Open-source BI project gains momentum

But Actuate's claims should be placed in proper context, one analyst says

The open-source BI (business intelligence) project BIRT has surpassed 10 million downloads and 1 million developers, project sponsor Actuate announced on Wednesday.

While those numbers might seem substantial, Actuate isn't the only open-source BI player touting serious momentum. Rival JasperSoft has for some time claimed to be the world's most widely used BI software.

Overall, open-source BI vendors' results need to be placed in the proper context, said Forrester Research analyst Boris Evelson.

"The number of downloads is great, but in the end if it doesn't translate into paid subscriptions it means very little," he said. Actuate generated about US$5.1 million in BIRT-related revenue in the quarter ended Sept. 30 on total revenues of roughly $40 million, a rise of 8 percent year-over year, according to the company.

The BIRT project's technology is solid, but more of a series of components, Evelson said. Truly comprehensive BI suites, with advanced management or security features, do not come for free, he said.

Indeed, Actuate itself sells ActuateOne, a commercial suite based on BIRT. It includes an iServer component that can serve up BI capabilities to "virtually unlimited" numbers of users.

Other open-source BI companies exist as well, including Pentaho, SpagoBI and Vanilla BI. Most likely, the market sector will see some type of consolidation, versus major organic growth, according to Evelson.

"One of the reasons the open-source BI really hasn't taken off to the next level is that all the companies are relatively small," he said. "Clients are concerned about what's going to happen to them."

It was previously thought that Sun might add BI tools to its open-source wares, but that prospect dimmed after Oracle bought the company.

While Oracle has retained and continued to support open-source Sun technologies like the MySQL database and the Java programming language, it already has a sizable proprietary BI stack gained through expensive acquisitions of companies like Hyperion.

Much the same goes for large software vendors like SAP, with its BusinessObjects portfolio, and IBM, which sells the Cognos BI product line.

Now Red Hat seems to be a more likely shopper for open-source BI, and it could be one of the only ones, Evelson said. That raises questions about the fate of open-source BI projects that don't get absorbed by larger vendors.

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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