Open Source Business Intelligence: What Are Your Options?

by Drew Robb

From focused BI tools to full product suites, we give you an overview of the open source business intelligence market.

Open source business intelligence has been gaining momentum in recent years, so much so that it is even showing up in Gartner Magic Quadrants and Forrester Waves.

"Adoption of open source platforms will grow faster than adoption of commercial platforms," says Rita Sallam, an analyst at Gartner.

While the analyst firm is keen on business intelligence, it only placed one open source product in its latest BI Magic Quadrant — Actuate (NASDAQ: ACTU). But a couple of other open source providers are now firmly on the Gartner radar screen.

"Jaspersoft and Pentaho have emerged as viable players in the BI platform market," said Sallam. "Both vendors provide comprehensive BI platform capabilities that are comparable in many functional areas with those of traditional BI platform vendors."

These two companies are gaining ground by working with a variety of software vendors to embed BI into existing capabilities, a strategy that Gartner said is paying dividends. And being open source-based, an attractive price point is available.

"The biggest trend we see is the rapidly increasing adoption of OSBI [open source business intelligence] as a means to provide critical reports, dashboards and analysis to business users at far less costs than the traditional, proprietary BI solutions," said Joe Nicholson, vice president of product marketing at Pentaho. "We also see major efforts to deal with the ever-increasing data volumes with technologies like Hadoop as well as efforts that continue to drive ever-increasing BI use throughout organizations."

Much like the way open source changed the database and application server markets, OSBI is also gaining traction. According to Nicholson, when comparing BI suite pricing between Pentaho and the three biggest vendors (IBM, SAP and Oracle), Pentaho saves $1.5 million in license and support fees over a three-year period in larger deployments.

But low cost is not the only factor. The open source community acts as a massive R&D department for software, which drives innovation. Pentaho's BI suite, for example, offers functionality that rivals the large vendors in some aspects. This includes online analytical processing (OLAP), reporting, dashboards and ad-hoc analysis. According to Nicholson, this adds up to more than six million downloads, over 8,000 active projects and more than 1,200 Enterprise Edition commercial customers.

"The open source business model is a dramatic shift in the way that software is licensed and supported," said Nicolson.


Open Source, Business Intelligence Converge

Forrester sees open source business intelligence benefiting from two trends: the growing adoption of both open source software and business intelligence.

"Open source software and business intelligence are two related market segments where Forrester sees continually increasing interest and adoption levels," said Boris Evelson, an analyst at Forrester. "BI specifically continues to be one of the top priorities on everyone's mind."

He believes this is due to the fact that enterprises are seeking to squeeze every last ounce of information out of their data stores and applications. Those that don't could risk falling behind the competition.

Open source software has quietly been invading the enterprise via lower echelons unbeknownst to top management. Suddenly, those managers are waking up to the fact. Forrester's Enterprise and SMB Software Survey at the end of 2009 showed that management has caught on to the fact that developers increasingly use open source to run key parts of the IT infrastructure, and they have grown increasingly comfortable with it.

Evelson makes a sharp distinction between suites and focused BI tools within the open source camp.

Among the focused tools, he lists: Apatar, CloverETL, Enhydra Octopus, Jetstream, Jitterbit, Pentaho's Kettle, SnapLogic and Talend for data integration; Talend and the Open Source Data Quality and Profiling project for data quality jobs; BIRT, iReport, JasperReports, JFreeChart, OpenI and OpenReports for reporting; Mondrian, JPivot, and Palo for OLAP; R for advanced analytics; and Orange and Weka for data. In addition, SpagoBI is sponsoring a GeoBI project with partners like Spatialytics and OpenGeo for geospatial analytics and location intelligence.

"If you seek a full BI suite, then the options are BEE, Jaspersoft, Pentaho and SpagoBI," said Evelson. "Some critical components of enterprise-grade BI capabilities like integrated metadata management are not even fully addressed by the open source community at this point."

Another point to pay attention to is community versus commercial versions of these tools. Community versions of these products are available via free download, but they often lack such features as GUI-based administration, integrated security and connectivity to popular data sources. Thus Evelson recommends the commercial versions, which are typically based on the model of paying for software support. He offers the example of BIRT (Business Intelligence and Reporting Tools). The community version known as Eclipse BIRT offers mostly components. For those seeking enterprise-class features, the commercial version is needed, which is known as Actuate BIRT (Actuate is based on open source BIRT, which is an Eclipse Foundation open source project founded and co-led by Actuate).

Forrester's evaluation of OSBI vendors placed Actuate at the head of the class due to the richness of its 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," said Evelson.

Forrester rates Actuate as having a sophisticated production report development environment and a unique e-Spreadsheet report delivery option. Gartner concurs, but adds a caution about high fees for hardware upgrades.

"Actuate has been proven in very large extranet application deployments that serve the financial and public sectors," said Gartner's Salam.


  This article was originally published on Wednesday Nov 24th 2010
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