Pentaho has upgraded its open-source business intelligence (BI) software, which some industry watchers believe makes it a more viable option for corporate users.

Version 1.6 of the Pentaho Open BI Suite, adds a metadata layer and a thin-client reporting interface that allows non-technical users to generate ad hoc queries and reports, the company said.

Ad hoc querying is a basic BI capability long available in mature products from the likes of Business Objects and Cognos. Its addition to Pentaho’s BI Suite is an important development for the product, said David Stoddard, a vice president and research director with Ventana Research.

“This makes Pentaho more competitive with other players,” he said. “It can now be thought of as a real enterprise tool.”

The metadata layer allows IT staff to create reusable definitions for business terms such as “customer” and “region” that allow end users to create their own queries without needing to understand the mechanics of databases or SQL queries, said Lance Walter, Pentaho's vice president of marketing.

“Business users want the ability to log into the system and say ‘I want to see customer orders, for the last two quarters, for the northeast region,’ and now they'll now be able to create those reports based on the metadata layer that IT has set up for them,” he said.

“This isn't a brand new capability, it’s something that BI has been founded on. The difference with us is we’ve made it available in an open source format that you can go to our website and download,” he said.

Pentaho based its metadata layer on the Common Warehouse Metamodel (CWM), a specification from the Object Management Group. CWM should make it easier for customers to switch between different BI tools because they don’t have to learn a new metadata model.

James Kobielus, a principal analyst with Current Analysis, applauded the effort but said it’s unclear what value it will have because the spec has gained little traction in the market. Ventana’s Stoddard was more upbeat however, saying Pentaho's support for CWM is a vote of confidence for the standard.

Pentaho was founded in 2005. Its software can be downloaded for free under the Mozilla Public License, and it makes money selling support, consulting and other services.

The company claims to have several large customers, including Motorola, MySQL, Terra Industries and BNSF Logistics, although it won’t say how many paying customers it has. The company is not profitable yet, Walter said, and won’t say when it plans to be.

Its BI Suite starts at $12,000 per module for a four-CPU subscription, including technical support, indemnification and some managed services. The modules are Reporting (including the metadata and ad hoc querying), Analysis, Data Integration, Dashboards and Data Mining.

A wave of consolidation in the BI industry, including Oracle’s acquisition of Hyperion and SAP’s proposed merger with Business Objects, could help Pentaho if customers prefer to work with an independent vendor, Stoddard said.

Pentaho's nearest competitor is probably JasperSoft, another open-source BI vendor. It has a different business model from Pentaho, offering a basic version of its software for free under an open-source licence, and a more advanced version, including the ad hoc reporting capabilities, under a paid commercial licence.