A commercial open source company is releasing easy-to-use business intelligence (BI). Many of you are probably waiting for a sarcastic punch line, because the concept seems a little unbelievable. Isn’t open source free? An easy-to-use tool in a market known for requiring US$ 200-per-hour consultants to design reports? There’s no joke. Pentaho (news, site) has announced the general access (GA) release of version 3.8 of its BI Suite Enterprise Edition that focuses on delivering users an easy platform to build more engaging and interactive business intelligence solutions.

Commercial Open Source Business

Some might find Pentaho’s self-classification as a commercial open source (COSS) firm odd due to the prevalent, but misguided, perception that all open source software is free. The free or community open source (FOSS) is prevalent, but the COSS alternative is equally valid. The commercial open source model was responsible for RedHat becoming the first billion-dollar open source firm -- sounds valid to me. The number of vendors and market awareness of COSS will likely continue to increase as a larger number of enterprises embrace open source.

The COSS model evolved as recognition grew that companies would pay for services such as support, patch maintenance, customized components and certifying platform interoperability for the innovative, but poorly documented and loosely scheduled, early open-source market. COSS offers a happy medium between the self-service nature of FOSS and the highly supported but more costly proprietary delivery model. Typically, COSS vendors have lower costs, more flexibility and deeper community involvement, but also provide components from the proprietary model such as support contracts and selling non‐open source enhancements.

New Interactive Business Intelligence Features

Version 3.8 of Pentaho’s platform has enough new functionality that the company could have elected to increment to a new major version number. The BI Suite Enterprise Edition 3.8 includes a number of new features to improve the design and development experience in Pentaho. New features include nocode interactive dashboards, performance improvements, guided analysis and deeper big data integration.

Interactive Dashboard

The BI Suite allows contextual information to other pieces of Pentaho content or external URLs to be linked in reports and Analyzer Sequences. The last version of the platform included simple hyperlinking, but 3.8 expands the concept and allows users to augment report data additional details such as cross-references or deeper insight about what’s included in the report.


Contextual linking makes reporting more interactive

The BI dashboard also allows content links to dynamically drive filtering of other widgets displayed within the same dashboard, enabling users to view the information that is most relevant for their needs. Pentaho includes several out-of-the-box filters such as buttons and calendar controls that will meet the content filtering needs of most users.


Pentaho data filters

Performance Improvements

Pentaho’s latest release of the BI Suite embraces data-less design and in-memory data caching to improve design and run-time performance. Designer are now able to design layouts without querying underlying data first. This reduces the overall database traffic and can speed analytic report design when large amounts of data are involved. Additionally, reports now support in-memory data caching, which has significant performance implications when working with large paged reports.

Guided Analysis

Closely related to the contextual linking that has been added to the dashboard, version 3.8 introduces the concept of guided analysis. Guided analysis allows designers to create a guided navigation path for users in reports, OLAP analysis, and dashboards. Guided paths provide a way to present additional detail or related content found in another report to users. Guided paths may prove useful for helping users interpret complex report data and understand what actions are expected.

Support for Big Data

In October 2010, Pentaho introduced support for big data framework Hadoop, a highly visible player in the NoSQL movement and an important component for data processing on sites such as Google, LinkedIn and the New York Times.


Visual components make using Hadoop easier in Pentaho

Version 3.8 makes it easier for developers to leverage Hadoop by providing visual tools to assist in the design of transformations. The latest release also includes updates to the Transformation Job Executer to optimize Hadoop Map Reduce jobs.

Getting the Software

Pentaho BI Suite Enterprise Edition 3.8 is available for production use on-premise or in the cloud. A 30-day free trial of the software is available for download on Pentaho’s site.

Even organizations with residual apprehension about open source adoption might be tempted to take Pentaho’s BI Suite Enterprise Edition 3.8 for a test drive. The company offers professional level support and a product with features that rival proprietary vendors. Is your organization considering Pentaho or other open source business intelligence platform? We would love to hear what compelled your move to open source.