JasperSoft Banks on Analytics

Thanks to its support for in-memory analysis, its efforts to develop its own OLAP front-end, and other initiatives, JasperSoft is poised to reap the benefits of a healthy (and growing) appetite for analytics, the company says.

JasperSoft was one of the first, most visible, and most ambitious of open source software (OSS) business intelligence (BI) players.

Although born from the JasperReports OSS reporting project, the JasperSoft of today isn't defined (or pigeonholed) by its beginnings. In August 2006, notes senior director of products Ian Fyfe, JasperSoft introduced JasperSoft Professional, an enterprise-grade client/server reporting environment. At the same time, JasperSoft also unveiled an ambitious plan to field its own BI platform, complete with reporting, dashboards, scorecards, data integration (DI), analytics, and other amenities (see http://tdwi.org/articles/2006/08/30/jaspersofts-burgeoning-bi-stack-coming-into-focus.aspx).

Four years on, Fyfe maintains, JasperSoft has delivered on that plan. Earlier this year it introduced version 3.7 of its BI suite.

Although it's not the only OSS BI player in the mix -- Pentaho, Fyfe concedes, has an all-in-one BI suite -- it is now able to have conversations with customers that probably wouldn't have been possible four years ago. "JasperSoft [of today] is a business intelligence vendor. We do more than just reporting. We now do data integration, we do analysis -- in fact, we use the same analysis technology [Mondrian] as [OSS rival] Pentaho," he argues.

"We've also started incorporating R [into the JasperSoft suite]. We've actually built a proof-of-concept, which is actually relatively easy, [because] we have this open framework using custom components, so that [incorporating R is a matter of] adding a new [custom] component into JasperReports."

Moreover, Fyfe asserts, JasperSoft has benefitted from a come-to-open-source phenomenon in traditional lagging (or barrier) markets, such as the UK or the U.S. Where JasperSoft Professional in 2006 might have been a tough sell and Fyfe emphasizes might still be in 2010, it's the kind of proposition that more easily sells itself.

"There has been a little skepticism in the past, yes, and there are still a few holdouts. I think increasingly [with] open source, we're seeing larger and larger enterprises looking at us," he comments. "They end up using us because we do the job, we're reliable, we're scalable, and we tend to be [based on] a much more modern architecture than the traditional vendors that are out there. The fact that we're based on modern Web-services technology, the fact that there's no [vendor] lock-in -- these are all things that work to our favor."

JasperSoft BI has other things going for it, in addition to its open source underpinnings, Fyfe contends. He cites its support for both in-memory analysis -- i.e., analysis that's performed in the context of the JasperServer reporting engine itself -- and traditional OLAP analysis. These days, Fyfe deadpans, customers have a fairly healthy appetite for analytics; few customers have overly healthy pocketbooks, however.

Advanced or high-end analytics don't come cheap, he maintains, and that's why an increasing number of shops are looking at OSS technologies like R -- and OSS BI platforms like JasperSoft. It's what led JasperSoft to introduce an in-memory capability in its version 3.7 release, according to Fyfe. "Our in-memory [support] is a fairly new development, but it's something we're seeing a lot of interest in, thanks to the emphasis on analytics. We call it 'in-memory' analysis, but we've actually made it configurable, so you can actually choose whether it's done in memory or sent back to the data source," he explains. (See http://esj.com/articles/2010/03/31/advanced-analytics-architecture.aspx.)

"We also support the more traditional relational OLAP engine, [which is] built on top of Mondrian," he continues. JasperSoft is in the process of customizing its Mondrian front-end (based on the JPivot library), such that JasperSoft will be able to support any OLAP engine. "Right now, [Mondrian] has a Web-based front-end based on another open source product called JPivot," Fyfe explains. "Our goal over time is to replace the traditional JPivot user interface so [that] you can point [the user or client interface] at either Mondrian or Oracle Essbase or Microsoft Analysis Services -- or point it toward a relational data store or a non-relational data store."

For a long time, Crystal Reports from SAP BusinessObjects was synonymous with reporting: it was bundled with many popular applications (including Microsoft Corp.'s Visual Studio IDE) and was used to support both basic and advanced reporting requirements. Nowadays, Fyfe says, JasperSoft doesn't much encounter Crystal -- nor ReportNet (an IBM Cognos product), Actuate Corp., or Information Builders Inc. (IBI), for that matter. "The more kind of commodity products like Crystal, we're seeing them as pretty moribund. We're not so much focused on replacing those products, however. Most of our business is green-field business, [with] enterprises replacing those [established] products."

Fyfe says JasperSoft doesn't encounter Microsoft Corp. (with its SQL Server Reporting Services) for a very different reason, however. "We really don't run into them much at all, honestly. We're a Java shop, they're a Microsoft [.NET] shop, so it's almost a parallel universe. People in Microsoft shops buy Microsoft technology. Most of our clients are Java shops, so it's really very rare for them to have [i.e., develop on top of] Microsoft, too."