A Forrester Research report on open source business intelligence software released yesterday gave high marks to Actuate's (NASDAQ: ACTU) commercial distribution of BIRT, the Business Intelligence and Reporting Tools project.
The report by analysts Boris Evelson and Jeffrey Hammond ranked open source business intelligence (BI) tools according to 157 criteria, and found that "Actuate BIRT led the pack because of richness of reporting functionality."
Jaspersoft Enterprise, SpagoBI, Pentaho Enterprise and Pentaho Community "are close behind and also offer much fuller and broader BI stack than Actuate BIRT, including extract, transform and load (ETL) and advanced analytics functionality," the analysts wrote.
Pentaho and SpagoBI were the strongest community offerings, they said, while the community versions of Eclipse BIRT and Jaspersoft "mostly offer individual BI components that can be used for embedding BI functionality into applications, but these frameworks are yet not enterprise-grade fully functional BI platforms or suites."
Eclipse BIRT offers mostly components, they said. "To get enterprise features, one must go with the commercial version, Actuate BIRT," they wrote. "Jaspersoft offers a few more community-based components, but still, getting the Jaspersoft Enterprise commercial version is a must for most enterprises. Pentaho takes it up yet another notch with the availability of even more components in its community version, and all of SpagoBI components are on hand in the community edition."
Scalability is often an issue with open source BI, with the exception of Actuate BIRT, which "leverages its battle-proven, highly scalable iServer," which is not included in the community edition, Evelson and Hammond wrote. Forrester found only a few instances of open source BI tools in use on multi-terabyte data warehouses.
Another issue facing open source BI projects is a lack of common GUIs, data access methods and integrated meta data.
"Open source BI suites are suffering from the same syndrome as their larger commercial BI cousins that acquired multiple technologies and are struggling with integrating them," the analysts wrote. "But while a commercial vendor can prioritize integration, open source projects are mostly independently governed and have little to no incentive to prioritize tight integration with BI components from other projects. As a result, common graphical user interface (GUI), common data access methods and integrated metadata are mostly nonexistent across open source projects."
Commercial versions like Jaspersoft and Pentaho are slowly bridging that gap, they said, and SpagoBI has plans for integrated metadata in the community edition.
Evelson and Hammond said they believe open source software has a bright future in enterprises and has started moving up the IT stack. Only about 7 percent of companies use open source BI and CRM tools, they noted, compared to about 60 percent for programming languages and operating systems.
But with BI a top priority for enterprises and open source technologies finding greater commercial acceptance, the analysts see the number of users growing.
"Enterprises that do not squeeze the last ounce of information out of their data stores and applications, and do not focus on getting strategic, tactical and operational insight into their customers, products and operations, risk falling behind competition," they said.
They said that open source technologies in the enterprise reached a critical milestone in the last year, calling 2009 "the year IT professionals realized that open source runs their business."
"Over the past few years, we've seen that developers adopt open source products tactically without the explicit approval of their managers," the Forrester analysts wrote. "... [M]anagement has caught on to the fact that developers increasingly use open source to run key parts of their IT infrastructure. And management has grown increasingly comfortable with it."