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Friday, October 9, 2009

Open Source Business Intelligence

We all love Open Source software, right? Apache, Java, Linux, Eclipse... What would our profession be without it?

But with the growing maturity of Open Source Business Intelligence solutions, perhaps the right question we should be asking is: What will our profession be WITH it?

Several factors are pointing to the potential near-term growth of Open Source BI solutions in the marketplace.

First is a wider acceptance of Open Source solutions in general among the business community. The Open Source Peace Prize for this effort should go to Linux. Every year more businesses are finding that Linux-based servers are proving their nettle in terms of stability and performance quality. Furthermore, as a legitimizing move for Open Source BI in particular, Gartner this year for the first time decided to invite two of the biggest names in Open Source BI - Jaspersoft and Pentaho, which Gartner considers "viable players in the BI platform market" - to participate in their Magic Quadrant study of BI vendors. And, judging from the fact that traditional BI vendor MicroStrategy is marketing a free limited-use version of its ReportingSuite software in obvious response to Open Source alternatives (try Googling "Open Source Business Intelligence" and note the resulting Sponsored Link), the Open Source "threat" has also clearly affected marketing strategies of traditional vendors.

But before we go any further, let's be clear about the specific definition of Open Source. A common misperception outside of the developer community is that "Open Source" simply means "free." This is not necessarily the case. The more important distinction is that the underlying source code of the application is not only visible to the community but is also readily modifiable, so that members of the community can contribute their own changes in the form of improvements or bug fixes to that code. Hence "Open" (visible & modifiable) "Source" (source code). There are legal nuances to the different kinds of licensing reserved by authors of Open Source intellectual property but we can save that for a different discussion.

In the Linux case, while it is true that some variations of Linux are in fact "free," wise corporations who invest in Linux will almost always opt for the "Redhat" flavor that requires a paid subscription fee whose real value is access to tech support and upgrades - not to mention supportability by certain vendors of software that are hosted on Linux operating systems.

The Open Source paradigm - not just software but the concept of community-supported development - presents both threats and opportunities to the Oracle Business Intelligence community. I'd like to share some that have come to my mind.


* Slashed software budgets - With less software spending power, the lower acquisition cost of Open Source options will entice tech-savvy organizations, particularly SMBs, to evaluate Open Source solutions alongside traditionally licensed options. The sales strategy of traditional solutions will need to consider this challenger more seriously.

* Given the reality that any Open Source technology matures with every implementation, the result is a mathematical effect - perhaps OS may not be a viable solution for certain sectors now, but in one year, who knows? Within two years we will almost certainly see greater acceptance.


* Slashed IT staffing budgets improves the attractiveness of pre-built & supported solutions like Oracle's BI Apps against Open Source options, which by their always-in-development nature will require more internal staff support.

* The demonstrated success of Open Source subscription-based business models together with wider acceptance of "Cloud computing" for the Enterprise portends the viability and popularity of BI solutions provided under a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) model.

* Oracle's acquisition of Sun - With MySQL officially within its corporate portfolio, Oracle may need to deal with this hugely popular Open Source database one way or the other. Either Oracle will maintain a kind of status quo and frame MySQL as a fringe product best used for scrappy startups, or it will recognize MySQL's value as a kind of "gateway drug" that provides an easy path to Oracle's standard licensed database products. In that scenario we could see MySQL cultivated and eventually supported as a target warehouse provider.

* Open Source methodologies can be applied to the development of ancillary components for traditional BI solutions. In the case of Oracle BI, there's no reason why we can't host a library of Open-Source helper apps, like Java applets or JSP pages or JavaScript routines that can perform a variety of functions when invoked within the OBIEE platform, or even XML renderings of OBIEE reports themselves that demonstrate clever tricks of the technology.

This latest opportunity excites me the most, as I believe it could serve to unify our community and provide tangible means for us to build our credibility. The biggest barrier to this effort will be a natural bias against giving away valuable intellectual property, especially when that IP serves as differentiator among BI consultancies. On the other hand, in an Open Source ecosystem, the contributions of a company or individual to the Oracle BI Open Source collective will serve to demonstrate and therefore legitimize their technical abilities far more powerfully than any marketing material, sales pitch or dare I say even a series of intelligent and insightful blog posts :-). As this effort is more focused on the community overall, it makes sense to see the community take on this initiative. (Hear that, UGOBI?)

In the spirit of "Open Sourcing" my thought processes, I remain eager to hear your feedback. What threats or opportunities do you see?

Here are some interesting articles on the topic for further reading:

Commercial Open Source BI Redux
Penned by founders of OpenBI, this article reviews the current state and future opportunities of Open Source BI. A quote: "We wouldn't be surprised if Cloud vendors Amazon and Google started offering OSBI platform capabilities for free to customers contracting for their servers and storage."

Who Is Using Open Source Business Intelligence, and Why
Interview with Mark Madsen, founder and president of BI consultancy firm Third Nature and author of a recent study of open source adoption in the business intelligence and data warehousing markets.

Magic Quadrant for Business Intelligence Platforms
Gartner's opinion of the main software vendors that should be considered by organizations seeking to develop business intelligence (BI) applications. "This year Gartner gave serious consideration to including open-source BI suppliers in the Magic Quadrant, and even altered the inclusion criteria to allow for this eventuality. As yet, though, no open-source BI platform supplier generates enough revenue to be included in the Magic Quadrant [$20m in revenue]. However, while they don't meet the revenue requirement, Jaspersoft and Pentaho have emerged as viable players in the BI platform market and as such we invited these firms to take part in the Magic Quadrant user survey."


BeyeNetwork - Specifically the Open Source "Channel"




(again, not truly Open Source, but offers free limited licensing of proprietary ReportingSuite)