Boris-Evelson By Boris Evelson

In my recent BI Belt Tightening For Tough Economic Times document I explored a few low-cost alternatives to traditional, mainstream, and typically relatively expensive Business Intelligence (BI) tools. While some of these alternatives indeed were a fraction of a cost of a characteristic large enterprise BI software license, there were even fewer truly zero cost options. But there were some. For example, you can:

  • Leverage and use no-cost bundled BI software already in-house.Small departments and workgroups may be able to leverage BI software that comes bundled at no additional cost with BI appliances, database management systems (DBMSes), and application licenses. You can consider using these few free licenses from Actuate, IBM Cognos, Information Builders, Jaspersoft, Microsoft, MicroStrategy, Panorama, Pentaho, and SAP Business Objects for additional functions such as testing, QA, and prototyping. While these few free licenses are just a drop in the bucket in a typical large enterprise BI license requirements, do look around and don’t waste money on BI products you may already have.


  • Use free Open Source BI components if you are a developer, since the source code is freely and easily available. Access to source code that makes the software easy to embed in other software solutions, so Open Source (OS) is also popular with independent software vendors (ISVs). However, OS BI as an enterprise grade BI solution, is not truly free. Even though individual reporting, OLAP, and even ETL components are available for free, most open source vendors sell add-on products that tie all components into a more fully functional BI application, such as specific dbms and ERP application connectors, GUI administration utilities and others


Now MicroStrategy is taking the concept of free BI one step further. Today MicroStrategy announced that it is making its Release 9software available for up to 100 users/consumers of info (1 CPU, 2 developers, 2 power users, online support only) at no cost! Now that’s a whole different story. Now we are talking about not just individual components, but a complete BI solution. We are also not talking about a small use case for just testing groups or QA or prototyping. With 100 users you can roll a BI application out for free to a whole department in a large enterprise or to a small business. Is this the beginning of a trend? Between OS BI and MicroStrategy new direction, I can’t help but to ponder: is BI (and other enterprise applications) going to go the way of printers or cell phones that are being given away almost at cost just to be able to hook and reel in the customers for supplies and service?

Free lunch And is it really free? Unfortunately not – it won’t be that easy for a while. As you saw recently in my 80/20 rule blog, typical BI costs involve so much services and so many indirect costs, that I do not see a truly free BI lunch in the near future.