Programmatic advertising through real-time bidding (RTB) has become a dominant force in digital advertising. This automated process for buying and selling online ad inventory relies heavily on demand-side platforms (DSPs). As an advertiser or agency, choosing the right DSP is crucial to run effective programmatic campaigns.
Thankfully, there are some robust open source DSP options available for free that offer advanced capabilities. Here we explore the best open source demand-side platforms to consider.
What is a Demand-Side Platform?
A demand-side platform (DSP) is software that provides a centralized platform for advertisers to purchase digital advertising in an automated fashion across multiple sources. DSPs integrate with various ad exchanges, supply-side platforms (SSPs), ad networks and other inventory sources.
Key capabilities offered by DSPs include:
- Access to ad inventory through real-time bidding (RTB) and private marketplace deals
- Ad targeting and optimization based on data and campaign objectives
- Media buying automation and campaign management
- Advanced analytics and attribution
- Fraud detection and brand safety measures
DSPs unlock tremendous efficiencies and performance benefits compared to manual media buying. And by leveraging user data and bidding algorithms, they enable highly tailored ad campaigns. Many DSPs are offered on a self-service software-as-a-service (SaaS) basis with pay-as-you-go pricing.
Benefits of Open Source DSPs
While leading proprietary DSPs like Google DV360, The Trade Desk and MediaMath offer powerful capabilities, open source options provide some unique advantages:
- Cost Savings: Open source DSP software is available for free, unlike paid SaaS platforms. This results in significant cost savings.
- Customization: The source code is openly available, so developers can customize and enhance the platform to suit their specific needs.
- No Vendor Lock-in: With open source solutions, advertisers avoid dependency on a single vendor’s proprietary technology.
- Transparency: The ability to inspect the source code enables greater transparency into how the DSP platform actually works.
- Innovation: Open source spurs innovation as developers collaborate to build new features and enhancements.
Leading Open Source DSPs
Let’s explore some of the best open source demand-side platforms available today:
RTBkit is an open source DSP developed by IPONWEB and written in C++. It offers a highly robust and scalable self-serve DSP platform with many advanced features comparable to top commercial DSPs.
Key capabilities include:
- Support for all major programmatic advertising protocols like OpenRTB.
- Integrations with all major ad exchanges, SSPs, ad networks.
- Real-time bidding with dynamic creative optimization.
- Audience segmentation and targeted campaign execution.
- Complete campaign analytics and reporting.
- Programmatic direct deals and guaranteed campaigns.
RTBkit utilizes a SaaS-style cloud-hosted delivery model while keeping the core software open source. This combines the benefit of open source transparency with the convenience of cloud delivery.
Prebid is an open source framework developed by AppNexus for header bidding, which is another popular programmatic technique. The core capabilities include:
- Unified auction capability to collect bids from multiple demand sources in parallel.
- Reduced latency compared to sequential daisy-chain header bidding.
- Support for leading advertising formats like display, native, video across desktop and mobile.
- Wide range of demand partner modules for major ad exchanges, DSPs, etc.
- Detailed analytics on bidding activity and auction performance.
While Prebid wasn’t built as a full-fledged DSP, its robust infrastructure allows advertisers to execute sophisticated header bidding campaigns. The source code can also be leveraged to develop custom programmatic platforms.
Project Open DSP
Project Open DSP is an open source DSP initiative started by Lotame with the aim of providing a transparent, customizable foundation for DSP deployment in the advertising ecosystem.
The platform architecture includes:
- Ad serving capabilities for managing campaign inventory and creatives.
- APIs to integrate with external demand sources for bidding and trafficking.
- User interface for campaign creation, execution and performance monitoring.
- Cloud infrastructure requirements for running the platform.
By adopting and enhancing Project Open DSP, publishers, advertisers and tech vendors can accelerate their DSP deployments. Companies like Data Xu and White Ops actively contribute to evolving this open source DSP.
OpenWrap is an open source header bidding wrapper solution created by Yieldlab. It provides an alternative to commercial wrappers like Prebid.
- Parallel header bidding capabilities using exchange adapters.
- Support for client-side and server-side integrations.
- Compatible with leading ad servers like Google Ad Manager.
- Analytics on bid rates, timeout rates and other metrics.
- Lightweight implementation minimizing page load impact.
Publishers can use OpenWrap to quickly rollout header bidding and take more control of programmatic monetization.
Open-Source Ad Server
An open source ad server provides the core ad inventory management required to build a fully functional DSP combined with a UI for trafficking campaigns.
Some leading options are:
- OpenX Ad Server – Offers ad serving capabilities and integrates with the OpenX Exchange DSP.
- Xandr Monetize – Developed by AT&T’s Xandr, it offers robust, scalable ad serving.
These open source building blocks allow developing a customized DSP aligned with specific needs.
Evaluating Open Source DSPs
When assessing open source DSPs, some key considerations include:
- Community – Is there an active developer community maintaining and enhancing the platform? What major companies are involved?
- Code Quality – How well documented, structured and maintainable is the source code? Are security best practices followed?
- Functionality – Does the platform offer the core DSP capabilities required? How advanced are the features?
- Extensibility – What APIs and customization hooks are available? Is it easy to extend the platform?
- Support – What online resources, documentation and support options are available? Is professional support offered?
- Infrastructure – What servers, cloud hosting, databases etc. are required to run the platform?
- UX – How intuitive and user-friendly is the campaign management user interface?
By weighing these aspects, advertisers can determine which open source DSP is the best fit for their programmatic advertising needs. The ability to inspect and customize the source code is a major advantage open source provides over closed proprietary DSPs.
Frequently Asked Questions about Open Source DSPs
Q: What are the typical costs involved in implementing an open source DSP?
The core open source DSP software is free. However, supporting infrastructure like servers, storage, databases, CDN, etc. required to run a production DSP platform will involve costs. Professional services to install, customize and maintain the DSP also need to be factored in.
Q: Can open source DSPs scale as well as commercial DSPs?
Yes, leading open source DSPs like RTBkit employ architectures optimized for large-scale programmatic advertising campaigns. With adequate infrastructure, they can match proprietary DSPs in capacity and performance.
Q: Is the quality of ad inventory available via open source DSPs restricted?
Open source DSPs have integrations with all the major programmatic advertising exchanges and SSPs to tap into quality inventory at scale. Some niche inventory sources may only be accessible via specific commercial DSP partnerships. But open source DSPs offer very robust inventory reach.
Q: Can I enable advanced tactics like machine learning with open source DSPs?
The underlying infrastructure of many open source DSPs allows incorporating additional capabilities through extensions and custom development. This includes integrating machine learning algorithms for optimization. However, some advanced proprietary DSP features may be difficult to replicate.
Q: How can I get started implementing an open source DSP?
Evaluate leading options like RTBkit and Prebid to choose an open source DSP aligned with your needs. Follow the documentation to install it in a dev/test environment first. Connect with the developer community for guidance. Work with a technical partner experienced in building and running DSPs.
The Future of Open Source DSPs
The programmatic advertising ecosystem is being reshaped by trends like privacy regulations, cookie deprecation and platform walled gardens. This is spurring increased demand from advertisers for transparency, customization and flexibility. Open source DSPs that offer these benefits are poised for greater adoption.
Initiatives like Project Open DSP aim to provide a solid open source foundation upon which next-gen DSP capabilities can be innovated as market needs evolve. The flexibility of extending open source DSPs also offers protection against disruptive paradigm shifts down the road.
In coming years, expect leading open source DSPs to complement or even rival the capabilities of dominant proprietary DSPs. Their transparent approach aligned with advertisers’ interests will continue driving this momentum. The ability to inspect and control their core algorithms will be a key competitive advantage.