Open source software (OSS) and business intelligence (BI) are two related market segments where Forrester sees continually increasing interest and adoption levels. BI specifically continues to be one of the top priorities on everyone's mind. The main reason? Enterprises that do not squeeze the last ounce of information out of their data stores and applications, and do not focus on getting strategic, tactical, and operational insight into their customers, products, and operations, risk falling behind competition. And when it comes to open source, 2009 could best be described as "the year IT professionals realized that open source runs their business." The reason is simple: Over the past few years, we've seen that developers adopt open source products tactically without the explicit approval of their managers. This has shown up in numerous surveys where the actual adoption of open source ranks higher than what IT managers report. Well no longer: Forrester's Enterprise And SMB Software Survey, North America And Europe, Q4 2009 shows that management has caught on to the fact that developers increasingly use open source to run key parts of their IT infrastructure. And management has grown increasingly comfortable with it. In fact, throughout 2009, most client inquiries Forrester received regarding open source were focused on how to move from tactical adoption to strategic exploitation.

Yet, when you put the 2 and 2 together (OSS and BI), you mostly get a mixed market, where one unfortunately has to compare apples to oranges. Why? Before plunging into a tool evaluation and selection process, ask yourself the following questions, and make sure you are doing a like-to-like comparison:

  • Do you understand the categories of BI and BI-related open source tools? Are you looking for a product that supports only partial BI functionality or are you seeking an entire BI suite with broad capabilities? Focused tools include Apatar, CloverETL, and Enhydra Octopus, Jetstream, Jitterbit, Pentaho's Kettle, SnapLogic, Talend, for data integration, and Talend and Open Source Data Quality and Profiling project for data quality jobs. Reporting tools include BIRT, iReport, JasperReports, JFreeChart, OpenI, and OpenReports, while OLAP tools include Mondrian, JPivot, and Palo. Advanced analytics tools include R and data mining tools like Orange and Weka. For geospatial analytics and location intelligence, SpagoBI is sponsoring a GeoBI project with partners like Spatialytics and OpenGeo. If you seek a full BI suite, then the options are BEE, Jaspersoft, Pentaho, and SpagoBI. Some critical components of enterprise-grade BI capabilities like integrated metadata management are not even fully addressed by the open source community at this point.
  • Are you clear on the differences between community and commercial versions of the tools? Don't be misguided: Open source does not always equal free software. In some cases it is, but you will get what you pay for: just certain components rather than entire suites, or products and suites that lack the functionality required for large enterprise operations like GUI-based administration, robust integrated security, scalability tools (load balancing, etc.), connectivity to popular data sources, and many others. In most cases, you'll have to get a commercial version of the product to get such capabilities.
  • Are you looking for a community version, a commercial version, or a mix? Once you map your BI requirements to a specific BI suite, you'll need to understand what portion of the fully functional suite comes from a community version versus a commercial version. Vendors evaluated in this Forrester Wave differ drastically in the amount of functionality they include in the two versions. Eclipse BIRT offers mostly components; to get enterprise features, one must go with the commercial version, Actuate BIRT. Jaspersoft offers a few more community-based components, but still, getting the Jaspersoft Enterprise commercial version is a must for most enterprises. Pentaho takes it up yet another notch with the availability of even more components in its community version, and all of SpagoBI components are on hand in the community edition.

Yet while comparing some of these OSS BI platforms does indeed seem like an apples-to-oranges (or as one of my independent analyst colleagues said "fruits to vegetables") comparison — somebody had to do it. After all, lots of our clients were and are asking for such a comparison. So Jeffrey Hammond and I rolled up our sleeves, put on the bulletproof vests, and by rolling up the scores to high-level aggregates, providing customizable weights to each evaluation criteria, and drawing a clear distinction between community and commercial editions, we have achieved as close to an apples-to-apples comparison as possible. Using this approach for Forrester's 157-criteria evaluation of open source BI vendors, we found that Actuate BIRT led the pack because of richness of reporting functionality. Jaspersoft Enterprise, SpagoBI, Pentaho Enterprise, and Pentaho Community are close behind and also offer much fuller and broader BI stack than Actuate BIRT, including extract, transform, and load (ETL) and advanced analytics functionality. The community versions of BIRT and Jaspersoft mostly offer individual BI components that can be used for embedding BI functionality into applications, but these frameworks are yet not enterprise-grade fully functional BI platforms or suites.

Lots more details, including the line-by-line items scores, can be found in the detailed research report.