Monday, 7 March 2011

The true cost of TFS, is it really "free"?

You say you've got MSDN premium, so TFS is free, good for you, it is developed and supported by Microsoft, should be a great product then??

Anyway in my personal opinion, it sucks, but try telling that to none technical people, its actually really hard, and they still insist you use it because its designed for enterprise use, isn't it?

So i thought id do a 'back of the napkin' calculation of how much it actually costs.

Our dev team is apparently worth ~40k a month, consisting of 4 devs, designer, tester, db admin, tester, ba,
10 people, for arguments sake ~4 grand each per month.
So if you take a dev pair thats 8 grand a month, or 2 grand a week.

Where is the waste (source control)?
Check-ins :- We check in 7 to 10 times a day, each time it should be instant, but mostly TFS cant quite manage it, it needs user interaction to resolve the easiest of changes, some times it cant even manage to insert new lines. So estimate 3 minutes extra per check-in thats 20 minutes a day extra, or 2 hours per week. (Caveat, if you are working in the same area of code as another pair be prepared for this to at least double, ive had some awful merges in the past even when the conflicts weren't really that hard)

Get latest :- Sometimes get latest doesn't even get the latest, leaving files out or just getting it wrong?? how?? so now and then we need to sort it out, usually after wondering what on earth is going on and trying to debug your code only to find out my source is not up to date (10 - 20 mins per day on average, 1 hr per week)

Get specific :- So, often you start using get specific instead of get latest, this is slow so we try not to do it all the time, only when we think there might be a problem, the code base is big so this takes a lot longer than a get latest 2-3 minutes extra per check in, but only done 2-3 times a day (7 minutes per day, 30 mins per week)

Merge to main (feature branching) :-
Depending on how often you merge to main, and how many other teams you have also checking into main that is going to hit you quite hard. if you are a lone team with out any teams changing your code base you have it easy and can discount this step. for me its at least a 4 hour job of doing the merge to main once every month)

Where is the waste (Build management)?
MSBuild and TFS :- This is complex, significantly more complex than the same projects built with nant and cruse control, Team city, Go, et al. it sucks a lot of our time when we need to change the builds, its hard to say how much worse it is, our code base is quite old and complex, lots of build dependencies, this needs fixing, lets be conservative and say it only takes 1 hour extra per week to maintain TFS over any of the others.

Total Waste
2 hrs + 1hr + .5 hrs + 1hr = 5.5 hours of waste a week, lets call it 5 for now, I like round numbers.

So a pair of devs is on 2 grand a week, 35 hours = £60 per hour
5 hours waste = £60 * 5 = £300 per week per pair
2 pairs in our team = £600 per week * 4 = £2,400 per month on a £40,000 dev team

Thats just a 2 pair team, if you have even a moderate size team of 4 pairs you are going to get even more pain, with developers effecting each others check ins.

Oh and what about that merge to main hell we discussed (if you are feature branching), add 4 hrs * £60 per month = £240 extra.

Summary :-
your "free" version control and build agent is not looking so "free" any more.
Its costing us at least 25 grand a year... that sounds wrong? can you please check my math...

How much is it costing you?

In my opinion I've been quite lenient in my estimates, but when you say the numbers and add it all up it sounds awful, but it is.
Also the numbers above don't take into account other teams costs, if you have 3 dev teams (like ours) all working on the same source code, merging every month (feature branch style), all having the same pain, the figures quickly become a big drain on the business.

Problems :-
The main problem I have is how to quantify the waste, often its small things here and there, they just add up, not all the time, but especially if the team is doing TDD properly and going through refactor cycles frequently, which we are.
Any ideas on how to quantify the waste better would be appreciated.

Amendments (11-03-2011)
Thanks to my reviewers (kat, skain) for pointing out my grammatical and spelling errors (now corrected). But i did just knock out this article in the gaps i had whilst waiting for TFS, i guess its good for something. Joking apart though this does lead me to something i didnt mention and that is context switching inefficiencies. So every now and then you get 5 minutes to do other tasks, email, ect, but this is a big context switch for the pair, it takes a little time to get back into the flow again, this cost is not accounted for in the above monetary costs.


  1. You forgot the msdn premium subscription which is roughly 3000 $ and the client access license per external user 500 $

  2. This post mirrors my experience with TFS. I feel that TFS, unfortunately, is built to suit project management and infrastructure needs over developer needs. It's nice for project management because they like the features other than source control, and it's nice for infrastructure because it's only one product instead of several. Because of this, and the very real issues you have raised, I could never in good conscience recommended to groups that only need source control.

  3. > Anyway in my personal opinion, it sucks, but try telling that to none technical people, its actually really hard, and they still insist you use it because its designed for enterprise use, isn't it?

    If you're working a place where non-technical people takes technical decisions, you have a more important issue to deal with...

  4. Troels, yes your right, I guess I over played it a little, almost none technical ;-) Often though the people making these decisions are not the ones who have to use the things, especially in corporate environments where Microsoft products are pervasive and none negotiable (you have to use this its corporate policy).

  5. Thanks for sharing, I will bookmark and be back again

    Software Development