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Open Source Ad Server vs. Hosted Ad Server

By Ana Kealy

November 16, 2023

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Monetizing your digital properties, whether they are websites or apps, is a strategic decision, and it requires the technology of an ad server. The ad server enables you to set up your advertising business and monitor its performance, so it is a crucial part of this process. 

For this, you have a few options. The first one is to build your ad server, from scratch. This can be an expensive and long road that requires a lot of resources. Another option is to go for an open-source ad server, which also comes with its advantages and disadvantages. The third option is to choose a hosted ad server. To better understand the differences between an open-source ad server and a hosted ad server, keep reading this article. 

What is an open-source ad server?

An open source ad server is a snippet of code that is usually free and available on the web, that you have to download and install on your server. This means that it is a self-hosted ad server.

As you have full access to the code, you can customize it as you wish, run it, and maintain it yourself. At the same time, open-source ad servers lack the complexity of hosted ad servers. 

What are hosted ad servers?

A hosted ad server is the ad tech developed and managed by a vendor. The advantage of this type of ad server is that the vendor is responsible for providing you with a reliable service which includes:

  • Server hosting costs
  • Maintenance
  • Further functionality development
  • Updates
  • Troubleshooting

The costs associated with hosted ad servers depend on the provider you choose and their pricing plans, as well as your requirements.

Pros and cons of open source ad servers

Benefits of open-source ad servers

  1. The open-source technology is free: This initial benefit makes open-source ad servers attractive to small and big businesses, but it comes with drawbacks that we will explain later.
  2. Flexibility and customization: the code can be customized as needed for your business ad-serving requirements. 
  3. Data ownership: as you host the code on your server, all the data collected is also stored on your server.

Drawbacks of open-source ad servers

  1. Technical expertise: to utilize the free code, you need technical know-how. Depending on the size of your business you will require at least one team that can ensure the smooth running of the ad server, its customization, updates, and also the maintenance of the technology. 
  2. Running into higher costs: on top of the costs of the hosting server and tech teams, open-source ad servers like Revive, offer the option of plug-ins which can become expensive. These plug-ins can improve the ad server’s capabilities but to achieve the performance of a hosted ad server, you will need a considerable amount of investment. Alternatively, you would have to build additional functionalities yourself.
  3. Security risks: because the software is open, it's easier to compromise. In 2020, the Revive ad server was hacked by the Tag Barnakle group. They inserted malicious code into ad creatives, distributing corrupted software to thousands of users. This incident highlights the vulnerability of open-source ad servers to security issues and malware attacks. Despite community efforts, users must be cautious about the risk of data leakage and take steps to secure their systems.
  4. Support and troubleshooting: unlike hosted alternatives that usually provide professional assistance, you may find yourself navigating issues on your own. Without dedicated customer support, resolving technical issues or seeking guidance on optimal platform usage may be more challenging. This lack of support can pose a significant hurdle, especially if you have limited technical expertise. It's crucial to weigh the trade-off between the autonomy offered by open source and the support available through hosted solutions.

Pros and cons of hosted ad servers

Benefits of hosted ad servers

  1. Speed to launch: choosing a hosted ad server, like EXADS, is a straightforward advantage over open-source options. Ready-to-go solutions ensure fast revenue generation without the complications linked to open-source setups and come with powerful features and various functionalities. 
  2. Save money and resources: you won't need a dedicated team of technical developers to set up and maintain the ad server. The vendor carries the server costs, saving you from expenses tied to hiring technical staff and investing in server infrastructure. Opting for hosted ad servers means you can avoid the complexities of managing, maintaining, and updating an open-source ad server. This leaves you with more resources to focus on your core business objectives.
  3. Competitive features: EXADS and similar providers are dedicated to being competitive, constantly developing advanced features. This dedication means that, as a client, you get access to the latest tech trends and innovations in advertising. Their commitment to staying ahead in the industry creates a dynamic and feature-rich environment. This empowers you to use the most up-to-date tools to optimize your ad campaigns and stay ahead of the competition.
  4. Easy-to-use: hosted ad servers are generally easy to use. Intuitive interfaces make them user-friendly even for those without a lot of tech knowledge. This is a huge advantage as you can start using them straight away. Moreover, your advertiser or publisher clients can also start creating campaigns of placements immediately.
  5. Scalability: another benefit of hosted ad servers is the fact that they are easily scalable as the technology is already in place. As your business expands these ad servers give you options to also expand the capabilities of your platform so you don’t need to develop new features or functionalities yourself.
  6. Support & Security: Most hosted ad server vendors provide documentation for their users, or like EXADS, they can provide Advanced Documentation. On top of this, you also get technical support and the ability to request new features or customizations that are required for your business. As for security, providers will always ensure that your business unfolds in a safe and protected environment, unlike open-source ad servers, where you and your team have to monitor and implement security measures. 

Drawbacks of hosted ad servers

  1. Depending on the provider you choose, your customization options will vary. Some vendors offer limited customizations, while others don’t offer them at all. EXADS for example, will customize your ad server the way you want. Alternatively, EXADS also allows access to APIs which means that if you have tech know-how, you can use the APIs to further enhance and tailor your ad server. 
  2. Pricing is another aspect that you need to consider. This depends on the provider however, more often, the price you pay for a hosted ad server package is lower than the costs associated with the open-source server investment in the long run. 
  3. As a third-party solution, hosted ad servers imply that you would share your data with the provider. A way of overcoming this would be to anonymize the data you share and minimize the amount that is shared. 

Open-source vs. hosted ad servers comparison

To assist you in deciding between hosted and open-source ad servers, here are the critical factors to consider:


Hosted Ad Server

Open Source Ad Server

Full setup and technical expertise 









Advanced Features 



Built-in Scalability









Tech Support



Requires Own Server




Comparing Open Source Ad Servers vs. Hosted Ad Servers should help you in making the best decision for your business. However, you should carefully evaluate your technical expertise, resources, budget, long-term objectives, and specific advertising requirements. Hosted ad servers like EXADS, given their ready-to-go nature, are the obvious solution for businesses with limited technical resources or time constraints. 

Embark on your advertising journey with ease by contacting EXADS today. Benefit from a streamlined onboarding process, professional support, and a pre-built infrastructure, allowing your business to focus on core objectives.

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