Forrester: Open-source BI has pros and cons

As with anything, you get what you pay for

A new Forrester Research report finds that while a number of open-source BI (business intelligence) offerings are providing many of the capabilities enterprises require, certain shortcomings remain.

Open-source BI carries the same general benefits as other open-source software segments, from lower initial costs to more flexible support and integration options compared to proprietary products, analysts Boris Evelson and Jeffrey Hammond wrote.

In addition, organizations that have used open-source software at length often find their in-house developers become more engaged, since they are able to probe into and extend the source code with much more freedom, the report adds.

There is a wide range of open-source options within BI subcategories like data integration, reporting tools and data mining, but Forrester's report focuses Actuate, Jaspersoft, SpagoBI and Pentaho, which offer suites of BI functionality.

While those companies offer community editions at no charge, those offerings often lack features found in the vendors' premium versions, with SpagoBI being an exception, according to the report.

"Don't be misguided: Open source does not always equal free software. In some cases it is, but you will get what you pay for," the analysts wrote. Features like strong integrated security, scalability tools and data connections to popular sources will most likely come with a price tag.

However, while community editions can't serve as enterprise-grade BI suites, individual components that are available may have some value for companies with "tech-savvy IT shops that struggle with a BI buy-versus-build decision," the report states.

Meanwhile, it's difficult to make direct comparisons between the four open-source suites, according to Forrester. For example, while the analyst firm gave high marks to Actuate's BIRT offering, the software focuses tightly on traditional BI functions like reports and dashboards.

Jaspersoft, Pentaho and SpagoBI also cover areas like OLAP (online analytical processing), and should be compared to commercial products sold by Oracle, SAP and others, Forrester said. While the open source options don't have all the features found in those products, some customers may not need "all the bells and whistles of BI," the report states.

Overall open-source BI suites are hindered by "the same syndrome as their larger commercial BI cousins that acquired multiple technologies and are struggling with integrating them," according to the report.

But there's a crucial difference, in that open-source projects are "mostly independently governed and have little to no incentive to prioritize tight integration with BI components from other projects," it adds. Therefore, common user interfaces or data access methods "are mostly nonexistent across open source projects."

Vendors profiled in the report are "slowly but surely bridging that gap" with their premium versions, but comprehensive integration may lag among the community editions, Forrester said.

Chris Kanaracus covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Chris's e-mail address is Chris_Kanaracus@idg.com

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Tags open sourceapplicationsit strategySAPCIO rolesoftwareIT managementForrester ResearchOracledata warehousingbusiness intelligence

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