Software // Information Management
Commentary
10/22/2009
01:56 PM
Seth Grimes
Seth Grimes
Commentary
Connect Directly
Twitter
RSS
E-Mail
50%
50%

Commercial and Community Open Source and Pentaho BI

Last week, I offered the opinion that BI software publisher Pentaho has moved beyond a commercial open source business model. While what counts most is great, affordable software, an understanding of market trends helps everyone concerned make strategic choices. In this spirit, I'll present perspectives that complement mine, from Pentaho and from the Pentaho community...

Last week, I offered the opinion that BI software publisher Pentaho has moved beyond a commercial open source business model. When "strategic" software components such as the new Pentaho Analyzer interface are not open source, having a "core open" suite like Pentaho's seems no longer enough to define the vendor as an open source company. I held up EnterpriseDB as a company that went down a similar route just last year.

While what counts most is great, affordable software, an understanding of market trends helps everyone concerned make strategic choices. In this spirit, I'll present perspectives that complement mine, from Pentaho and from the Pentaho community, regarding the importance of the open source base to Pentaho and the company's users and regarding a new community development, the open source Pentaho Analysis Tool (PAT).Because it's open source

Pentaho Marketing SVP Lance Walter is clear about many business issues including that "What we do would not be possible without a commercial open source model." Pentaho has (or had?) always been a commercial OS company, from its start providing professional development and support for core suite components including the Mondrian open-source OLAP engine and later bringing out non-open source software components that build out the core open source BI suite. These additional components are among the enterprise edition "Bells and whistles, things that make the product easier to use, easier to manage, and things that make your boss want to reach for his or her checkbook" in the words of Julian Hyde, Mondrian's architect, who works part-time for Pentaho.

According to Lance,

Customers -- paying Enterprise Edition customers vs. free Community Edition users -- come to Pentaho because it's open source in this sense:
  • They've had good experience with other open source/commercial OS offerings. RHEL [Red Hat Enterprise Linux], MySQL, Tomcat, JBoss, etc.
  • They're looking for benefits that open source can deliver (although I would not claim open source has an exclusive claim to most of these):
    • Lower cost
    • Easier access - forums, doc, download
    • Strong standards support and easier integration
    • Continuous testing via a community model
    • Reduced vendor lock-in
  • Some are looking for the specific-to-open-source benefits, but I believe this is the minority
    • Possibility of forking which helps keep vendors honest
    • Ability to modify source code (we have paying customers who still contribute code that we incorporate on the community side and that they get in the enterprise edition)
    • Incremental Activity/evolution/innovation that open source models make possible.
I do see EnterpriseDB as closer to Pentaho and its business model than the companies Lance named. In my opinion, MySQL is a counter-example to Pentaho so far as BI is concerned: If you wanted the most robust analytical engine available, you had to pay a licensing fee to vendor Infobright... until Infobright went open source earlier this year. Former CEO Miriam Turek recently posted to Twitter that the company had passed the 100-customer mark!

I'll offer other comparisons in response to a passing comment by Julian Hyde his long, thoughtful blog article devoted to Pentaho's acquisition of LucidEra Clearview. Julian's an authentic BI innovator and his article is worth reading, but I'll focus in on one remark, "If Mondrian had not been available under a business-friendly open source license, LucidEra would probably have written it on top of another vendor's engine, and Pentaho would not have been able to use it." I disagree. The folks who started Pentaho had earlier created Wired for OLAP, a closed source analytical interface for Hyperion's Essbase OLAP engine, which was and is decidedly not open source. Hyperion liked Wired for OLAP so much that it bought the company and hired CEO Richard Daley, who left the company and co-founded and heads Pentaho. Similarly, Panorama or ProClarity created closed source analytical interfaces for Microsoft OLAP. (Microsoft later bought ProClarity.) These three BI examples show that it's the market and technical strength of the OLAP engine and not its licensing status that led to the creation of third-party tools. The same principle holds for Mondrian.

It happens that Pentaho Analyzer isn't the only new third-party analytical interface out there in the Pentaho orbit.

From the community, regarding Pentaho Analysis Tool

Julian Hyde's blog article is a good place to read the Pentaho Analysis Tool (PAT) back story, then visit the PAT community wiki and the project home page, which describe PAT at "a [Google Web Toolkit] based analysis tool designed to replace JPivot and work alongside the Pentaho Business Intelligence Suite, giving end users better and easier control of their data."

Here are views related to me by Roland Bouman, co-author with Jos van Dongen of Pentaho Solutions: Business Intelligence and Data Warehousing with Pentaho and MySQL, a Pentaho community member who is not a Pentaho employee:

PAT looks promising, but it's not quite there yet. JPivot has been production quality code for a couple of years now.
  • PAT is designed as a generic XMLA client. This is nice in itself, but once PAT is feature complete, it will need to be integrated into the Pentaho server. I hear there is a plug-in for that, (and from what I understand, this was initially contributed by Pentaho cooperation) but the fact is that that does not have the focus at the moment. JPivot is currently reasonably integrated.
  • So far, PAT is a project, not a product. It remains to be seen what the support options are for customers.
  • JPivot is the tool that everybody loves to hate. I agree completely with what Nick Goodman says here.

Please understand that these are only my opinions.

I should say that I am myself a Pentaho user of the community edition. I haven't tried PAT yet, so I maybe underappreciating it. What I know, I know from demonstrations such as [this one].

I also reached out to Tom Barber, another Pentaho (super-)user, after reading his blog item, Pentaho's New Addition To The Family. Tom is "currently working in the IT dept for a large construction company, currently integrating Pentaho into the reporting setup, and working on Pentaho Analysis Tool in my spare time." Concerning PAT in the wake of the Pentaho Analysis product announcement, Tom says, "We are still looking to write what will become the best Analysis tool in the world."

Tom further explained to me,

The eventual aim of PAT is for quick slicing and dicing of data, drilling and charting, something that [LucidEra] ClearView [Pentaho Analysis] doesn't really do, their charting for instance is very static, we're aiming to give users the ability to slice and dice purely using the charting view.

The current roadmap for PAT targets Christmas period as a timeframe for a stable but not yet feature complete release, we will run through a number of 0.5.x releases up until then adding more stuff and fixing the bugs. We aim to have the main features (drilling and charting, saving and loading of models and a few other bits) finalized and ready for production. There will still be a stack of other extended features to add after that, but this is a point where my end users would be able to interact with it and gain access to the information they need.

Doug [Moran of Pentaho] told us on the day of the announcement that Pentaho's cooperation with us and the PAT project would continue unaffected, but to be honest their participation is pretty limited, we have access to their JIRA [development management system] and we get [continuous integration] builds from their Hudson [CI server], Jake knocked up a very useful UI mock-up and Gretchen Moran [of Pentaho] did a basic BI Server plug-in for us to test. But that is about it. Not that I'm really complaining, after all the less they fuss the more freedom we get, and as we don't get paid for this, freedom is quite a useful commodity.

I was told by one of their support guys at our recent Barcelona community event, that they were targeting to include PAT in the post Christmas release, to be honest I guess that's not as much a priority any more as they have ClearView, but it doesn't change matters from our point of view, we can easily write a quick installer to allow people to automate the integration process if Pentaho don't ship PAT. But don't get me wrong, if we had a 'full time' developer things would progress much faster.

So Pentaho Analyzer and Pentaho Analysis Tool are complementary software components, and community members perceive much greater interest on Pentaho's part in the first of these, the closed source tool Pentaho owns, than in the open-source community tool. That said, Pentaho's corporate focus could is surely in large part and indication of confidence in the Pentaho community!

The commercial open source "party line"

So is Pentaho still best identified as a commercial open source company? It should go without saying that the company will legitimately make its own decisions.

Lance Walter relates:

I'm not sure what's considered most "politically correct" or best supports the commercial open source "party line." Maybe it would better to claim that every customer loves the fact that the vast majority of our code conforms to OSI licenses. But these days we're increasingly getting into larger organizations and non-early-adopters that are choosing it for "secondary benefits" of lower cost, etc.
In the end, again, it's not the "party line" that matters most, it's great, affordable software. All signs are that Pentaho will continue to deliver on that latter front. Yet stakeholders -- users, customers, community developers, and just observers like myself -- do benefit from a clear understanding of vendor directions.


Update (Oct 22, 4:38 pm): I have corrected an omission by citing Jos van Dongen as co-author of Pentaho Solutions: Business Intelligence and Data Warehousing with Pentaho and MySQL. I see that Jos had himself blogged on themes similar to mine here! I was unaware of this.Last week, I offered the opinion that BI software publisher Pentaho has moved beyond a commercial open source business model. While what counts most is great, affordable software, an understanding of market trends helps everyone concerned make strategic choices. In this spirit, I'll present perspectives that complement mine, from Pentaho and from the Pentaho community...

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
The Agile Archive
The Agile Archive
When it comes to managing data, donít look at backup and archiving systems as burdens and cost centers. A well-designed archive can enhance data protection and restores, ease search and e-discovery efforts, and save money by intelligently moving data from expensive primary storage systems.
Register for InformationWeek Newsletters
White Papers
Current Issue
InformationWeek Tech Digest September 18, 2014
Enterprise social network success starts and ends with integration. Here's how to finally make collaboration click.
Flash Poll
Video
Slideshows
Twitter Feed
InformationWeek Radio
Archived InformationWeek Radio
The weekly wrap-up of the top stories from InformationWeek.com this week.
Sponsored Live Streaming Video
Everything You've Been Told About Mobility Is Wrong
Attend this video symposium with Sean Wisdom, Global Director of Mobility Solutions, and learn about how you can harness powerful new products to mobilize your business potential.