Jul 29, 2010

Yes, it really is possible to have high-quality Business Intelligence (BI) software without denting the corporate pocketbook too badly, or at all. Open source BI suites can provide all the services most organizations need without high costs. Two suites stand out today in the open source BI arena: Pentaho and JasperSoft. And, according to Gartner, companies should be looking strongly at open source BI in the next few years.

It’s not always possible to replace critical software with open source, but whenever possible it’s a good practice to invest in open source services to avoid vendor licensing and lock-in. Companies often look to open source offerings like Linux and Apache for infrastructure services, but overlook the availability of open source alternatives for applications higher up the stack.

Only a few years ago, it would have been difficult to find mature open source BI software, but Pentaho and JasperSoft are now established organizations and have become attractive alternatives to proprietary software.

Pentaho

Pentaho has been in development since 2004. As with many business oriented open source projects, Pentaho is offered in a community edition and as enterprise editions.

The Pentaho BI Suite Community Edition components are released under a mixture of licenses, and comprise several components: the data integration component, Kettle; Pentaho Reporting, which includes all of Pentaho’s open source reporting tools, report designer, and libraries; the Mondrian Online Analytical Processing (OLAP) server; Weka data mining component; and several other components.

The open source edition of Pentaho has enough functionality for businesses willing to roll their own BI solutions and deploy them. However the Enterprise Edition has a great deal of functionality not found in the Community Edition. On top of support and service level agreements, Pentaho Enterprise has single sign-on (SSO), clustering, performance monitoring, and integration with Microsoft Active Directory or LDAP services, and many other features.

Configuration of JasperSoft, as evidenced by the number of components, can be complex. The company also offers a hosted “on-demand” subscription for Pentaho which is customized by the company and priced accordingly.

JasperSoft

Another open source contender is JasperSoft. Its BI suite includes the stand-alone JasperServer report server that is at the core of the BI suite; JasperReports and iReport for designing and delivering reports; and JasperETL for data integration. The open source projects are hosted on JasperForge.org and components are licensed under the GPL or LGPLv2.

The community edition may be enough to get started and can be useful in many projects, but may not get you all the way there. The Community Jaspersoft projects don’t include a number of features that large organizations will want, such as the report designer, additional querying and reporting tools, and logging features useful for auditing. And, of course, the Professional and Enterprise editions include support and update features that aren’t included with the community edition.

Organizations looking to deploy or test JasperServer quickly might want to look at the BitNami stacks. BitNami provides installers, virtual machines, and cloud images with popular open source software pre-configured. JasperSoft is the only BI suite currently packaged by the project.

Pentaho and JasperSoft aren’t the only open source offerings, of course, but they are two of the most popular solutions and have been around long enough to mature and to develop a decent community.

Cheaper, But Not Free

While Pentaho and JasperSoft can save on licensing costs, it’s important to note that open source doesn’t equal free. Organizations still need to budget for customization and deployment, and possibly for support or subscription fees. Even if you roll out Pentaho or JasperSoft on your own without any support, deploying one of the solutions is going to take time.

However, BI software is complex enough that those costs will be present even with proprietary solutions. If cost and avoiding lock-in is important to your organization, and it should be, Pentaho and JasperSoft should be two of the first solutions you evaluate.

Related Information From Dell.com: Intelligent Infrastructure: The IT You Already Own — But Smarter.

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