I always predicted that Open Source BI has to reach critical mass before it becomes a viable alternative for large enterprise BI platforms. All the individual components (a mixture of Open Source BI projects and commercial vendor wrappers around them) are slowly but surely catching up to their bigger closed source BI brothers. Talend and Kettle (a Pentaho led project) offer data integration components like ETL, Mondrian and Palo (SourceForge projects) have OLAP servers, BIRT (an Eclipse project), Actuate, Jaspersoft and Pentaho have impressive reporting components, Infobright innovates with columnar dbms well suited for BI, and productized offerings from consulting companies like European based Engineering Ingegneria Informatica – SpagoBI – offer some Open Source BI component integration.

However, even large closed source BI vendors that acquired multiple BI components over the years still struggle with full, seamless component integration. So what chance do Open Source BI projects and vendors with independent leadership structure and often varying priorities have for integrating highly critical BI components such as metadata, data access layers, GUI, common prompting/sorting/ranking/filtering approaches, drill-throughs from one product to another, etc? Today, close to none. However, a potential consolidation of such products and technologies under one roof can indeed create a highly needed critical mass and give these individual components a chance to grow into large enterprise quality BI solutions.

Who are the potential consolidators? Red Hat with its JBoss and Metamatrix, critical BI integration components would make sense. And/or Sun with its GlassFish app server, NetBeans integration components, and MySQL, a small, but growing option for DW platform would probably make an even better acquirer. Now, the recent rumor that IBM may be in M&A talks with Sun is throwing a wrench into my well oiled engine of prediction logic. This would be an interesting twist with lots of implications for IBM such as reconciling its WebSphere line of products with Sun’s GlassFish and NetBeans, and reconciling its InfoSphere line of products with Sun’s MySQL

If, and only if, IBM decides that such two-pronged product strategy – open and closed source – makes sense for them, then I can theoretically see IBM becoming the consolidator for Open Source BI products. It can then potentially leverage its resources and subject matter expertise from Cognos to build up and position both open source and closed source BI offerings targeted at specific client bases. But the challenges of developing, marketing, positioning and selling two families of highly overlapping and competing BI products will be huge!

If such future is not in IBM plans, then my hopes for the bright Open Source BI future and bets are on Red Hat.

For additional coverage on the potential IBM/Sun merger check out "IBM Stares at Sun."

Boris Evelson's blog can also be found on http://blogs.forrester.com/information_management/.

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