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BI Vendors Get Smart Around Linux, Open Source

Intelligent Penguins

  • August 31, 2006
  • By Jacqueline Emigh

As Linux steps beyond the limits of technical applications, business intelligence (BI) is one area that's leading the way. In a rash of recent BI announcements at LinuxWorld and elsewhere, many vendors are developing new business models, while consciously giving customers a choice between Linux and other operating systems--and in some cases, between commercial and open source implementations, too.

Even outside the issue of underlying OS, BI is a hot spot right now for software and services, anyway, according to some industry statistics. For instance, in one recent study--conducted by CompTIA with research firm TNS Prognostics--VAR customers said they expect their business will grow by at least 40 percent in these five areas: BI (8 percent); wireless networks (8 percent); network security (12 percent); managed services (13 percent); and VOIP (13 percent).

At the same time, the list of vendors issuing recent announcements of BI products for Linux--and often, other OS--ranges from large enterprise providers such as SAP and Oracle to BI specialists such as Business Objects, JasperSoft, Pentaho, and Actuate.

For example, at this month's LinuxWorld show in San Francisco, JasperSoft unveiled the first "Professional" editions of its JasperSoft Server and Analytics business intelligence solutions. Both products, previously available in open source versions only, operate on Linux along with Sun Solaris, IBM AIX, and Microsoft Windows, said Nick Klawans, JasperSoft's CTO, during an interview with LinuxPlanet.

For its part, ERP vendor SAP used LinuxWorld to display a line-up of BI products which encompasses the Linux-based BI accelerator, together with its underlying, "OS-agnostic" NetWeaver middleware platform.

"We've been looking at advanced technologies that wil provide innovative approaches to creating enterprise service architectures," said Chris Hearn, SAP's product marketing director for NetWeaver, in another interview.

"Businesses want to make rapid decisions. The accelerator 'turbo-charges' NetWeaver, letting customers do very fast indexing and querying."

So why is BI heading into Linux, anyway? By and large, vendors point to customer demand. "The key thing is to provide users with a full range of choice," according to Hearn.

For its part, JasperSoft, by the way, is also planning an HP-UX edition of its BI server, along with Professional--as opposed to open source--iteration of a third BI product, known as JasperReports.

On the Linux OS side, both vendors now certify their products for Red Hat and Novell SUSE distributions only. "We've been pretty market-centric with certification. But we're not on a hook with a contract-bound SLA (software license agreement). Pick your favorite distribution. A lot of people are successfully using our software with Debian, for example, doing their own development," Klawans told LinuxPlanet.

Vendors' decisions around platform support also hinge strongly on the skill sets of their targeted sets of customers.

According to Hearn, SAP chose Linux as the platform for its accelerator precisely because, as an 'optimzation' for NetWeaver, the product is used directly by IT departments, as opposed to end customers.

Desktop BI is a different matter, though. Moreover, many businesses still rely heavily--or even entirely--on Windows at the network level, said Nick Halsey, VP of marketing at JasperSoft, an open source start-up formed from long-time BI software firm Brio.

Halsey added that reliance on Linux is particularly strong among SMBs, one of JasperSoft's target markets with its trio of open source BI products.

"We're also completely embeddable," according to Klawans. JasperSoft's BI software has been embedded into products from companies ranging from Open Country to IBM's Rational business unit.

In fact, SMBs are just the sorts of customers traditionally served by VARs. Consequently, JasperSoft recently signed up as a member of Novell's PartnerNet program.

JasperSoft is also aiming the offerings at nontraditional BI users in large enterprise settings--people other than the business analysts who've historically been BI customer mainstays.

On the whole, Halsey expects that JasperSoft's moves around Linux and open source will help to expand the market for BI products and services.

Indeed, open source software is already soaring, even beyond Linux implementations, according to some industry analysts. In a recent study of more than 5,000 developers in 116 countries, industry research firm IDC discovered that open source software is being used by about 71 percent of developers--and that it's already in production at 54 percent of the organizations hiring these developers.

The rise of open source is also spurring new business models among providers, according to Dr. Anthony Picardi, IDC's senior VP of Global Software Research.

Business requirements will shift from acquiring new customers to sustaining new ones, and the competitive landscape will respond by placing a stronger emphasis on cost savings, "sustaining innovations" for customers, and extending mainstream software to "new market segments that are willing to pay only a fraction of conventional software license fees," Picardi wrote in a recent report.

As a locus of industry growth, BI seems to be one area where new business models are cropping up fast.

With its new Professional line-up, for instance, JasperSoft has started offering 24-by-7 support. "For [the] open source editions, though, support is only available during business hours," Halsey told LinuxPlanet. Open source customers can pay for support on a per incident basis.

The JasperSoft execs also cited recent changes in JasperSoft's product release and commitment schedules. For open source products, the company will now put out about two or three new software releases per year, although support will only be available for the two most recent releases.

The Professional edition, on the other hand, will revolve around a nine-month release schedule.

"The primary difference is the commercial license," Klawans said. "ISVs who are developing products want a less hectic schedule with longer-term support commitments."

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