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LESSON - Open Source Business Intelligence: Does It Fit into Your Business Intelligence Environment?

By John Williams, Senior Vice President, National Practice Director, Collaborative Consulting

Open source software solutions are becoming more and more pervasive. Both large and small corporations have considered, and frequently adopted, open source software as a component of their overall software implementation strategy. Operating systems, data bases, source control, IDEs, and Web servers are some of the more common open source components.

It was inevitable that eventually open source would address data warehousing and business intelligence solutions. There are currently several open source tools in the market that address everything from ETL to BI. They claim to provide a complete capability equivalent to current market leading solutions. This brief article will address some of the pros, challenges, and considerations for open source as a part of an enterprise strategy.

First, let’s start with the pros:
  1. Open source is relatively inexpensive from a licensing perspective. While more traditional products cost hundreds to thousands per seat, open source software can be as inexpensive as free without support, and certainly much less than traditional products even when support is included.
  2. There are open source solutions that address a majority of the software continuum for DW/BI. The current market seems to have evolved with multiple consortiums addressing each aspect of DW/BI. Some of the software vendors have aggregated these into end-to-end platforms.
  3. Component-based design allows them to be retrofit into existing applications. The different subcomponents of the open source solutions can be customized and embedded into existing or new applications.
  4. Some features are more advanced than others. If your need is satisfied by these mature features, then open source may be a fit.
Some of the challenges and considerations would include:
  1. The current solutions tend to be development heavy. Many are JAVA-centric, and will require in-house development skills in order to make any real use of the tools.
  2. While the licensing costs are low, the total cost of ownership (TCO) may not be. Given their development-centric nature, these tools will actually cost more for ongoing support than one might initially expect.
  3. Open source tool evaluation is more time consuming than traditional tool evaluation. Even getting the vendors to provide demonstrations of their product can prove to be challenging. A free proof of concept is most likely out of the question.
  4. The user interfaces are not nearly as robust as traditional software products. This is largely because these tools are still evolving, doing so at the pace of the consortium. The priorities at this point seem focused on core functionality, not advanced user interface design.
  5. Complete is a relative term. In the case of open source solutions, key elements such as a semantic layer, dash boarding, data visualization, and data quality components are lacking, while other components have smaller functional gaps.
  6. They are very desktop-centric. While traditional products have evolved to be heavily Web-centric, these tools are still very dependent on a rich client to provide key functionality.
The bottom line:

While open source BI tools have begun to show some promise and will force traditional software vendors to rethink their pricing and strategy, they are still a ways away from becoming enterprise solutions. In smaller organizations support will be a challenge, in larger organizations the TCO and functionality may not be there just yet. In considering open source, an organization should look at opportunities to try it out on a smaller scale, looking at specific data mart needs for a potential fit. Consider your organization’s readiness carefully, and if you decide to adopt open source BI, be aware of the trade-offs.

This article originally appeared in the issue of .

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