Everybody expects that Microsoft will do great announcements during PASS Summit 2015 concerning their data platform. Even when there already have been a lot of announcements, previews and updates for the Business Intelligence suite in the weeks and months prior to the summit, the content of the keynote and Microsoft’s sessions during the conference exceeded my expectations in a very positive manner.
The Box is Back
“Cloud first” changed Microsoft’s release policy to develop and deploy new features first to the cloud and deliver them for on-prem (“box”) in later releases. This lead to a time gap and annoyed customers who would not use the cloud for one reason or another. With the features shown in various sessions at PASS Summit 2015, with the available features in CTP3 and with the announcements for SQL Server 2016 RTM you can clearly see: The box is back! New features are delivered every month – new Power BI visualisations (s. below) will be created even once a week.
When I think back to the sort-of-roadmap which was announced 2009 I dont’t get any positive feelings. The promise in this year was, to conoslidate the tools to only three: Excel & SharePoint as the front-end and SQL Server as the back-bone. But instead of consolidating the tools of the Business Intelligence stack which already consisted of a bunch of tools (Microsoft Office Excel, SharePoint Excel Services, SQL Server PowerPivot for Excel, SQL Server PowerPivot for SharePoint, SQL Server Reporting Services in native mode, SQL Server Reporting Services in SharePoint mode, ProClarity *sigh*, SharePoint PerformancePoint Services, SharePoint Power View) new tools have been introduced and/or acquired: new add-ins for Microsoft Office Excel: Power View, Power Map, Power Query two new cloud-experiences Office365 and PowerBI.com, Power BI desktop and DataZen. That’s not what I call “consolidating”.
Things changed for my at the PASS Summit 2015 for a better. After years we have now a very clear roadmap for the Business Intelligence tools. Every of the existing tools gets its own dedicated place, compagnioning each other:
- Power BI Desktop for interactive reports
- Excel for spreadsheets
- Report Builder for pixel-perfect paginated reports
- DataZen for mobile reports
SQL Service Reporting Services is the worlds succesful tool for building paginated reports and operational reports. It will be fully integrated with PowerBI by end of 2015 in a hybrid way. Reporting Services will duplicate the features of off-prem PowerBI for on-prem uses. Excel still has its important place within the BI stack and will fully integrate in PowerBI/Reporting Services. And DataZen will be integrated into PowerBI and Reporting Services to enhance the mobile experience.
The following features are not available in CTP3, but announced for “very soon” (which might mean by end of 2015):
- Pin entire PowerBI Reports on a dashboard (including filters)
- Upload & embedd Excel workbooks as a report onto Power BI and pin parts of the workbook to a dashboard
- Publish PowerBI Desktop Reports to an on-prem Reporting Server
- Publish DataZen Reports to an on-prem Reporting Server
Here is it, the new buzz word! After enabling Corporate BI and making Self-Service BI possible, we now speak of “End-user BI”. This means, that we make data available directly for the end-user. Microsofts tool for this is, of course, Power BI.
By end of october 2015 already 90.000 organizations in over 180 countries subscribed to PowerBI.com, which is an impressive success story.
As nobody of us digs data, but wants to gain insights (s. my lightning talk on “My Favorite Candy Bar (Chart)” at PASS Summit 2015), a new feature in PowerBI is very welcomed: “Get Insights”. It will analyze a data set to detect correlations, outliers, low and high values you might not have discovered on your own.
Bring Your Own Device (BYOD)
Through the tools acquired with DataZen, Business Intelligence goes mobile on widespread types of devices. Windows (Phone) is now not the only platform supported, but one among different ones: Mac OS, iOS & Android.
Power BI Enterprise Gateway
The Power BI Enterprise Gateway enables Power BI, which is a cloud service, to connect to your on-prem data. Combined with a live data source you can analyze your on-prem data without moving the data out to the cloud – which will help to get up-to-date analysis or even real-time reports.
To have the possibility to analyse data immediately after it was generated, is a nice idea. Unfortunately, typical DWH scenarios are far away from this: Data from different sources is first extracted into a staging area, transformed and then loaded into a relational data warehouse. The process is usually done through night or on weekends. Because relational tables can be inconvenient to query for the average end-user (for either performance reasons or usability of table- and column-names, or both), many companies build up a cube through SQL Server Analysis Services on top of that, which adds up another step (and leads to even more time lag).
Fortunately two different features are helping out here: Using ColumnStore indexes for relational tables usually is speeding up queries on those tables and SQL Server Analysis Services is capable of both real-time online analytic processing (ROLAP in muldi-dimensional models) and DirectQuery (in tabular models). The performance of those queries will be improved in SQL Server 2016, while it did not have a very useful performance in previous versions (due to inefficient SQL statements generated and lack of any caching).
The editor will have intelli-sense, syntax highlighting, allow to edit in multiple lines and intend text, and will allow comments. The language will be enhanced with 50 new functions and allow the use of variables. New type of relationships will be allowed (eg. 1:m to m:1 relationship) including bidirectional filtering through multiple tables.
Microsoft goes Open Source with Power BI Visualisations
Microsoft announced in October to open up the visualisation stack for “custom visualisations” and actually ran a competition to submit new visualisations for Power BI. Those new types of visualisations integrate perfectly with the existing ones and with each other, so you can eg. cross filter like you would expect. All the visualisations are available in both, Power BI Desktop and the PowerBI web site (visit visuals.powerbi.com).
The last big investements into Reporting Services was with SQL Server 2008 R2, which is a couple of years ago. With SQL 2016 Reporting Services is back again. Report Manager will be totally overworked as a responsive webpage and will be based in HTML5. The first looks I had at PASS Summit 2015 have been very promising.