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Open Source BI: The Great Leap Forward

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By Ken North

If you are unaccustomed to using business intelligence (BI) and open source software in the same sentence, you're excused if you've been on a desert island for a couple of years. During your absence, there's been a surge of interest in Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP/Perl/Python (LAMP). The Eclipse platform and open source database managers proved to be popular with developers. Open source BI software is poised to also make a great leap forward.

At the Enterprise Data Forum in November 2003, John Poole did a presentation about the availability of open source software for data warehousing. The pickings were slim. Poole reported 7416 downloads of the only available OLAP server and limited open source programs for reporting and visualization. By November 2005, we'd experienced a noticeable increase in the number of open source BI solutions.

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Between November 2005 and January 2006, Ventana Research surveyed 522 organization about open source BI deployments and plans. Of the 320 respondents, 42% were from organizations with more than $100 million in annual revenue and 45% were from organizations with less than $100 million in revenue. The survey found:

  • More than 20% of respondents had already deployed open source BI solutions.
  • An additional 62% were developing or planning a deployment of an open source BI solution.
  • 18% had purchased support, 12% had purchased consulting
  • Large deployments (more than 1,000 users) are expected to increase 200-300% with the next year.

The Ventana Research survey is one indicator of the interest in open source BI. Another is downloads of that open source OLAP server had grown to 40,000+ in May 2006.

Reporting, Servers and BI Suites

There are several major players in the open source BI space. If your shop uses J2EE-compliant application servers, for example, you have several choices for analysis and reporting software. There's also the flexibility of web services APIs and integrating with scripts using PHP, Perl and Python.

Eclipse BIRT

With participation from companies such as Actuate Corporation, the Eclipse Foundation chartered the Business Intelligence and Reporting Tools (BIRT) project in 2004. Eclipse reports consist of data, transformations, business logic and presentation.

BIRT consists of several parts, including an Eclipse-based report designer, a charting engine and a runtime engine. The BIRT Runtime deploys reports to a J2EE application server.

A full install of Eclipse BIRT requires several pieces, including JDK/JRE 1.4.2 or better, Eclipse SDK, Graphics Editor Framework and Eclipse Modeling Framework. BIRT 2.1RC2 is now available for download.

JasperSoft

JasperSoft recently announced JasperServer, which complements other Jasper BI software. The new server targets the communities using Java and LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP/Perl/Python). It's programmed in pure Java with support for scripting languages, including PHP, Perl and Python.

JasperDecisions is a report server that's an embeddable version of JasperReports. It provides support for authentication, authorization and integration with application servers. JasperIntelligence is a new BI suite that marries the JasperReports technology with JasperServer. Besides a report server, it also includes an Online Analytical Processing (OLAP) server and an Extract, Transform and Load (ETL) server. JasperIntelligence provides a PHP integration module and exposes public APIs for Java, SOAP and web services.

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2006, North Summit Media. All rights reserved.