Open source business intelligence (BI) software vendor Jaspersoft recently announced general availability of its flagship product Jaspersoft 4 and earlier this week announced a new reporting project that provides data connectors to a variety of large-scale data sources.
Jaspersoft claims millions of downloads of its software and has a staff of 120 employees. The company focuses on the information delivery aspects of BI and partners with another open source vendor, Talend, that I recently wrote about. Jaspersoft 4 has a robust set of traditional BI features based around a report metaphor. It includes ad-hoc reports, pixel-perfect reporting , dashboards and online analytical processing (OLAP), both in-memory OLAP and relational OLAP (ROLAP). But as with many business intelligence tools, these capabilities are read-only and Jaspersoft hasn’t yet tackled planning, what-if analyses and other advanced analyses such as statistics and predictive analytics.
In my previous life, I partnered with Jaspersoft as well as other BI tool vendors. I observed that while the platform was robust and capable, the look and feel needed an overhaul because it looked antiquated and lacked the interactivity available in modern Web interfaces. Jaspersoft 4 addresses that issue with a new user interface that makes the product look much more modern and provides much better interactivity for the end user. The new interface is part of a re-architecting of the product that separates the presentation layer from the events layer and the structure. (The product is also architected with a data abstraction layer, but more about that later.)
The separation of the presentation layer is important to Jaspersoft’s focus on enabling embedded BI capabilities. The company also has invested in multitenancy capabilities, including per-tenant user interface themes. So, for example, if your organization has multiple divisions with different branding, each division could have its own look and feel even if they all run on the same instance of Jaspersoft.
These features are derived from Jaspersoft’s strategy to build platform as a service (PaaS) and software as a service (SaaS) offerings. As the software market evolves, more and more products will be delivered as a service, and Jaspersoft is betting that it can capture a large share of this market by architecting its products to behave well when running as a service and by supporting the data sources these service providers might choose to leverage.
For software vendors, committing to re-architecting is always a difficult decision because it takes lots of development effort without providing much visible benefit in the form of new features. So it is often driven by a fear that the company can’t be competitive with its previous approach. Jaspersoft sees the market evolving toward a model where BI becomes an embedded capability; I endorsed that notion in my posting “What Is Wrong with Business Intelligence?”
Jaspersoft 4 provides a complete Web-based BI product stack while many BI products still have developer or designer components that must run outside of the browser environment. The advantage of a completely Web-based BI stack is that it’s easier to move and cross the boundaries between end user and developer. For example, if you want to allow certain groups of users in your organization to design new reports or screens, you can do this with Jaspersoft 4 simply by turning on or off certain features for certain classes of users. If the developer tool was a completely separate product, doing that would be much more difficult.
Despite all the focus on Web-based delivery, mobile delivery platforms are not currently a core focus of this vendor. Jaspersoft 4 works on mobile devices via a browser, but it does not provide native applications and therefore cannot support gestures and features specific to a platform. Given the rising interest in mobile BI, as evidenced in our business intelligence and performance management benchmark research, Jaspersoft will need to do more to take full advantage of mobile platforms. I expect to hear more from them in the future on this subject.
Independent of Jaspersoft 4, the company created a new project to provide native access to a variety of large-scale data sources including massively parallel processing (MPP) database technologies, Hadoop and NoSQL. The news here is not the support of MPP technologies, although Jaspersoft now supports additional MPP database products. Nor is it the support of Hadoop, although it is among the early group of BI vendors to support Hadoop. No, the real news is support for a variety of other large-scale data technologies often referred to as NoSQL alternatives, including Cassandra, CouchDB, GemFire, HBase, Infinispan, MongoDB, Neo4J, Redis, Riak and VoltDB.
These projects are in relatively early states. The connectors to all the open source technologies are themselves open source and available for download at the project link above. Jaspersoft refers to them as beta versions, but that might be a little generous in terms of how far along they are: They support parameterized reports only and generally require some modification of the code to make the connectors work with a particular data source. As with many open source projects, the goal of releasing them in their current state is to engage others in helping to develop these connectors further.
It is an interesting play on the part of Jaspersoft. It gives the company an opportunity to grab market share in a segment where there is little or no competition currently. I suspect that this market is likely to grow. As more software is delivered as a service, performance and scalability become much bigger concerns than adherence to standards. A company that makes its living developing and delivering software services can afford to stray from industry standards under the covers of the services that it provides. In many cases that’s the only way to deliver the performance and scalability users require. In fact, that’s how some of today’s most popular technologies originated: Google, Facebook, Yahoo and others did not want to constrain their growth by limiting themselves to the capabilities of standard relational databases. The question for Jaspersoft is whether the technologies it is involved with continue to grow and whether they represent a large enough market to justify the investment it is making. There’s certainly enough interest in the NoSQL market to attract attention these days, as evidenced by a recent article in the New York Times. The companies behind some of these technologies have attracted venture capital investments.
As a Jaspersoft customer or potential customer, what does this mean to you? If you use one of the NoSQL technologies, you now have a potential reporting solution. If you don’t, then the question is whether the energy devoted to these NoSQL alternatives detracts from investment and attention in more traditional data sources. It’s a long list of data sources to support. The quality assurance process alone could become a big burden going forward. Jaspersoft does have the advantage of its open source model to attract support from the community for many of these connectors, but depending on the level of external support I would be concerned about negative impacts on the timeliness or quality of the new releases of the many product lines.
Charting a new direction has risks. This could be a brilliant move on the part of Jaspersoft, or it could turn out to be a costly mistake. Only time will tell.
David Menninger – VP & Research Director