Open Source Business Intelligence: JasperSoft Ups the Ante

JasperSoft last week took its open source BI proposition to the next level, announcing new BI server and analytic components.

In the open-source business intelligence (BI) space, the JasperReports reporting library is arguably as well known—especially to J2EE developers and others of the codejockeying cognoscenti—as Crystal Reports is to Visual Studio coders.

Although it remains an active open-source project, JasperReports last year was commercialized by JasperSoft Corp. (the former Panscopic) which bundled a report authoring client (iReport), a portal-based, embeddable reporting engine (JasperDecisions), and other complementary enhancements with the vanilla JasperReports library. That was just the beginning, however.

At last week’s MySQL User’s Conference, held in Santa Clara, JasperSoft announced its most ambitious deliverable to date—an open source BI suite, dubbed JasperIntelligence, which the company says it will roll out over the next few months. Anchored by JasperSoft’s new JasperServer deliverable—BI server middleware that’s available in both commercial and open-source variants (the latter of which is available under the terms of the ubiquitous GPL)—JasperIntelligence also boasts and analytic component, JasperAnalytics, which JasperSoft says they expect to announce sometime this month.

Other JasperIntelligence components include (of course) JasperReports, along with JasperDesigner (an open-source report design tool), JasperETL, and JasperDecisions. As for the new JasperServer deliverable, it’s written in Java and supports PHP, Perl, Python and other scripting languages. It’s designed to operate as either a standalone server or as a Web services reporting engine. JasperSoft officials say JasperServer reports can also be embedded into both Java and non-Java applications. JasperServer can generate reports in most common formats, including HTML, PDF, Excel and Word. It uses HTTP, SOAP, Web services, and Java APIs to communicate with other applications, and can retrieve data using JDBC, POJO and XML.

JasperAnalytics, for its part, will support slicing and dicing, pivoting, filtering, charting, and drill-down, officials say. It, too, is an open-source Java deliverable.

JasperSoft officials position the company’s new suite as an SME-friendly play. Their argument might seem counterintuitive, at least in an SME market that’s dominated by Microsoft-oriented BI solutions and staffed by Microsoft-oriented BI professionals.

Consider the case of Luke Philips, a software engineer with a prominent U.S. telco provider. An enthusiastic user of a rival open-source reporting solution (the Eclipse Foundation’s BI Reporting Tool, or BIRT), Philips says he doubts whether a combined Java and open-source BI stack could flourish at his company. “We don’t have a lot of Java expertise in the BI portion of our IT shop. As a consequence, we will not make use of [projects such as] Mondrian or Pentaho anytime soon,” he comments. If anything, he says, his employer would instead pursue an open-source and SQL Server 2005 approach. “It is possible we could use open-source .Net tools in this space. We are using BIRT as a reporting tool primarily from the OLTP area at the moment.”

In this respect, a J2EE-oriented, quasi-open-source solution such as JasperIntelligence might seem like a tough sell, but JasperSoft CEO Paul Doscher says SMEs will embrace the economics of open-source BI, which is more affordable than commercial alternative.

“Open source is the key to solving people’s frustration with complex, inflexible, and overpriced BI solutions from large proprietary software vendors that have taken their customers’ IT systems hostage,” said Doscher, in a statement. “Customers want BI for everyone in their organization. JasperSoft is committed to giving businesses freedom of choice with JasperIntelligence, an affordable, open and extensible BI architecture that empowers everyone within an organization, from those in the board room to accounts receivables.”

The company’s decision to exhibit at the MySQL User Conference wasn’t an accident. According to MySQL AB’s own polling, JasperReports is the most popular reporting engine for the MySQL database, used by about 40 percent of all MySQL shops within the MySQL community. More than 40 percent of MySQL users who responded to the survey said they were using or considering JasperReports.

About the Author

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