Spago is a pure open-source BI platform. All of the software is open source and free of cost, as opposed to the more common model of a limited-feature community edition, and then advanced features that cost money. Support services, custom development, and recorded training courses are available for purchase. Spago is based in Italy, and the documentation is published in French and English.
Spago provides a number of different prefab domains, which are SpagoBI tailored for different use cases. For example, a retail business could use Real-time BI to track sales trends hourly, and make sure that hot items are always stocked. The Mobile BI works in concert with Real-time BI, so that managers can track trends from any location. GeoBI builds maps showing location-based analysis of patterns and trends. Spago also offers custom services and will build your BI however you need.
Pentaho has some of the best built-in support for, well, everything: Hadoop clustering, all kinds of databases, cloud vendors, all kinds of middleware; it's also very supportive of ISVs (independent service vendors), so if you are an ISV you might look at being a Pentaho integrator.
Pentaho has invested a lot of resources into making Pentaho embeddable into nearly any environment, and it has extensive APIs (application programming interfaces) and Web services support, with the goal of making it a seamless component in any datacenter.
OpenI has the most eye-catching name in this roundup, and a different approach than the others. OpenI started out as a complete BI platform, but this led to a lot of duplicated effort with other open source BI products. So now OpenI is is a collection of plugins for Jasper and Pentaho, the two leading open source BI suites.
OpenI aims to provide functionality not found in Jasper and Pentaho, such as better user interfaces and better tools for exploring OLAP (Online Analytic Processing) cube data. What is this OLAP cube thingy, you ask? An excellent question. In a nutshell it's a multi-dimensional representation of your data that is designed to answer any question you might have, and to answer it quickly. Figure 2 should help you visualize it.
Figure 2: OLAP lets you slice and dice complex data almost any you want, quickly. (Image courtesy Wikipedia, author Infopedian, CC BY-SA 3.0)
OLAP lets you make arbitrary, unstructured queries so you can parse your data any way that makes sense to you. For example, sales data might be aggregated per salesperson, per district, per different time periods, per different products or product lines, per wholesale costs, tax data...it's a rare BI suite that doesn't have good OLAP support.
OpenI designs dashboards, predictive models, interactive reporting, and custom design services, claiming "Data to Insights in 72 Hours."
Actuate is built on BIRT, the open source Business Intelligence and Reporting Tools engine. Actuate's emphasis is on presentation, and you can make some pretty flashy animated presentations that incorporate the latest Web 2.0 technologies.
The BIRT Viewer is a read-only presentation that can't be altered by the people viewing it. The BIRT Interactive Viewer allows viewers to modify the content. BIRT Designer Pro is aimed at software developers for building Web reports and dashboards, but it's also a nice tool for tech-savvy managers. Actuate includes a full complement of necessary BI tools such as a mobile interface, data integration, and powerful analytics.
Actuate also emphasizes consistency: one server, a consistent look and feel, and a consistent user experience. Actuate has both free community-supported open source downloads, and an assortment of commercial options.
Carla Schroder is the author of The Book of Audacity, Linux Cookbook, Linux Networking Cookbook, and hundreds of Linux how-to articles. She's the former managing editor of Linux Planet and Linux Today.
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