As recently as two years ago, Pentaho was all about open source business intelligence. The company used an open source business model to build a base of more than 1,200 paying customers and establish more than 8,000 production deployments. It still has an open source business model, but the company has created a broad yet integrated product line that deserves to be evaluated on its features, not just its licensing scheme. This week Pentaho announced version 4.0 of its BI suite along with version 4.2 of Pentaho Data Integration (aka Kettle).
The Business Intelligence 4.0 suite provides many of the necessary capabilities of BI in a single platform, including ad-hoc reporting, production reporting, dashboards, in-memory OLAP analysis, visualization and data mining (via integration with Weka). Reporting, a major area of focus for this release, has received a complete facelift and now has a more modern look and feel. This enhancement was done in a way that leverages cascading style sheets to enable customers and OEMs to customize the Pentaho environment. This is significant because OEMs are an important market segment to Pentaho, accounting for 40% of its revenues. In addition to these end-user capabilities, report bursting – mass delivery of personalized reports – is included in version 4.0, and that makes it easier to push information out to large numbers of users on a scheduled basis.
From a functionality standpoint, the new release provides a Web-based drag-and-drop environment for interactively developing reports. These features make Pentaho BI easier to use in several ways. First, the Web-based approach eliminates the need for business users to install any software. Second, the new release enables report design with live data in a WYSIWYG environment. Third, since these features are integrated into the Pentaho BI Suite, they take advantage of its metadata, production reporting and dashboarding capabilities. As our recent business analytics benchmark research shows, usability stands out as the most important consideration in selecting business analytics, regardless of someone’s company size, industry, individual role or functional area.
Pentaho BI 4.0 adds more visualization capabilities via new chart types to explore data interactively in a way similar to products from Tableau or Spotfire. These features are oriented toward more advanced users. Specifically, a new multichart display type can be created, and interactive drilling up and down on charts is now supported so users can navigate more easily to understand relationships in the data. Interactive dashboard-level filters also make it easier for users to identify and navigate through subsets of data. While these features may be found in other visualization vendors’ products, established Pentaho users likely will appreciate having them available in an integrated product offering rather than in stand-alone tools.
On the data integration side, Pentaho has extended the data sources it supports and allows more complicated schema such as multiple fact tables and operational data stores; this makes it easier to access data from a wider variety of systems. The new release has some data virtualization and federation capabilities that allow access to data without loading it into a data mart or data warehouse. Accessing virtualized data can be useful for prototyping situations or when small amounts of data may be needed from a remote or independent application. Among the new data sources, Pentaho BI 4.0 adds support for Cloudera Distribution for Hadoop 3.0 and EMC’s distribution for Hadoop , as well as Greenplum and Ingres Vectorwise. Pentaho also added support for some other “noSQL” data sources including MongoDB and Hbase. Earlier this year Jaspersoft, one of Pentaho’s open source BI competitors, announced similar moves to support more big-data sources. Adding these sources is important to companies such as Pentaho. As I have noted, we are living in an era of large-scale data and that is an important part of our information management research agenda.
Mobile BI is another topic we are following closely. If you are a mobile Pentaho user you have two options. Version 3.6 and later provide an iPad plug-in that can be used with 4.0. If you are using another mobile platform you will have to use the browser-based approach, which might mean a less pleasing experience than a native application. Mobile BI platforms will be a contested battlefield in the coming months, and providing broader capabilities might be important for Pentaho to retain its large OEM base. I’d also like to see the company provide more search capabilities. Our research has shown the importance of search to end users, as I’ve written.
Pentaho BI Suite 4.0 has useful new capabilities for users. As an open source vendor, the company follows the procedure of preparing a release candidate, which was launched on June 22. General availability is planned for July 2011. Go ahead and download Pentaho BI 4.0, give it a try and let me know your thoughts.