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Advice on any open-source reporting tool written in .NET similar to Actuate/BIRT or Business Objects Edge in features/functionality/polished look/integration....

Posted on 2008-06-10
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Last Modified: 2010-04-29
I'm looking for advice/suggestions for a open-source or inexpensive (say, $10K max server license) reporting/BI tool or toolset written in .NET similar in form, functionality, features, and overall polish/presentation/professionalism to the Actuate/BIRT offering available on SourceForge. There seem to be quite a few BI toolsets in Java/J2EE, and I'll go that way if necessary if nobody else has what we need. Reporting Services 2005/2008 completely lacks the security, navigation, toolset, and features we need (and we've looked at RSInteract as an add-on already), and Analysis Services is limited to simple two-dimensional or "naive" Bayesian, basic clustering, etc. I need something with the polish/featureset of a high end Crystal Reports or Business Objects Edge suite, without the cost (my choice was Business Objects Edge but this was rejected at the time). My immediate need is reporting with basic functional dashboarding; analysis can wait for a quarter if necessary. Reprots will be consumed by internal end users, primarily executives and sales people. So, it has to look 110% and be salesman-friendly. Ad-hoc reporting is a nice to have but isn't necessary at this time, but basic report parameterization and metadata would be needed to support minimal ad-hoc reporting. The product must be MS-based with MS SQL Server 2005/2008 as a backend.

Please, for the love of Pete, no salespeople. I want advice/opinions from those who have been there and done that.
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Question by:bretlowery
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by:chrismc
chrismc earned 500 total points
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I think you should take another look at RS, it is fully intergrated into Active Directory but you can write your own .net security add in.
It has ad hoc reporting too which is OK.
And the price is good.

Again, you can write your own navigation tools in .Net or you can use Sharepoint with RS to improve on the Report Manager.

SSRS 2008 is due out soon too.

But as alternatives, I haven't looked at these but Telerik have an ASP.Net based reporting toolset.
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by:bretlowery
ID: 21771585
RS just won't cut it. The moment I have to spend developer time writing .NET security add-ins or buy additional products like RSInteract to plug gaps or wait for this or that release -- I just think the accumulated development costs, 3rd party "extra toppings" costs, and lost opportunity costs due to delay and compromise will be more at EOY than if we just spend the $$$s up front for a full-featured tool.

I'll take a look at Telerik, thanks, wasn't aware of them.
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chrismc earned 500 total points
ID: 21780825
A couple more for you;
www.fyireporting.com
http://www.apexsql.com/sql_tools_report.asp   - aimed at SQL developers I think.

With regard to your comments, fair enough, but for that level, I think you are going to be spending big bucks for the likes of Business Objects. There is also ProClarity (although Microsoft recently bought that too) and Hyperion, in this class, but these are all marketed as high end Business Intelligence tools or OLAP tools which usually requires a lot more set up than the more general tools like Crystal or RS.

In terms of the security issues on RS, I'd be interested to know what it is that you find is weak. I'm in the middle of setting it up at a large University and their security guys seemed satisfied with it because it integrates so tightly with Active Directory. If anything our issues are because the security got too tight for it's own good at one point. I'm not a security expert but would like to know of any potential weaknesses in RS.

By the way, I'm not particularly a pro-Microsoft guy (I run on a Mac as proof :) ) but considering the price and the competition I think RS is a really neat product - despite it's flaws. What I do find is that people don't often fully understand what it can do or how it works. For instance few are aware of Report Builder (originally called Active Reports til MS bought it), that comes with it and is similar to RSInteract.

My primary skill set is SQL Server and Reporting Services so I can't give very objective comments on anything else although I went through a similar exercise to you in 2004 where the choice was to ramp up Crystal use up to Enterprise edition (about $30k at that time). Or look for an alternative. Obviously we plumped for Reporting Services to which I've wedded my career now.

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by:bretlowery
ID: 21835325
Chrismc:

Thanks for the thoughtful comments. For security, we'd like a combination of role-based security as well as data security at the report, data selection/range, and possible even "cell" (column+row) level (think PII/security certification/regulatory and compliance reasons).

I'll check out Report Builder and see where that gets me.

Interesting that there seems to be no real .NET open source solution, given the plethora of LAMP solutions... maybe ".NET open source" is an oxymoron.

Thanks, Bret
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by:chrismc
chrismc earned 500 total points
ID: 21838007
Hi Bret,
Given that MS have published the RDL schema (RS reports are all just XML under the hood) I guess that's open enough for many and because most enterprise have SQL Server somewhere in their organisation it effectively makes RS free! And, I agree, .Net open source probably is an oxymoron ;-)

The information out there on Report Builder still seems fairly limited. I only found 1 book dedicated to the subject on Amazon. In RS books, Report Builder is normally just an appendix!

If your data sources are SQL Server then you have role and/or user based security down to column and row-level which obviously when combined gives you cell level security. Both full RS reports and Report Builder are built on top of this security.
Report Builder requires a SQL DBA or Developer to generate a "Model" which is essentially a simplified and flattened view of the data base as you want the end-user to see it.

Providing you use Windows Authentication or something similar to pass those credentials down to the data source. SQL Server will manage that security and only return what it should.

We are using Basic Authentication using SSL because we have external users. These users are still set up in AD  into roles which are applicable to our application. Because we have a fairly scaled out set up we also have to implement "Delegation" to get RS to tell the data source the credentials to use.

At all stages of this set up, the default in Windows was locking us out. The point is that the security was doing it's job and keeping us out until we got the setup correct.

We have also split the IIS Web App part of Report Server out onto a seperate server from the Reporting Services database so that we can have a firewall between them so we expose the minimum attack surface to the outside world.
Whilst this is tricky to set up, we've done it with a SQL Professional (me!) and a Networking Professional. No .net developers involved and no extra code involved, just configuration.

You can also now integrate RS directly into Sharepoint which gives your users more control over how they access the reports - I haven't tried this fully yet. But if you do have .net developers then they can use this to create a slicker experience than perhaps you get out the box. Again, the security will still only allow them to see the reports and/or data you've set for them.

Cheers
Chris
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