Open source BI stands to gain ground even in a tight economy


Written on Tuesday, April 29, 2008 by Gemini

The economy is headed into recession, if it isn't there already, and IT budgets are feeling the pinch. But that doesn't mean companies are putting their business intelligence (BI) plans on hold, especially if those plans involve open source software. Just last month, open source BI vendor JasperSoft Corp. recorded its 80,000th deployment, making it the world's most widely used BI software, according to the company. Nearly 20,000 developers have accessed BIRT Exchange, the open source BI community site sponsored by Actuate Corp. And Pentaho Corp. recently raised $12 million in funding, indicative of investors' confidence in open source BI.

With the cost of a typical commercial BI software deployment reaching well into six figures, open source BI software is an attractive option for many cash-strapped businesses and offers them a less expensive way to tap into the power of their data. And with a community of developers regularly adding code, new and customizable open source features emerge more frequently than do those of their commercial counterparts.

But open source doesn't mean free, and companies considering it still need to set aside budget dollars to cover maintenance and support fees.

"Open source is coming on," said an analyst. "There's interest in it and companies are growing more comfortable with it. In fact, research we did last year showed that people didn't have any [reservations] with open source business intelligence."

Open source in a tight economy

An economic downturn, in fact, may actually prove to be a boon for open source BI vendors. CIOs regularly highlight BI as a top priority, but with fewer resources, buying expensive software from commercial vendors like Business Objects and Cognos is difficult to justify. Investing in open source BI software, meanwhile, is a much easier sell.

But the benefits extend beyond a lower price tag.

Downloading and installing open source BI software, for one, is usually a quick proposition. Actuate's iServer Express, an open source report server for its BIRT Eclipse reporting tool, can be deployed in under an hour, according to Vijay Ramakrishnan, marketing director for the San Mateo, Califoernia-based software maker's Java group. Just try that with a commercial BI offering. A large and active community of developers, both outside and within the vendors themselves, also means the upgrade cycle for open source BI software is significantly shorter than it is for commercial offerings, which sometimes last for years.

And the open source model makes customization easier. A company can deploy an open source BI system, gauge user reaction, then work with its own developers and the developer community at large to reshape the software to satisfy its particular needs. Commercial software can also be tailored, but the process is usually more cumbersome, as the code needed to make changes is not open to outside developers and can only be customized by the vendors themselves.

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