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SmartAdvice: Business-Intelligence Tools For Linux On The Horizon

As Linux gets more robust, database analytical tools and report-generation capabilities will be added, The Advisory Council says. Also, cost isn't the only factor to consider in evaluating application service provider options.

Editor's Note: Welcome to SmartAdvice, a weekly column by The Advisory Council (TAC), an advisory service firm. The feature answers two questions of core interest to you, ranging from career advice to enterprise strategies to how to deal with vendors. Submit questions directly to smartadvice@tacadvisory.com


Question A: What real-time (or near real-time) business intelligence tools are available for Linux, and what database systems do they support?

Our advice: For starters, it might be useful to define what we mean by business-intelligence tools, since there's often market confusion. BI applications are tools built specifically to mine and manipulate the massive amounts of business data from existing data stores. Often, business-intelligence applications are integrated into the underlying database tools, enabling executive dashboards and other real-time views of company operations. As the business community embraces robust and cost-effective open-source software, it's only natural that people will start to seriously think about developing business-intelligence tools for the Linux platform as well.

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In the past, BI software had a well-deserved reputation for being expensive, difficult to develop, and hard to use because of the massive amounts of data that it needs to sift through. Although there are many open source database projects, only a few have any analytical tools or report-generation capabilities--so far. Mondrian is often mentioned as an application with enough OLAP (online analytical processing) utilities to become a springboard for some serious business-intelligence tools--if developers are willing to take the time to build them. It implements the Multi-Dimensional Expressions (MDX) language, and the XML for Analysis and Java OLAP specifications. It reads from SQL and other data sources, and aggregates data in a memory cache. Clearly, the open-source development community has a long way to go in developing a solid kit of business-intelligence tools.

Looking at available commercial business-intelligence applications, the picture is considerably rosier. The leading business-intelligence vendors are waking up to the potential Linux market, and are increasingly supporting the platform. IBM and Hyperion Solutions both have Linux-based business-intelligence products, while Business Objects recently announced that Crystal Enterprise 10 is fully certified and compatible with Red Hat Enterprise Linux. Cognos ReportNet is supported on only a limited set of Linux platforms, however. In addition to Linux-based commercial tools, the market continues to pressure vendors to provide more open source or free options as well. IBM recently released a Java-based database, Cloudscape, into the open-source community via the Apache Software Foundation. This might force Oracle and other major database vendors to follow suit.

For the immediate future, the roll-your-own and open-source business-intelligence tools are going to be rudimentary at best, but as more companies look for increased value for their BI spending and the open-source community increasingly devotes energy to projects beyond the systems and back-office markets, we will see more of these toolkits available to help your company build the BI applications it needs.

-- Beth Cohen

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