Open Source | Pentaho | HDS | R

Open source Business Intelligence in demand

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The BI Market is changing

With the acquisition of three major BI suites, the BI market is again experiencing a remarkable phase. For a market that has been consolidating for years, it is not something special but, in this particular case, it concerns open source software. This makes it remarkable.

The how and why

The first major question is of a general nature: how can you adopt a product that consists of open source code and a loose, alternative community? This can be achieved by commercializing the support and assigning it to a company, capable to ensure durability.

The second question is: why would an existing company want to take up an open source BI suite? The answer to that question is twofold. On the one hand, an open source product, by definition, doesn’t require an expensive development team as it is developed by the community. Only the support company has to be bought. That makes it financially attractive.

The choice in the market is narrow

On the other hand, the need for software able to integrate and analyze data has never been greater. Data Technology companies, such as Hitachi Data Systems (HDS) being a storage vendor and integrator TIBCO, see the need of their clients but can provide it either in part or fail to do so at all.

When choosing between companies that offer a full-range suite with optimum connectivity and in-depth analysis capabilities and parties that can handle huge amounts of data and that are also affordable, the choice is rather limited. Jaspersoft and Pentaho meet those criteria and both have been acquired by TIBCO (in 2014) and HDS. R is a special case; more on that later.

Growing interest in open source

Virtually, all major vendors have a BI environment, which has usually been acquired. IBM has Cognos, SAP BusinessObjects and Oracle Hyperion. Of the earliest BI market players, only SAS and Information Builders (both privately owned) and MicroStrategy (listed) still remain, as large complex companies are not that easily acquired – if they would want that at all. Key newcomers in the market are Qlik (formerly QlikTech) and the highly successful Tableau. So, there is no open source product present.

Open source BI had to fight a long time for recognition

BI suites have long had to fight for recognition. They would not have appeared in market surveys and rankings for a long time. Open source is not typical of the BI market per se; mostly, it has been neglected as something for enthusiasts and pale geeks sitting in dusty attic rooms. However, open source products have grown up and have achieved a high and stable level of quality in recent years. The licensing model is friendly price-wise.

Because of the cost pressures IT departments face, open source products can expect a renewed interest. Especially in the field of Business Intelligence.

TIBCO and Jaspersoft

Jaspersoft is one of the oldest open source BI suites, developed as a reporting tool in the beginning of this century in San Francisco. In the course of time, Jaspersoft grew into a full range suite, with – in addition to the aforementioned reporting – tooling for ETL and a development environment.

The platform can obtain data from a variety of sources, including various NoSQL databases, such as Hadoop. The most well-known product is Jasper Reporting Server. Jaspersoft uses both open source and commercial licensing models. It is said that the software has been downloaded millions of times. In fact, not all components of the suite have been developed by Jaspersoft. The ETL tool, for example, is from Talend and the analysis engine (Mondrian) is from the Pentaho camp.

TIBCO now has a complete arsenal of BI tooling

Early last year, Jaspersoft was bought by TIBCO, a provider of infrastructure and BI products including the Spotfire data discovery and visualization software. This will provide TIBCO with a complete range of BI tools.

TIBCO has faced numerous marketing issues with Spotfire, as many of the users are not satisfied with it. TIBCO is especially popular with its customers because it was able to perfectly integrate its various components, however, Jaspersoft and Spotfire are as yet nowhere near this. Besides, there is an obstacle that could stand in the way of success: TIBCO itself was taken over by an investment company at the end of 2014. This causes uncertainty about the future of the company.

HDS and Pentaho

In 2004, Pentaho was developed in Florida by five committed adepts of the open source concept. Penta refers to 5, and the “ho” at the end sounds like an ancient Native American tribe. The complete suite consists of the Pentaho BI platform (with data integration and the Weka analysis tool), the Mondrian analysis engine, and multiple tools for analytics, data mining and interactive reports. Pentaho has a large installed base, in both embedded BI and traditional tools, and developed as one of the first self-service BI tools.

Not everyone is enthusiastic

Not everyone is so enthusiastic about the quality of the software developed by the community. And although the founders like to present themselves as innovative, in general, the market seems to consider Pentaho as a traditional BI suite, despite the fact it is open source. However, in recent years, Pentaho has shifted the focus from BI to big data and analytics.

Hitachi Data Systems (HDS) is a major supplier of storage systems, with direct and indirect sales channels in 170 countries. Founded together with EDS in 1989, the company is part of multinational Hitachi Ltd. HDS originally focused on mainframes but, in the year 2000, its focus was set entirely on data storage systems. A large portion of the top companies in the world have data stored on HDS systems, including cloud storage.

The wings can spread worldwide

In this era of big data, HDS will engage Pentaho primarily with its strengths, that is, integrating large amounts of data from a variety of source systems and releasing analytics on this. In this way, the former hardware vendor gets a hold on the entire chain. The solid global network of HDS is the ultimate way for Pentaho, which will reportedly continue to operate as an independent company within the group, to spread its wings globally. The combination of big data and analytics has a great potential.

The case R

The statistical programming language R was developed in the late 90’s at the University of Auckland (New Zealand). The open source base and almost unlimited possibilities have made R popular for millions of programmers, statisticians, data analysts and scientists all over the world, with ever growing popularity. Almost all BI suppliers use R in one way or another in their product portfolios or even offer a dedicated R-variant themselves. R works well with different platforms such as Hadoop.

What moves Microsoft?

Around 2007, Revolution Analytics was founded for the commercial support of R and, early in 2015, it was announced that Microsoft acquired the company. There’s nothing unusual for a giant from Redmond to acquire companies, but it usually concerns new technology. In this case, it’s an old technology. What moves Microsoft? R is particularly suitable for the development of statistical models and predictive analysis, and can handle large amounts of data. There is a great need for this in business, Microsoft users are not an exception.

R is a proven programming language

The vendor already uses R in their own Azure platform and reportedly the programming language has also been used for machine learning of data from various sources, including Bing. R is a proven and intensely developed programming language, which actually has no equal counterparts, except for SAS. The developers at Microsoft are convinced that R is not nearly at the end of its capabilities and evolutionary path. This is evident by the promise to continue developing R, not only for Windows but also for Linux and Mac.


With the acquisitions of JasperSoft, Pentaho and R, the three major open source BI tools are no longer independent. There is now the question of how the associated communities will deal with this and how the respective support companies will be able to ensure continuity. The future of TIBCO, being acquired by an investment company itself, remains unclear. HDS is a hard-core hardware vendor. But, with the evolution of IBM and HP in mind, this should not hinder the software to success on the market. The combination of HDS (big data) and Pentaho (analytics) is potentially a successful model.

Concerning R: the love of the users for the programming language is great. The acquisition by Microsoft will not change that.

100% independent study

More information about the different BI solutions can be found in our 100% vendor-independent Business Intelligence Tools Survey 2019.

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