a storm. GitHub is easily the most popular SaaS provider for code repositories. Though the free plan doesn’t give you features like private repositories. A team plan with 5 users costs $25/month.

On the other hand, GitLab community edition allows you to freely host your repositories and includes integration with GitLab CI (continuous integration), GitLab Runner (for running automated compile/build jobs).

GitLab requires a VPS with atleast 8GB of RAM and a 2 core VPS. This allows for upto 100 users. All major flavors of Linux are supported and Docker images are available.

DropBox vs Seafile

As I mentioned earlier, email is slowly becoming archaic. Clunky attachments are no longer in fashion and versions are easily lost in the mail chain. Collaborative document sharing is possible through Dropbox for teams. You and your team get a common location starting at 3TB. Users can comment, share documents, slides and get notified when documents change. For 5 users, expect to spend $75/month on the monthly plan.

On the other hand, Seafile allows you to add users, create groups and define folders that can be access controlled. Storage available to your users is only limited by the hardware and infrastructure you are running Seafile on. Like Dropbox, you can still provide links for public users to view files or even upload files to a folder. If all your users use Active Directory/LDAP for authentication, Seafile can integrate with AD/LDAP for seamless login.

Freshbooks vs Akaunting

Finally, we come to accounting. Invoicing clients and keeping track of finances is no longer just maintaining Excel sheets. Freshbooks allows users to invoice clients, collect payments through integration with payment gateways. You can invite contractors or evrn clients to your project. Freshbooks allows you to keep track of hours spent which makes it easier to invoice your clients. Priced from $15/month for upto 5 clients, it increases to $25/month for upto 50 clients.

Akaunting provides all the required features for invoicing clients. You can create clients, generate invoices and accept payments. Akaunting also supports vendor management, the ability to create a client portal to share transactions and invoices right out of your system. You can add attachments to your invoices which is helpful if you also need to provide more information or data to your standard invoice. Akaunting doesn’t have time tracking.

Let us know which self-hosted applications you use and if there are good alternatives I have missed out.

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