/ 6 min read /

Metabase Limitations and Top 4 Alternatives (BI)

by Huy Nguyen

Problems with Metabase

Metabase Dashboard
Metabase Dashboard

Metabase is a good, popular open-source BI tool that anyone can quickly install on your local environment to get a simple BI system up and running.

Choosing the right BI tool for your organization can be extremely tricky, so we dedicate another article on this topic, check it out here: A Walk Down Business Intelligence Space

Yet when your analytics needs grow, you might face some of these pain points when using Metabase:

  • Have your business users ever found Metabase’s “Ask a question” too limiting for complex queries, and end up coming back to the analytics team to ask for custom reports?
  • Metabase only works well with a single SQL data source. If you have data from multiple sources, Metabase likely won't work well for you since it doesn't allow joining of data.
  • With Metabase, you can only work directly with your database tables because everything in Metabase is designed for simplicity.

In this post, we'll share with you a few alternative options to that, and tell you which pain points of Metabase each of these alternative addresses. So depending on your needs you might be able to pick the right option to replace, or use alongside with Metabase.

The below list of options are only tools that eventually offer a drag-and-drop interface to end users. At the end of the post we also include a list of tools that is only designed for technical users, SQL-to-chart translation.


Top 4 Metabase Alternatives

Overview of Metabase alternatives


Holistics

Tableau

PowerBI

Looker

Accessible to non-tech users: can users create their own charts without any help from the data team?

Yes

No

No

Yes

Pricing

Starts at USD100/month

Starts at USD70/user/month

Starts at USD9.99/user/month

Starts at USD30,000/year

Can write complex queries

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Visually appealing charts and dashboards

Slightly lacking

Yes

Yes

Yes

Easy to debug?

Yes

No

No

Yes

Drag-and-drop Interface

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Semantic Data Modelling Layer

Yes

No

No

Yes


1. Holistics

Holistics is a nice BI alternative to Metabase. It works similar to Metabase in a way that it allows you to map your database tables into models and relationships, and expose this to the end business users to "self-service explore". For more information on how Holistics work, check out the mechanisms.

Holistics Self-service BI Platform
Holistics allows Data teams to define metrics once at the semantic (data modelling) layer, without repeating themselves or re-writing SQL queries. This semantic layer allows non-technical users to create their own charts, without writing SQL.

Similarities/Differences to Metabase:

  • Both are built on top of SQL querying engine and both offer a drag-and-drop experience for non-technical users.
  • Metabase fits only at the visualization layer, Holistics offer additional ELT capabilities (data preparation).
Holistics’ drag-and-drop interface
Both technical and non-technical users can drag-and-drop the data fields without writing SQL. End users who don't know how to write SQL are able to get the data they need very quickly and they're able to make more informed data decisions.

Pros (compared to Metabase):

Cons (compared to Metabase):

  • Might not look as visually appealing as Metabase

Pricing:

  • Plans start from $100 per month.

2. Tableau

Tableau is considered the best tool when it comes to visualization (prettiness) as it's their primary focus. Tableau was acquired by Salesforce in 2019.

Tableau dashboard
Tableau dashboard

Similarities/Differences to Metabase:

While Metabase translates everything to SQL, by default Tableau uses their in-memory datastore, making it more difficult to debug when things go wrong (you can't look at the SQL query to troubleshoot).

Pros (compared to Metabase):

  • Pretty visualization (best in their class)
  • Friendly for business users to build your own chartings
  • Work with a wide range of data sources

Cons (compared to Metabase):

  • To design charts effectively you need to use their Desktop version

Pricing:


3. PowerBI

PowerBI dashboard
PowerBI dashboard

Coming out of Microsoft and with a strong history of Excel and PowerPivot, PowerBI is a fine choice to replace Metabase. They also have the ability to load custom visualization.

Similarities/Difference from Metabase:

  • While Metabase translates everything to SQL, by default PowerBI uses their in-memory datastore and their proprietary language DAX, making it more difficult to debug when things go wrong (you can't look at the SQL query to troubleshoot).

Pros (compared to Metabase):

  • Their explorer interface is comprehensive for end-business users to work with.
  • They offer from loading data from multiple sources, to drag-and-drop transform UI, to visualization.

Cons (compared to Metabase):

  • We suspect if you're more inclined towards SQL-backed data reporting like Metabase, you might not like Microsoft-style, Excel-like, proprietary approach of PowerBI.
  • PowerBI Editor can only run on Desktop running Windows. (that's why we wrote a post on how to use PowerBI on Mac devices)
  • Their best practice requires you to host your data into PowerBI servers, i.e duplicating your data into their server.

Pricing:

  • Free for single user (desktop)
  • $10 per user for small-scale shared resource deployment
  • Starts to get fairly expensive for medium-to-large scale deployment (starts at $5K USD a month - listed price on their website).

Related reading: BI Tools Comparison: A Community-Contributed Worksheet

4. Looker

Looker (now part of Google) is quite a good BI tool to replace Metabase, but only if you're a big organization with a large budget.

Looker Dashboard

Pros (compared to Metabase):

  • Have a custom-built DSL layer (called LookML) to perform mapping between database tables and business logic, thus it's more flexible and customizable.
  • Have an in-built transformation layer so that you can transform raw data into aggregated datasets before exploration
  • Cloud-based so it doesn't take time to setup (as compared to Metabase)

Cons (compared to Metabase):

  • Since they use their own DSL language to model data, it takes quite a learning curve to get started.
  • It's also expensive and meant for large-scale deployment

Pricing:

  • Quite expensive, starting from $3000/month. The pricing isn’t on their pricing page. To know the real price, you’ve to request a quote on their website and talk to their sales rep.

For more Looker analysis and evaluation, check out:


5. Other SQL-to-chart tools (without self-service functionalities)

If you don't need self-service capabilities that Metabase offers for business users, you can also check out these SQL-to-chart tools:

  • Redash (open-source, got acquired by Databricks, shutting down their hosted Redash service at app.redash.io, effective November 30, 2021)
  • Cluvio (pricing starts at $279/month, free plan available)
  • Superset (open-source, coming out of Airbnb)
  • Mode Analytics (pricing starts at $10k/year, need to sit through product demo to get pricing. A free plan is available.)

For more blog posts about BI tool evaluation, check out:

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