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Pentaho Makes Open Source BI Semantic

The business intelligence software market is all about enabling business users to make sense of their data. But sometimes the data's complexity can make it a daunting task.

Open source BI vendor Pentaho claims it has a solution in the new Pentaho Business Intelligence 1.6, which provides a semantic metadata layer.

"Pentaho has been marching down the path of making open source business intelligence easier to use," Lance Walter, vice president of marketing at Pentaho, told InternetNews.com. "The latest release is a critical next step in that it adds an open source business intelligence metadata layer that lets users build reports with terms like 'customers,' 'products' and 'sales' and insulates them from the underlying database structure and schema."

Walter said that the BI metadata layer is centrally maintained by an administrator that can create a map of terms. Those terms are then served up to users in an AJAX-based thin-client interface so they can self-serve and create their own reports.

"People do describe the metadata layer as a semantic layer," Walter noted. "It is a logical model that sits on top of what could be a very complex database schema and exposes it very simply."

Metadata is exposed via XML using the Common Warehouse Metamodel (CWM), an open-industry standard format for the expression of metadata that Informatica, Business Objects and others already support in their BI tools. Walter said that Pentaho is built natively around the CWM, so it would be easy for customers to integrate with metadata they may already have in other tools.

Pentaho spent a lot of time looking at where other BI solutions had failed with their metadata implementation in order to make sure that Pentaho didn't make the same mistakes, he added.

The standards-based approach is one that so far is serving Pentaho well and is why it isn't part of the Open Solutions Alliance (OSA), an effort that aims to make open source solutions interoperate with each other. Open source BI vendor Jaspersoft plays a large role in the organization.

"We don't see membership in any particular body as a key driver or enabler for integration," Walter said. "We prioritize integration and certification based on market demand and not so much on who showed up for a meeting."

Beyond using open standards, which proprietary vendors may also use, open source is the key differentiator for Pentaho and one that Walter said mitigates risks for users. SAP's acquisition of Business Objects this week highlights the risk in proprietary solutions.

The risk comes in the form of closed proprietary code that users cannot maintain in the event a proprietary vendor abandons the code. When a proprietary vendor is acquired, there is always the risk of forced migrations and licensing changes.

"The open source model naturally and intrinsically insulates people from that," Walter argued. "It is possible that Pentaho could be acquired, but our source code is out there and free and customers can keep using it."