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LESSON - Pleasant Surprises: Commercial Open Source Business Intelligence

By Lance Walter, Vice President of Marketing, Pentaho

Many organizations have already reaped the benefits of open source software in different forms—deploying low-cost, scalable Linux-based servers, or using open source databases such as MySQL or Postgres. You might be surprised how often you touch open source software in your day-to-day professional or personal life. Do you search on Google? Watch videos on YouTube? Have a TiVO at home? If so, then you’re using open source software. These days, even cell phones and public transit vehicles are leveraging open source software.

Open source came to the BI market a few years back and has moved beyond the status of “market trend” or “the next big thing” to become a pragmatic choice for BI applications at a wide range of companies. Open source BI is still a new topic for many, and many “pleasant surprises” await those who invest a little bit of time to learn more.

Reality, not Hype

Organizations like yours use open source BI, whether you’re a large or small company, and irrespective of your industry. Big companies such as Terra Industries, Motorola, and Unionfidi S.C., as well as small- and mediumsized companies such as iStockphoto, Boyne Resorts, and DivX use open source BI, just to name a few. Some have thousands of users or terabytes of data, while others are small departmental deployments.


Figure 1. Open source BI is bringing new capabilities to the BI market.


“You Get What You Pay For”

No one has ever shown a positive correlation between the amount of money spent on BI software licenses and the ultimate benefits delivered by BI. One frequently cited cause of BI project failures is underbudgeting for critical services such as integration, training, and consulting, due to over-allocation of budget to software license fees.

“There’s No Such Thing as a Free Lunch”

Even without proprietary license fees, business intelligence is not free. Maximizing the value of BI in your organization requires an investment of time—and almost always money (integration, training, design, hardware, maintenance, consulting). Just because you can avoid up-front license fees with open source BI doesn’t mean you’re getting a “free lunch.”

Reducing Open Source IP Risk by … Using Open Source!

It’s more likely than not that there is open source software on the CDs from your proprietary BI vendor. This can take the form of included application servers or Web servers such as Apache Tomcat, embedded databases such as MySQL, or embedded libraries. If you read the fine print in your license agreement or your vendor’s SEC disclosures, it’s likely that your vendor isn’t indemnifying you. Most commercial open source BI companies include IP indemnification as part of their service agreements, which actually reduces any exposure you might have, based on use of open source software.

Transparency Rules

For years, IT organizations have asked for more transparency from their technology vendors. Open source has delivered a major leap forward in this area. In many cases, you can just go to a company’s Web site and get full access to product documentation, unfiltered user feedback, product roadmaps, bug reports, and software, as well. You know what you’re getting, and you know where your vendor is going.

Functional Evolution

Open source BI has come a long way over the years, and now is even providing features that aren’t yet widely available from established, traditional proprietary vendors. Open source BI covers the main BI functional areas, such as reporting, analysis, dashboards, and data integration. It also offers thin-client AJAX technology, Web services access to everything, integration with the Eclipse IDE—things that many traditional vendors are still catching up on.

This article originally appeared in the issue of .

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