Pentaho and Jaspersoft Make the Case for Open Source BI

In the current climate, the value proposition of open source software is attractive -- maybe irresistible. Product enhancements from Pentaho and JasperSoft help explain why

The open source software business intelligence (OSS BI) community was greeted recently with significant releases from two of the highest-profile players -- Pentaho Corp. (which markets a full-fledged OSS BI platform) and Jaspersoft Corp. (the proprietor of a commercialized version of the seminal JasperReports OSS reporting project).

Both vendors released what they touted as enhanced versions of their core product offerings: Pentaho (with its Pentaho BI Suite version 3.0 update) and Jaspersoft (releasing Jaspersoft v3.5).

For one thing, says industry veteran Lance Walter -- who (prior to coming onboard at Pentaho) had logged time at Business Objects SA, among other BI players -- although companies are slashing spending in other technology segments, they're still spending (or still planning to spend) money on BI.

There's a further wrinkle, according to Walter: companies have budget money to spend on BI, but they don't have money to burn. Suite-based BI is a big-ticket play in terms of both licensing costs and deployment complexity, making OSS offerings such as Pentaho's (which are based on a subscription-based licensing model) a more palatable proposition, he claims.

"There's just no appetite in these times for expensive, high-risk, long-time-to-pay-back projects. Also complexity -- there's zero appetite for complexity. Companies have too much complexity as it is," he points out. "What we're offering [in Pentaho 3.0] are self-service dashboards for business users -- dashboards that the user themselves can create … [and which also] include new [Adobe] Flash-based visualization capabilities."

These new self-service dashboards are a mostly what-you-see-is-what-you-get (WYSIWYG) proposition, Walter says. "You take our new Pentaho Dashboard Designer -- it's designed to be a zero-training graphical design environment, with template and theme-based creations. [Users] can expose reports and analytics, even bring in Flash-based content, for interactivity or visualization."

Pentaho consolidates well-known OSS BI projects -- including Mondrian (for analysis), Kettle (for ETL), and Pentaho (for enterprise reporting).

Jaspersoft's JasperReports is the focus of Paul Doscher, another executive with ties to the former Business Objects. Doscher wants to bring the product to a much wider audience.

Jaspersoft had its big coming out nearly three years ago, when it announced JasperServer Professional, a BI and reporting platform based on JasperReports (see http://esj.com/articles/2006/08/30/jaspersofts-burgeoning-bi-stack-coming-into-focus.aspx). Today, the company likes to promote itself as "the world's most widely used BI software," thanks to the ubiquity of JasperReports itself, which isbundled with several OSS database platforms and also ships with several integrated development environments (IDEs).

The new Jaspersoft v3.5 boasts significant amenities, including a new integrated analysis facility and support for a software-as-a-service (SaaS) deployment model. Intriguingly, Jaspersoft 3.5's new analytic capabilities are delivered via an in-memory engine, which -- for customers that choose to go that route -- can obviate the need for either a discrete OLAP engine or a data warehouse. Officials stress that Jaspersoft 3.5 can support OLAP- or DW-driven reporting; they position the in-memory facility as a boon to shops that don't have a data warehouse or have limited data management expertise.

The new Jaspersoft 3.5's in-memory facility is similar to a number of other recent in-memory moves, including entries from Lyza Inc. (its Lyzasoft tool puts a full-fledged columnar analytic engine on the user desktop), Microsoft Corp. (its still-gestating Project Gemini -- expected to ship sometimes next year -- aims to do the same thing), and QlikTech (which likewise uses an in-memory, if non-columnar, desktop-based analytic engine) (see http://www.tdwi.org/print.aspx?id=9373).

By now, analysts say, low cost isn't the only thing OSS BI tools have going for them. The new deliverables from Pentaho and Jaspersoft demonstrate as much.

"Open Source BI tools are not only a low-cost option, they are beginning to offer greater levels of functionality to meet enterprise requirements. Jaspersoft's support for integrated analysis that make its BI suite more interactive, is one example of how they are moving up the food chain," said Wayne Eckerson, director of research at TDWI, in a statement.

An Open Source BI Tsunami?

The current climate is especially propitious for open source BI, advocates argue (see http://www.tdwi.org/News/display.aspx?ID=9207).

Empirical evidence seems to back them up -- to a degree. A recent report from Forrester Research suggests that there's plenty of headroom for OSS expansion -- particularly on the application side (back-end projects, such as Linux or the Apache Web server, have traditionally fueled OSS growth). Forrester's survey -- which is based on interviews with 132 "senior business and IT executives" with large companies in the EU -- found that 33 percent of respondents had already adopted OSS BI offerings (31 percent said they were using OSS customer relationship management software). Moreover, another 25 percent anticipate deploying OSS BI sometime over the next year. (That number was slightly higher -- at 26 percent -- for OSS CRM.)

On the other hand, Forrester's survey is based on data from the EU, which -- OSS advocates concede -- has outpaced the U.S. in terms of OSS adoption. Even so, OSS boosters say that U.S. firms continue to come around. "U.S. companies are coming to that right now. My counterpart in Europe has gone past that issue about a year and a half ago. In the European Union, the big companies have already come to that," said Vincent general manager of the Americas with OSS data integration specialist Talend, in an interview late last year.

With an open source massively parallel processing (MPP) DBMS in the works, the OSS BI segment is expected to get considerably more interesting, too.

About the Author

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