BI-on-Linux Goes Mainstream

BI on Linux picked up even more traction last week as Actuate, Cognos, and Siebel announced product support for the open source operating system

BI on the Linux platform picked up even more traction last week as a trio of BI vendors announced product support for the open source operating system.

Cognos Inc., Actuate Corp., and Siebel Systems Inc. all trumpeted Linux-related announcements in conjunction with the LinuxWorld Conference and Expo, which took place last week in San Francisco.

Cognos, with a helping hand from partner IBM Corp., announced plans to deliver its ReportNet enterprise reporting offering for Linux running on Intel and IBM’s POWER microprocessors, marking an about-face of sorts. Earlier this year, after all, a Cognos representative indicated that the BI giant didn’t believe there was enough demand among customers to justify a Linux port of some or any of Cognos’ BI solutions.

“Right now, Cognos will only provide Linux support if there is significant customer traction. As of now, we aren't seeing that customer traction as yet,” said spokesperson Jenny Russell in March.

So is the opposite now the case? Yes and no, confirms Rupert Bonham Carter, who says that although Linux-related inquiries haven’t approached the volume of Unix or Windows systems, customers are, nevertheless, showing interest.

“[Linux is] a real force in the market that we’re paying attention to,” says Rupert Bonham Carter, director of global strategic alliances with Cognos. “We have had customers inquire about our Linux plans, and for some time have indicated that Cognos would evaluate and would be bringing a Linux solution to market at some point, but until we made this announcement, we had not put a stake in the ground.”

If anything, says Jeff Morris, director of product marketing for Actuate, demand for BI solutions on Linux has (not surprisingly) been most pronounced in verticals that have already made significant commitments to the open-source operating environment. “A lot of our larger customers, many of them in the financial services industry, are the ones that were asking us to go and support Linux, because they were trying to go and drive down their IT costs,” he says.

Actuate had previously delivered a version of its Portal front-end for Linux. With last week’s announcement, the company brought over the whole of its Actuate 8 reporting suite—or, as Morris says, “everything that runs on the server.” As of now, Actuate supports Red Hat Linux running on Intel processors, but Morris says it will consider supporting other hardware platforms if demand is there.

Siebel’s long-awaited expansion into Linux came as a result of a little bit of prodding from one of its CRM competitors—E.piphany—which recently announced an initiative to port its software stack to Red Hat Linux.

Like Cognos, Siebel announced plans to partner with IBM to port its CRM 7.7 suite (running on Big Blue’s DB2 Universal Database) to Linux. As part of the agreement, Siebel and IBM said that they will deliver Web-server and app-server tiers for Siebel’s CRM suite in 2005.

Even if Siebel’s embrace of Linux was largely reactionary in nature, analysts say it will help the company attack the perception that its software is unnecessarily costly to deploy and support. “As the nominal market leader in CRM, [Siebel] has been disproportionately lashed for the high costs and complex administration associated with large enterprise CRM implementations,” writes Ian Jacobs, a principal CRM analyst with consultancy Current Analysis Inc. “By moving its suite to Linux, Siebel can now take the high road in fighting to lower TCO, easing integration concerns, and boosting security for users.”

IBM’s partnerships with two of BI’s biggest players also reveal what’s at stake for Big Blue. As a result of its partnership with Cognos, for example, IBM gets to promote its POWER-processor-based systems (pSeries and i5), which—in addition to Linux—support the AIX and OS/400 operating systems, respectively. More to the point, customers who tap ReportNet running on POWER/Linux will almost certainly deploy DB2 as a database repository as well. This is consistent with IBM’s strategy to provide the middleware (Big Blue defines its DB2 database as a piece of middleware) to enable a range of solutions.

Similarly, by partnering with Siebel, Big Blue has an opportunity to sell both DB2 and some version of its WebSphere Application Server middleware into a large number of Siebel accounts. Through it all of, course, IBM gets to tout its Linux leadership, which—in view of the success Oracle Corp. has had marketing its Oracle 10g database for Linux—is also important.

Most vendors acknowledge that potential uptake of their solutions on Linux will—initially, anyway—be limited. At the same time, notes Morris, about 50 percent of Actuate’s customers use some form of RISC-Unix, while another 50 percent tap Windows. “Probably Linux is going to take a bit out of both of this,” he says.

Cognos’ Bonham Carter says his company has recently seen a lot of volume on RISC-Unix—thanks largely, he suggests, to Cognos’ global marketing agreement with Big Blue, which includes a healthy dose of support from IBM’s technology prescriptive Global Services unit. “We’ve got a fairly healthy part of our install base runs on Unix, and as a leading Unix platform, we do have a fair number of customers that run on AIX."

Wayne Eckerson, director of The Data Warehousing Institute, says he doesn’t have a sense for just how many IT organizations are making the switch to BI solutions running on Linux. Nevertheless, he notes, such a pairing does make a lot of sense. “I know that DW/BI professionals are trying to save money like every other IT professional. So Linux on Intel is definitely something that is being evaluated. I've heard a few folks talk about implementation. The more money they save on maintenance dollars, the more money they have to spend on building value-added applications that make them look like heroes to the business. So there is a lot of motivation to evaluate Linux, now that it has corporate cache” with IBM, Oracle, Sun Microsystems Inc., and others.

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About the Author

Stephen Swoyer is a Nashville, TN-based freelance journalist who writes about technology.