BI specialist takes data modelling tool open source

A Canadian consulting firm that specializes in business intelligence is turning a data modelling tool it developed into an open source project that works with other non-proprietary analytics applications.

Toronto-based SQL Power Group Wednesday said it had published the source code to Power Architect, a data modelling tool it offers to business intelligence (BI) clients, on its Web site, as well as to online repositories FreshMeat and Google Code. Power Architect is designed to allow users to reverse-engineer existing databases, perform data profiling on source databases and auto-generate extract, transform and load (ETL) data. It can also take snapshots of database structures so data warehouse architects could work offline.

Sam Selim, president of SQL Power Group, said taking the tool open source could provide users with a lower-cost alternative to proprietary data modelling tools such as Erwin, and give his company added credibility among enterprises implementing BI.

The change in direction comes as open source database systems like PostgreSQL and mySQL are challenging established products from Oracle and DB2, as well as with the rise of open source BI platforms from JasperSoft and Pentaho. SQL Power Group has already become a certified implementation partner for Pentaho in Canada.

“Usually it’s marketing and finance that get to dictate the product evolution, not what the client demands,” he said.

“This way we’re opening up Power Architect to thousands of developers that are well-versed in that code that we as project owners accept or adopt.”

SQL Power Group is making the move just as Boston-based Aberdeen Research comes out with a survey report that shows 18 per cent of firms around the world are using open source BI, with 21 per cent saying they plan to use it, according to analyst David Hatch. The survey’s geographic breakdown shows 60 per cent of North American firms and 17 per cent in Europe are moving towards open source BI, Hatch said.

“Some of our larger clients are finding on an annual basis, the annual maintenance of their tools are using a third of their BI budget,” Selim said. “Every year at licence renewal time, they’re bellyaching and talking about switching.”

Hatch said that switch doesn’t come without its own particular challenges.

“The open source play is kind of asking the question, ‘Do you want to buy it or build it?’ With open source, you’re not buying it, you’re building it,” he said. “What you’re inviting is the idea that you have the IT and the BI skill sets internally to create the solution that’s going to solve your business needs.”

Power Architect helps users identify where data comes from and where it gets mapped, along with generating ETL templates. Selim said it’s too early to tell how open source contributors might change the tool.

“Hopefully some of the contributions will take the forward engineering of the ETL to other popular tools like Informatica or Datastage,” he said. “It could be a nice design platform for any database design.”

SQL Power Group opted for BSD rather than the latest General Public Licence to open source Power Architect, Selim said, because the firm believes the latter is still too restrictive. Future products developed by the consulting firm may be moved under the GPL, however, he said.

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