BI startups aim to undercut bigwigs

Armed with a blend of open source and commercial tools, JasperSoft and Greenplum hope lower price point will attract customers

BI just may be poised to become the next big piece of the open source puzzle.

On Monday two startups sharing a similar focus introduced themselves to the open source community and brought forth tools for reporting and data warehousing.

The benefits of open source BI tools include reduced costs and a new level of practicability for spreading BI functionality to a greater number of corporate users -- if only because IT doesn't have to pay the license fees associated with proprietary reporting tools to do so.

Both companies claim to ease the painful process of locating and accessing information, but each takes a different approach and, as such, serves a different BI purpose.

Bringing reporting to the fore, JasperSoft announced JasperReports and JasperDecisions. The one-two punch combines the commercial, embeddable reporting server, JasperDecisions, with the open source reporting tool, JasperReports. JasperSoft CEO Paul Doscher said the company will provide support services and reporting on par with Business Objects and Cognos but at a fraction of the price.

The basic idea is that customers will buy the server and can then extend the front-end reporting tool to as many users as is necessary.

Both JasperSoft products are available immediately. Barry Klawans, JasperSoft CTO, said the plan includes adding charts, cross-tabs, and improving the HTML output by year's end.

The company partnered with JBoss and MySQL, and JasperSoft hopes to leverage the open source community at large.

"You have this community and people who know you want them to contribute. That's part of our plan," Doscher said.

JasperSoft also will sell support and services; its highest level runs $14,999.

"Over time, we believe the majority of our revenue will come from support," Doscher said.

Startup Greenplum also hurled itself into the open source fray on Monday, when it unwrapped the open source project Bizgres, an open source database server tuned for data warehousing called DeepGreen, and the commercial DeepGreen MPP (Massively Parallel Processing), slated to be generally available this summer.

"The business we're in is data exploration," said Sam Mohamad, Greenplum CEO. "Our goal is to relieve the pain and expense of finding information."

Whereas JasperSoft competes with the reporting bigwigs, however, Greenplum is complimentary. "It's our software that makes sure those tools perform well," said CTO Luke Lonergan.

Greenplum's products use Massively Parallel Processing to achieve what the company calls "Super Warehousing."

Cost-reduction results from the open source software are not being tied to any proprietary hardware. As a result, customers can use commodity servers to run DeepGreen, rather than buying fixed function appliances, such as Netezza.

Last month, meanwhile, the Eclipse Foundation announced that BIRT 1.0 (BI Reporting and Tools) will be available in the first half of this year, and that the modules of BIRT under development are available for download now.

Not everyone sees the current crop of BI tools spreading like a forest fire, however.

"Just as the initial wave of Web-based BI tools lacked the same functionality as their desktop brethren, the initial wave of open source BI tools will be feature-limited," said Doug Laney, CEO of analyst firm Evalubase. "Enterprises really should ask themselves whether they want to be in the BI-tool-building-business or not."

Customers were mixed in reaction to Laney's last point.

One was more than willing at least to give open source reporting tools a close inspection. The problem up until now appears to have been lack of product.

John Durai, senior Oracle DBA at Genencor International, a biotech company, said Genencor is implementing all of Red Hat's tools on the West Coast, and in Rochester, N.Y., its other division is doing the same with Suse.

"We would definitely try open source BI reporting, we just haven't seen any yet," Durai said.

On the other hand, Hap Cluff, director of IT at the City of Norfolk, Va. said although they now have a Linux partition on their mainframe, not many open source application vendors can meet the stringent requirements laid out in one of their RFPs.

"The open source market doesn't have the established references that we require, or the resources," Cluff said.

Commercial stalwart SAS Institute last week unveiled an interim release of its BI Enterprise Server 9, with enhancements to Web Report Studio including OLAP storage and mapping capabilities such as cubes for multidimensional, relational, or hybrid viewing. To compete with lower-cost BI vendors, Enterprise BI Server will include SAS OLAP Server and OLAP clients at no additional cost.

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