Open Source

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 makes it their own so that they can market it.

Since by definition an open-source product cannot be sold, commercial open-source vendors make money through services, support, and any add-ons they have built themselves. So, although they are not selling the core product, they are still selling something.

Open-source BI has several appealing attributes, but it can also be quite risky. One thing that makes a pure open-source model attractive is the flexibility it offers for customization – although this comes with a substantial flip side. The buyer has access to the source code, so his team 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 community (submitting their changes for everyone else to use), 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.

Another initial lure of working with a commercial open-source vendor is the low cost of entry – since the product is ostensibly free. 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 BI risky.