In order to monetize your site or app, you'll first need an ad server, the tech required to serve and report on both direct-sold and programmatic ad spend.
This article answers these questions while diving into the pros and cons of open source ad serving.
An open source ad server is an ad serving script that you download from a third-party and then host on your own servers. It's also called a self-hosted ad server.
The leading solution here is Revive Ad Server, with smaller ones including OIO, dJax, and InOut. Due to the complexity of ad serving tech, few open source solutions exist, and there have been no new ones of note for years.
A hosted ad server is ad serving tech managed by a third-party vendor. You get access to the service by subscribing to it, with costs usually related to traffic volume and/or a percentage of revenue.
For companies who want a more flexible and technical solution, the leading solution is Kevel, which provides APIs that make it easy for publishers to build custom ad products.
Below touches upon the major differences.
|Pricing||Free, downloadable script||Varies - but generally based on traffic volume and revenue driven through the platform|
|Server Costs||You would need to pay for your own servers and volume||Included in fee|
|Maintenance Costs||You would need a dedicated internal team to set-up, maintain, and add new features||The hosted solution will maintain the product for you|
|Support||None||Usually comes with account managers and technical support teams|
|Code Flexibility||Code can be adjusted for your particular needs but is still limited to what features the script offers to begin with||You don't have access to the raw code. Any ad serving tech with ad serving APIs, though, can likely provide the flexibility to build what you want.|
|Uptime||As high as your tech team is able to keep it. Will involve monitoring load distribution, stopping DDoS attacks, and watching bandwidth usage||Most guarantee 99.9%+ as part of their contract|
|Bugs||You will need to troubleshoot and fix||The vendor will fix it for you|
|Data||No data is sent to a third-party||You would be sharing data with a third-party, although you could work with them to anonymize and minimize what is sent|
|Security||You will need to monitor and keep abreast of changing privacy laws, like GDPR and getting Privacy Shield Certified||Hosted solutions usually have built-in security protocols and privacy-law-compliance by default|
Open source ad serving may look good on paper (they provide flexibility, there's no vendor costs, etc), but ad serving tech is not something that can be set up and forgotten; it needs constant monitoring to ensure everything is serving correctly.
Due to this, you should pursue open source only if you have the engineering resources to maintain the tech (based on your traffic volume, this could be one engineer to a large team).
Pricing, therefore, should not be viewed as the reason to use open source ad servers (you can read more about hidden ad serving costs here).
The main consideration, instead, should be around data. If your company policy (or personal preference) gives you zero ability to share even anonymized data with a third-party, then a hosted ad server is not a tenable solution.
Hackers in 2020, for example, breached Revive’s software and inserted malware into at least sixty publishers and thousands of sites.
Yes; in fact, viewing it as 'open source vs hosted' misses out on a path many successful businesses have taken: building in-house ad platforms from the bottom up.
This is what many large brands have done, including Etsy, Instacart, Pinterest, Facebook, and Amazon.
Building such an ad platform from scratch (or using ad serving APIs to cut down the build time) enables you to design the exact ad product you need, rather than relying on a potentially-imperfect open source solution.
This will come with more upfront build time, but once it's released, you'll have more control over the tech versus having to maintain code you didn't write yourself.
Currently the market leader for ad APIs is Kevel. If you're interested in a free consultation around how to build a custom ad server in just weeks, feel free to reach out!
Chris has worked in ad tech for over twelve years in a variety of roles - giving him customer support, PM, and marketing perspectives from both the advertiser and publisher sides. He's the VP of Marketing at Kevel.