OT: reasoning behind open vs. closed SSH

Wendy Palm wendyp at cray.com
Tue Nov 25 06:33:16 EST 2003

All I have to add is that we have quite a few really, really big customers
who are using OpenSSH enterprise-wide and won't touch commercial ssh.
These customers include commercial, educational, and federal government.
I decided several years ago to port OpenSSH rather than commercial ssh for
all our architectures due to the effective support I felt the open source community
provided to the product.  Besides the cost issue, we've found that any problem
found (especially in the security arena) has been responded to very promptly
and the open discussion regarding features and other bugs have aided debugging
efforts significantly.  Our customers recognize that and were very positive about
OpenSSH rather than commercial ssh.  I feel that OpenSSH's activities since
my decision was made have validated my decision.

Any security bug that has been found has been fixed and released much faster
by OpenSSH than SSH Communications.  If you're on the CERT list, you can tell.
I've never come across a bug in OpenSSH that caused downtime in a released

let's address the issues one at a time
i'd be interested to see what evidence Bob Toxen has for the 4-1 ratio of bugs.
Technical support - OpenSSH has an open mailing list and the ability for anyone to
review the mail archives for bug reports and general discussion.  granted, there is no
guarantee of response, but the question is leveled at a much larger audience
and generally, the questions that remain unanswered are resolved offline or for
an unusual OS (that often companies just refuse to port to anyway).

'll let Ben or Marcus respond to the technical questions and regarding ssh
and openssh interoperability.  It's not an issue my customers have complained about.
I'm pretty sure they all use OpenSSH exclusively.

total cost of ownership - I completely disagree with the statement-
"When major events occur, internal support for OpenSSH is time-consuming and
can be very frustrating".  I have found that fixed releases of OpenSSH come
out much quicker than I expect.  The paragraphs regarding pre-compiled
binaries and support are so subjective that it's difficult to answer.  Because I build
and provide binaries to our customers, and do all the testing and debugging they
mention, my customers don't have this problem.  The worst thing that's happened
to them is not enough entropy.

liability - This is the real issue - This is the real balance that customers need to
think about regarding commercial vs open source.  Any site can get hacked into.

Certifications - our customers have had no problem with security audits using

Embedded OpenSSH - Cray offers OpenSSH in an optional package.  I provide
pre-compiled binaries and support recompiled versions.  I release 2-3 times
per year and provide fix packages as needed.

I've never seen anyone respond to a question with "that's a wierd configuration,
we don't support it" in the mail archives.  I've often seen "what is it you are trying
to do?"  and "here's how you do it".

These are my opinions, I hope they help rather than confuse.

Wendy Palm,
Cray Inc.

Jake Hawkes wrote:

> Let me preface this message by saying that the "General Discusion" mailing list archived was
> filled with 99% spam, so I though I'd post here instead to get some real people.
> My employer is using SSH to replace rcp, rsh and rlogin in its UNIX products.
> Our experience so far is that the commercial product is slow(1), and difficult to use in scripts
> where standard input and output are being used, especially if not attached to a terminal.
> (1) This could be caused by the type of authentication we are using
> Also, the support is woefull.  One of our guys was on-site at a customer, called SSH up for
> support and was told that the problem he was having is a "known bug" and there is no way around it
> at the moment.
> My question is, what reasons should we go with the commercial product?  Reasons given me have
> been:
>   1 - support
>   2 - legal liability
>   3 - upgrades and patches
>   4 - more secure
> All of these seem bunk to me.
> My company has told me that the reasons they are going with SSH from SSH Communications Security
> Corp are basing on a whitepaper entitled:
> SSH Secure Shell vs.Open Source Secure Shell:
> Deployment Considerations for Enterprises, Financial Institutions, and Government Agencies
> Instead of trying to explain the bias the artical has, perhaps I'll just quote the opening
> paragraphs:
> ==================
> "This paper discusses the differences between SSH Secure Shell, a commercial Secure Shell
> application developed by the original inventor of the Secure Shell protocol, SSH Communications
> Security Corp, and an open source application, OpenSSH.
> Open source applications play an important role in academia, home use, non-profit organizations,
> and non-commercial applications. In general, open source applications are sufficient when support
> and downtime do not play a critical role. 
> Commercial applications satisfy the critical business needs of enterprises, government agencies,
> and financial institutions. Commercial applications provide features that are developed
> specifically to address customer needs and are supported by a professional organization. Many open
> source applications lack robust features that are needed in today's business environments,
> including quick resolution to support issues."
> ==================
> Footnote:
> "© 2003 SSH Communications Security Corp. All rights reserved. ssh is a registered
> trademark of SSH Communications Security Corp in the United States and in certain other
> jurisdictions. The SSH logo, SSH2, and SSH Secure Shell are trademarks of SSH Communications
> Security Corp and may be registered in certain jurisdictions. All other names and marks are the
> property of their respective owners."
> ==================
> [ Full whitepaper available here
> http://www.infinitylimited.net/code/SSH%20vs%20OpenSSH%20-%20March%202003_FINAL.pdf ]
> Does anyone have any comments?
> =====
> Jacob Hawkes, B. Eng (CSE)
> jakehawkes2001 at yahoo.com
> http://www.infinitylimited.net/
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wendy palm
Cray Open Software Development, Cray Inc.
wendyp at cray.com, 651-605-9154

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