Installation was a breeze - I fired up a Debian 5 VPS on my home server and after downloading the JasperServer package I had my TomCat, MySQL, Java installs all done for me. I had the option to configure each component separately - I opted to have Jasper do all that for me this time. I also decided to give JasperReports-Pro a try under the time trial demo. There's also the completely free open-source edition.
Once I was able to log into the web interface I had to find some data! I decided to try data.gov. I found some "raw data" on 2008 adoptions per foreign country for United States families. The data came in the form of an .xls file that I cleaned up, turned into a .csv and imported into a separate MySQL server that I had running.
Configuring JasperReports was not too bad. There's definitely a learning curve but within a couple of hours I was able to get everything plugged in nicely and a report generated. The basic steps were:
1) Create a JDBC connection to your database (in this case it was another host on my LAN with a mysql server listening for connections). Jasper calls this a JBDC Data Source
|JasperReports: Turning Data into Information|
3) Finally you can then set up a report using the data from the Domain created in step two. The idea is that your end users create reports using the JasperServer GUI, the end user really doesn't need to worry about the JBDC data source.
After all this work you have a report. A sweet report that is linked to your data source. If I upload data into my database the reports are updated instantly. This is very cool. Since I already have all the data from my table in my Domain, creating other reports and mash-ups is simple.
The "real-world" application doesn't seem obvious in my example here - if you work in an enterprise where data is needed on a constant basis then JasperReports is for you. Reports can be ran on demand by end-users or scheduled and e-mailed on a recurring basis. Here's what my report ended up looking like. It's super basic and just tells me that Guatemalans were the child of choice for 2008.
If you put together all the information available from the government on sites like data.gov and combine it with the power of a tool like JasperReports, having incredibly useful information at your fingertips becomes a reality.