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Open source BI software takes step toward parity with commercial BI

Jaspersoft released an enterprise version of its open source business intelligence (BI) suite that the vendor says puts it on par with commercial BI offerings.

The open source business intelligence (BI) software market took another big step toward parity with its commercial counterpart on Tuesday as Jaspersoft unveiled a new professional edition of its core BI suite.

Jaspersoft Enterprise Edition includes a number of new and enhanced features that the San Francisco-based vendor says make it comparable -- and in some cases, superior -- to competing BI suites from commercial BI vendors like SAP BusinessObjects and IBM Cognos.

"The key for us is we really work to deliver what our customers want," said Jaspersoft CEO Brian Gentile. "Enterprise-class problems need to be solved."

Among the new features in the enterprise edition are auto logging for compliance tracking, a multi-tenancy deployment option, a multidimensional ROLAP component, and improved extract, transform and load (ETL) capabilities, Gentile explained.

In addition, the company released Jaspersoft 3.7, the latest version of its BI suite, with updated features that are available in both the enterprise and community editions. They include in-memory analysis capabilities, improved flash-based visualization tools, repository search functionality, and an online help desk for support.

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While many of the features have been around for some time and are common components of most commercial BI suites, they could help Jaspersoft expand its customer base from small and medium-sized businesses to larger organizations with more stringent compliance, support and other requirements, said Jay Lyman, an analyst with The 451 Group.

The down economy is also improving open source software's prospects with enterprise customers. Open source vendors do not charge software license fees but make money through subscription and support fees.

Lyman said that most CIOs feel an "obligation" at least to consider open source software, BI or otherwise.

Gartner, in a recent report, predicted that demand for open source BI will grow significantly over the next two years as vendors like Jaspersoft add more enterprise-class features. The Stamford, Conn.-based analyst firm predicts that production deployments of open source BI tools will "grow fivefold through 2012."

Other open source BI vendors in the market include Orlando, Fla.-based Pentaho, which recently released a new interactive reporting interface, and San Mateo, Calif.-based Actuate, whose professional edition BI suite is based on the open source Eclipse BIRT project.

Jaspersoft's Gentile said the vendor developed the new features as a direct response to demands from its larger customers, which are keen on making better use of the ever-increasing amount of data they collect but also want service and support guarantees. He conceded that the vendor had some catching up to do.

For example, audit logging, which lets administrators see who accesses which reports and dashboards, how long they stay, and how often they visit, is a key requirement for larger organizations that must comply with both internal and external regulations, Gentile said. Most commercial BI suites have offered this functionality for years.

"We definitely had to catch up on that," he said.

He added, however, that other new features, particularly the multi-tenancy deployment option, put Jaspersoft ahead of its commercial counterparts. The new option allows IT organizations to deploy the software as a service (SaaS) within the enterprise, with users accessing BI applications over the Web much like on-demand or SaaS-based software that lives in the public cloud.

The benefit of an internal multi-tenancy deployment is that now IT doesn't have to deploy the software on each individual desktop, Gentile said, and it gives them one central location from which to manage the software.

"We're the only BI vendor that I know that has made a SaaS-enabled BI platform," he said. "I'm surprised no one else has thought of this."

Other commercial vendors do have similar, if not identical, offerings, however. IBM, for example, late last year launched its Smart Analytics Cloud offering, an internal cloud of blade servers that support BI and advanced analytics. Also last year, Greenplum introduced its Enterprise Data Cloud, a virtual infrastructure of commodity hardware on which customers deploy and run Greenplum's data warehouse platform.

And several SaaS BI vendors are in the market, including Birst, Oco and PivotLink, which target mostly midmarket customers.

Still, with more enterprise-class features and an economy still in recovery mode, Jaspersoft is in a good position to gain market share, 451 Group's Lyman said.

"The economic difficulty of the last 24 months has come at a time when open source software is positively associated with cost savings," he said. "Perceptions of open source software have transformed."

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