Q&A: Open Source Continues Move into Mainstream

Open source software for business intelligence and data warehousing continues to grow in popularity, a recent survey finds, with 40 percent of respondents saying they have deployed or plan to deploy it this year.

For many companies, open source often means saving money -- or at least that's the initial draw. Other reasons, such as flexibility and vendor independence, often follow. It's not surprising given the current economy that a recent survey found a surge in company-wide deployments of open source BI and data warehousing software, with more than 40 percent of respondents having deployed or planning to deploy the software this year.

"Open source business intelligence has clearly moved beyond the early adopter phase," according to Mark Madsen, president of Third Nature, Inc. and author of the survey, "Open Source Adoption in the Data Warehouse Market."

Sponsored by Infobright and Jaspersoft, the survey also found that while cost still tops the list of reasons why customers are deploying open source BI and data warehousing software, "vendor independence" ranks next. Madsen concludes that this is the result of several factors, including market consolidation fallout, recent price increases from mega-vendors, and customers' desire for more control over what they can do with software.

Third Nature, Inc., a research and consulting company specializing in business intelligence (BI) and information management conducted the survey between April and June 2009; over 200 people participated, with 63 percent of respondents identifying themselves as IT professionals, managers, or executives. We asked Jaspersoft vice president Nick Halsey for some perspectives on the survey results.

The report can be downloaded at http://bit.ly/MH00v (short registration required); an archived Webinar in which Madsen discusses the results is available at http://bit.ly/1hE9O0 (short registration also required).

BI This Week: What results from the survey did you find surprising?

Nick Halsey: Perhaps the most surprising result is that open source BI is primarily being adopted by small and large organizations, while the mid-market is lagging behind. There was some speculation that the mid-market would be the biggest adopter of open source BI, but the survey actually found that small and large organizations are adopting open source BI and data warehousing software more aggressively, with the mid-market trailing slightly.

What do you think accounts for that difference? Why is the midmarket slightly behind large and small companies on adoption rates?

At Jaspersoft, we believe the mid-market is lagging a bit behind for several reasons, including limited IT resources, heavy reliance on Microsoft-based solutions, and a generally conservative stance towards adopting new technologies.

The general perception sometimes seems to be that business intelligence and data warehousing have been developed and adopted more slowly than other kinds of open source applications. Is that true, and if so, why might that be?

I don't think open source BI and DW are lagging behind other open source applications, but it is true that the most aggressive adoption of open source has been with infrastructure and application development products, so you see a lot of operating system (Linux), database (MySQL, Postgres), application server (JBoss), and development tools (Eclipse and others).

However, open source BI is growing rapidly. In the last year alone, Jaspersoft saw over two million downloads and experienced 80 percent year-over-year sales growth.

The survey found that most open source BI applications today support a comparatively small user base: 54 percent of deployments average between one and 24 users, and less than 10 percent support 500 users or more. How is that poised to change, and why?

As we discussed earlier, most of the adoption has been either by very small or very large companies, so that statistic is not that surprising. Also, those numbers don't include the very large deployments supported by OEM applications, in which the open source BI functionality is embedded in a larger solution. Jaspersoft has hundreds of OEMs who, in turn, support many tens of thousands of users. Those numbers are accurately reflected in the deployment results you mention here.

Once the economic downturn eases and there is less of a constraint on IT budgets, and correspondingly, less risk aversion in companies, the mid-market may help adoption accelerate. We'll then see a greater number of medium-sized user bases.

The report seeks to dispel the persistent myth that small companies are the primary users of open source. In fact, the report finds that this is no longer the case, if in fact it ever was, since plenty of large companies are adopting open source. Isn't a typical adoption trend for many new technologies that either large companies or else very small firms tend to adopt first?

You're correct in noting that this is a normal technology trend. With many technologies, early adopters tend to be either very small, nimble, technically adept startups, or larger organizations with robust internal IT staffs that have the resources to experiment with new technology.

Currently, just a quarter of companies are using open source, but one of the report's key projections is that we are on the cusp of a big change as open source is adopted much more widely. What points to that happening?

Beyond the logic of the "tipping point," which observes that all technology gets to a point on the adoption curve where resistance fades and adoption accelerates, we can simply look to the statistics we see at Jaspersoft. Downloads, inquiries, and sales are all accelerating. We hear the same sort of data patterns happening with partners of ours in the sector, such as Talend (open source data integration and ETL tools) and Infobright (column-oriented relational database software built atop MySQL).

Gartner predicted that by 2012, 80 percent of all commercial software will include elements of open-source technology. Garnet also noted that many open-source technologies will be mature, stable and well supported. [Editor's Note: a summary of the Gartner prediction can be found at http://www.gartner.com/it/page.jsp?id=593207.]

Another key finding from the report was this: While cost remains at the top of the list of reasons why customers are deploying open source BI and data warehousing software, "vendor independence" ranks next on the list. What do you see as driving up that particular reason?

As Mark Madsen, the study author, points out, this is probably a combination of factors, all of which are helping drive interest in open source. Those factors include fallout from the market consolidation we're seeing, along with recent price increases from mega-vendors, and quite simply, the needs of customers to have more control over what they can and can't do with their software.

Respondents said that while license compatibility and procurement processes are no longer concerns, maturity and support of community-based projects still remain as barriers. How is Jaspersoft in particular addressing that issue?

The key is to understand the difference between community-based projects, where maturity is a concern and there may not be professional support options, and commercially backed open source projects and products such as Jaspersoft, where there are professional engineering, support, and product management teams delivering enterprise-class service-level agreements for the products in company portfolios. Many organizations find their needs are better served by choosing a commercial open source product over a pure community-based option.

What does Jaspersoft offer that ties into this discussion?

Jaspersoft supports both community open source editions and commercially licensed professional editions of each product in the Jaspersoft Business Intelligence Suite. The former are free and available under the open source GPL license; the latter come with professional subscriptions and include warranties, indemnification, enterprise-class support and certification, and all of the other features and services one would expect in a traditional enterprise software product. It's the customer's choice of which edition best serves their needs and budget.

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