Reporting Tools

Having built and populated a reporting database I’ve been looking at reporting tools for the front end. In the past I’ve used Crystal Reports, Oracle Reports and MicroStrategy, but with the BI industry in flux over the past couple of years as a result of acquisitions and new open source businesses, I thought now is a good time to look at alternatives like BIRT, JasperSoft and Pentaho. My requirements are:

  • easy and powerful report designer and engine with relevant examples
  • secure report repository with end user web access including external authentication
  • scheduled report execution and delivery by email
  • value for money given tech savvy in-house support

Starting with report designers I looked at BIRT RCP Report Designer 2.3 vs. JasperSoft iReport 3.0.  BIRT has a field guide included in the online help, report layouts may be fixed or automatic, and the BIRT report engine was described as stronger than JasperReports on a ServerSide forum.  iReport struck me as undistinguished, and the user manuals need to be purchased as they are not available for download, which was irksome to perform a review.  It does, however, provide a ‘pixel perfect’ layout and there were demo samples in jasperreports-3.0.0-project.zip.  The first report I built failed to run, and I could not find any explanation.

Looking at report repositories I compared BIRT Report Server vs. JasperServer 2.1, Pentaho Reporting and OpenReports.  BIRT Report Server was previously Actuate iServer Express, and is still a commercial product costing $1,995/core.  There is a BIRT Deployment kit with repository (but no scheduler) available at $995/core.  There is a 90 day evaluation available and manuals are available online.  JasperServer 2.1 installation was bundled with Apache Tomcat 5.5, MySQL 5.0, Java JDK 1.5 and iReport 2.0.2.  Novell SLES 10.2 is documented as a supported platform.  I found the Pentaho Platform documentation to be jumbled and immature, with different dates more like an online support knowledgebase.  The Pentaho wiki, however, does include articles on integrating BIRT and JasperReports.  Also Pentaho is certified on Novell SLES 10 and has also been installed on Ubuntu.  Finally OpenReports supports multiple report engines, including BIRT, JasperReports and Pentaho.  External integration is supported using Spring Framework, but not well documented.

My conclusions from this research is that these products are still maturing, and I would not want to mix and match components from different products.  I was not persuaded to pay for a commercial BIRT Report Server licence, even if the price is relatively modest compared to competing products a few years ago.  That leaves Pentaho Reporting and JasperServer as the best alternative repositories, and they rate about equal.  In my case I’m focusing on JasperServer as being easier to integrate seamlessly with our own software.