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Open source business intelligence study reveals enterprise realities

A study of open source business intelligence software users reveals growing adoption. Learn why developers choose open source for operational business intelligence and reporting.

Cost is not the only reason companies are evaluating open source business intelligence (BI) software, a recent study finds.

The study, by San Mateo, Calif.-based Ventana Research, sought to quantify current deployments and attitudes toward open source BI tools. The analyst firm surveyed 320 IT and business professionals who reported having an interest in open source BI. Of these, 83% of respondents reported that they had deployed the software, were in the process of deploying it, or were considering deployment. Almost half of the survey participants were from small companies, with under $100 million in revenue; 20% were from midsized businesses, with revenues under $1 billion; and 22% worked for Global 2000 companies.

The top 3 reasons for companies using or considering open source BI were a primary developer or architect's interest in the software, followed by lower license costs than commercial BI, and custom coding, according to Dan Everett, director of research with Ventana.

"Most open source BI is being used as a reporting tool within some application that a developer is building," Everett said.

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 So far, open source BI deployment sizes are relatively small, involving fewer than 200 seats, the survey found; 34% of deployments were internal only, but companies are also embedding reports in applications that will be more broadly deployed, Everett explained. The number of 1,000-user deployments will grow two to three times within the next year, he said.

This growing use of open source tools for operational BI potentially puts it in competition with commercial offerings. Commercial BI products from vendors such as Business Objects, Cognos, Oracle, Microsoft and others were in use at almost three-quarters of the surveyed companies, the study found. But, according to Everett, users don't consider open source and commercial BI to be comparable choices.

"Users don't expect [open source BI] to be at the same level as commercial BI," he said. "They're looking at cost and flexibility."

The choice for discerning developers?

Flexibility and features led Kevin LaFrancis, Internet applications developer for Follett Corp., to deploy an open source reporting tool. He said it would have been relatively easy for the River Grove, Ill.-based educational tools and services company to purchase another license for Crystal Reports, already in use in other departments. There was just one problem.

"I hate Crystal Reports," he said.

LaFrancis reeled off a litany of technical reasons for his hatred of the commercial offering from Business Objects, based in San Jose, Calif., and Paris. Usability issues and a laborious publishing process led him to consider alternatives. He was pleased with the flexibility of the open source JasperReports from San Francisco-based JasperSoft, a commercial open source company. His manager asked him to develop a prototype before settling on the software.

"The only concern [my manager] had was support issues. It's like that with any type of open source tool or framework, though," LaFrancis said.

The prototype was a success, the project went live, and LaFrancis has so far gotten timely, reliable answers from the other JasperReports users on the Internet. If needed, the company can purchase support from JasperSoft. The Ventana study found support was critical for most users -- 97% of the study respondents cited vendor-provided support as an important requirement. Few had actually purchased support, maintenance, consulting or indemnification, however, though many planned to do so.

Part of the allure for LaFrancis was JasperReports' Java-based technology. Oftentimes, developers are constrained by project guidelines that don't allow them to consider newer open source options, he explained. So, given the opportunity to try something new and different, he chose a tool that fit his needs, was flexible, and had options for his Java developers.

In fact, 54% of the study's respondents stated that open source does not need any more features. Another 38% desired security support, more data source adapters, improved administration and a metadata layer, while the remaining 8% weren't sure whether they would require more features.

Ventana suggests that companies considering open source BI carefully evaluate these features against project requirements and the total cost of ownership and support needs.

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