Open source is one of the major models for business intelligence software. A software vendor takes a product that was created in the open source community and make it their own so that they can market it. Open source BI tools also give developers a lot of freedom to create what they need however they want.
Pros and Cons of Using Open Source BI Tools
Open-source BI has several appealing attributes, but it can also be quite risky. One thing that makes a pure open source analytics model attractive is the flexibility it offers for customization – although this comes with a substantial flip side. Development teams have access to the source code, so they can add, modify, or delete anything they want. However, as soon as they do this, they’re deviating from the source. At that point, they either need to become active participants in the open source BI community for their chosen solutions, or they have to move further away from the core and hope not to run into any major landmines within the source that they need to ultimately fix by themselves.
The open source community can be robust with documentation and online Q&A forums. But support and documentation will vary widely from component to component. Even if you have an online community to ask for help, getting answers can take a long time—and there’s no guarantee whether the answer will be accurate.
Another initial lure of working with a commercial open source BI tool is the low cost of entry – since the product is ostensibly free or at least low cost. However, the services and support that commercial open source vendors provide is essential to helping the client get started. Once the client goes down this services and support road, they face the challenges described above (they’ve deviated from the source), and now they’re even more dependent on the vendor for services, support, and add-ons.
Another negative is the fact that there is no real accountability if something goes wrong. Who do you turn to if there is a major problem with the product? Can you go back to the community to get the bug fixed? Can you go back to the vendor?
This sort of bottleneck actually happens quite frequently in the commercial open source market: the same bug exists within the commercial open source as does the main open source project. The customer can’t get their situation resolved by the vendor, because the vendor is waiting for the community to fix the problem – with the sense of urgency of a more or less voluntary community.
Therefore, the fact that services and add-ons still have to be paid, plus the uncertainty of how the project will be supported in case something goes wrong, often makes open source analytics tools risky.
Open Source Business Intelligence Tools vs. Buy Options
While open source analytics software can be a low-cost option initially, it can have hidden costs associated with long-term maintenance. When deciding whether to build business intelligence or buy a BI solution from a vendor, it’s important to consider all of the options available.