Open source BI tool takes on proprietary rivals

The Pentaho project has released the latest version of its BI tool, claiming many advantages. But one analyst is unconvinced.

The open source software model’s assault on traditional applications is contining with the recent release of the Pentaho open source Business Intelligence project’s latest version, Business Intelligence Professional Edition Platform.

Pentaho was founded by BI veterans from IBM, Cognos and Hyperion and executives from the project are claiming that the Professional edition is as good as — if not better — than current packaged applications from proprietary BI vendors.

“We don’t want to be judged as an open source company, but as a BI application provider,” says Pentaho marketing vice president Lance Walter.

Part of that claim rests on the fact that typical BI tools integrate at the data level and at the user-interface level as a frame in the application or the portal. Pentaho, on the other hand, has a workflow engine in its platform that understands the BPEL (Business Process Execution Language) standard.

“We can now integrate at the process level, so whatever business rules are controlling the rest of the process can control Pentaho, and add the BI value into those business processes with far less effort than traditional approaches,” Walter says.

Despite the BPEL capability, Josh Greenbaum, principal analyst with Enterprise Applications Consulting, is not impressed.

“To say, ‘We integrate with BPEL’, which very few companies use or know how to use, is like saying, ‘I have a car that can leave the earth’s orbit’,” Greenbaum says. He adds, “Now you have to ask, ‘Why would you want to do that?’”

According to Greenbaum, being BPEL-savvy is a very good idea, but not just yet.

“If I really need it, Oracle or anyone else can give me the workflow integration that I need without building BPEL into my BI infrastructure,” says Greenbaum, who calls Pentaho’s claims “a great [news] hook, but not what is going to sell the product.”

Pentaho also expanded on the reporting functions found in its original offering, and the new edition includes analysis and dashboards, plus the ability to work in a clustered architecture.

However, the enterprise edition does come at a price to its open source roots — approximately 10% of the code in the new package is not open source, Walter says.

Most of the proprietary code is around administration and deployment. The only end-user part of the Professional edition that is proprietary is a feature around deployment of self-service subscriptions for accessing reports, says Walter.

Pentaho BI Professional Edition Platform will ship later this month and will be priced at US$3,000 (NZ$4,900) per CPU, plus an additional annual support fee of US$1,000.

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