Access and Feeds

Business Intelligence: Open Source Catching Up, but Still Lags Proprietary

By Dick Weisinger

Open Source software pervades almost every segment of technology.  In some areas Open Source even has even become the leader.  For example, Linux versus UNIX, or Alfresco versus traditional ECM vendors.  Open Source Business Intelligence software is one area where there is a significant amount of work being done, but for now, according to a new report by Forrester, Open Source BI still has some holes when compared to proprietary offerings.  But, the gap between the two is closing rapidly.

Compared to proprietary software, Open Source software has lower initial costs and often provides good functionality.   With the source code available, in-house developers working with Open Source  often can become more engaged and knowledgeable about how the software internals work because they are able to study and understand the software source code, compared to proprietary software which is typically needs to be treated like a black box since access to the source code is not available.

The Forrester report evaluated the current capabilities of Open Source Business Intelligence software.  The BI software subcategories that Forrester included in the report include data integration, data mining and reporting tools.  The software that Forrester considered included Actuate, Jaspersoft, SpagoBI and Pentaho.   Comparable BI products are also offered by traditional software vendors like Oracle and SAP.

Of the Open Source products reviewed, Actuate was found to offer the the best BIRT functionality primarily because of its good reporting capabilities.  The Actuate product offers very traditional BI features and focuses on the creation of reports and dashboards.  Actuate was followed closely in the Forrester rankings by SpagoBI which offered a broader, more complete set of BI features that include data extraction, transform, and load (ETL) as well as other advanced analytics functionality.  The full Forrester report is available for download from Actuate.

The report advised not to  “…be misguided.  Open source does not always equal free software. In some cases it is, but you will get what you pay for.”  Often the most sought after features of BI come with a for-fee Enterprise release of the product.  Those for-fee features might include, for example, high security, scalability and connectors to data sources.    For example, while the for-fee Enterprise Actuate BIRT product was highly rated, the for-free Community version called Eclipse BIRT was found to be just a set of components that are not well integrated and not really that useful.   There is a similar gap between the Enterprise and Community versions of the JasperSoft reporting tools.  Although Forrester points out that for-free community BI components may be useful to organizations staffed with developers, they are often not that worthwhile as-is out-of-the-box.

Also lacking in Open Source BI offerings are good interfaces for data interoperability between products.  The report found that the framework for integrating Open Source BI components among themselves was generally non-existent.

The Forrester report concluded that Enterprise versions of Open source are “slowly but surely bridging the gap” with their proprietary cousins, but community versions of the software still have quite a ways to go.

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