Is open source Business Intelligence right for you?

  • Richard Thelwell
  • December 17, 2014

open source business intelligence softwareOver the past twenty years, open source software has come a long way. Significant portions of popular Internet destinations are built with open source software, and open source software is becoming surprisingly common in the everyday corporate world, as well. So is now the time to consider open source Business Intelligence?

Because certainly, open source Business Intelligence tools are out there. And if a business is already comfortable with open source technology, and comfortable with the issues surrounding open source licensing, then there’s the prospect of saving money by going down the open source Business Intelligence route.

But how real is that prospect? And what are the specific downsides—and upsides—of open source Business Intelligence?

Let’s take a look.

Is open source Business Intelligence really free?

Technically, yes. Which is part of its attraction: it costs nothing for a business to try out a particular open source software product, and there’s nothing further to pay if it likes it enough to keep using it.

Countless hundreds of thousands of businesses use the Open Office and Libre Office desktop productivity Microsoft Office lookalikes, for instance. Or the ubiquitous OpenSSL cryptographic software library. Or the popular WordPress and Drupal content management systems.

But while the cash cost of open source products might be zero, it’s important to bear in mind some caveats.

First, open source tools have much more of a ‘build it yourself’ flavour to them. Which isn’t a downside if you know what you’re doing of course. But the cost of mastering them, in terms of employee time, can quickly mount.

Second, many open source products—especially those extensively used in the commercial world—come in two versions, free and paid-for. The free version lets you find out if the product is right for you. It’s fully functioning, and isn’t crippled in any way. But the paid-for version is far more fully-featured, and usually also comes with support.

Third—and speaking of support—open source software typically comes with ‘open source support’: bulletin boards, Google searches, and the kindness of strangers. Let’s not knock such things. But they aren’t ‘free’, in terms of fully-costed employee time. Sometimes it’s much cheaper to pick up the phone.

Is open source Business Intelligence safe?

In these days of malware, viruses, hacker attacks and everything else, it’s a fair question to ask. And indeed, there’s a strong argument that a business’s Business Intelligence system very arguably contains its ‘crown jewels’—the sort of information that one wouldn’t want competitors hacking into.

For the most part, the risks are probably no greater than with any other piece of open source software.

open source business intelligence security
The security risks surrounding open source business intelligence are the same as with any piece of open source software

But that isn’t to say that those risks are zero. In the past few months, for instance, both businesses and end users have had to deal with threats in the form of the Shellshock flaw in the popular Bash scripting tool, the Heartbleed vulnerability in the OpenSSL software library, and the very recent Drupal CVE 2014 3704 vulnerability.

All serious threats, and in each case, threats directly affecting a popular open source product.

So is there a cost-effective alternative to open source Business Intelligence?

The key thing here is ‘cost-effective’.

If you’re looking at open source Business Intelligence, then the odds are good that the cost of a solution is something that matters to you more than usual, perhaps.

For in the present financial environment, many small and medium-sized businesses are keenly aware that prudent financial management is the best way of making funds available to invest elsewhere in the business.

So here at Matillion, we’d advise any business looking at open source Business Intelligence to also take a look at cloud-based Business Intelligence. For especially if you’re considering a ‘paid-for’ upgraded open source Business Intelligence solution, then the resulting total cost of ownership calculation makes for a very interesting comparison.

Open source Business Intelligence: Cloud BI is quicker, more scalable, and can be cheaper.

But the real differentiator is speed of deployment, coupled to issues such as support and scalability.

A typical implementation of Matillion’s own cloud-based Matillion BI, for instance, takes from four to eight weeks, from signed order to users being trained.

And delivered on a monthly subscription basis for a one off fixed price setup fee, there’s no further hardware or software required: everything you need is in the Cloud, delivered as part of that monthly subscription.

Open source Business Intelligence: the bottom line.

Open source business intelligence

So is open source Business Intelligence right for you? Only you can decide, weighing up the relative upsides and downsides.

And it may surprise you to know that here at Matillion, we’re enthusiastic users of open source software ourselves.

But always, always, always after weighing up the various issues involved, and carefully examining the alternatives.

And we’d urge you to do the same.

To find out more about the different types of business intelligence solutions available, download our free guide below