Redmond, Washington SQL Saturday & Precons: Feb 9th & 10th on Microsoft Campus

SQL Saturday events occur in cities all over.  These events give technology professionals and students the opportunity to learn about database technologies, business intelligence, and new and emerging data trends to improve skills and master data.  I have been privileged to attend and speak and several SQL Saturdays around the world but the SQL Saturday in Redmond, Washington is special because it is close to home for Microsoft and people in the greater Seattle area.  SQL Saturday is always a free, sponsor-supported event with 60 to 90 minute, conference-length sessions presented by several noted industry professionals, authors and trainers.  Many of these sessions are selections of the same great learning content you would get from the same presenters at a large industry conference which might cost thousands of dollars to attend.  One of the great perks of being in Microsoft’s backyard is that several sessions are delivered by Microsoft product team leaders, with insider tips and timely information available from the people who develop SQL Server, Azure Services, Power BI and the rest of these great products.

In addition to the shorter sessions on Saturday, all-day preconference sessions on Friday give attendees the option for deeper, focused learning for a small fee to cover travel, facility and material costs.  This year, on Friday, Feb 9th; four preconference sessions are offered by traveling presenters.  Join Arnie Rowland, Ben Miller, Vern Rabe or myself for a full-day deep-dive into one of these compelling topics.  The following is from a recent announcement to the Pacific Northwest SQL User Group Members:

SQL Saturday Redmond – Feb 10, 2018

Just a reminder that SQLSaturday#696 will take place on Saturday, February 10, 2018 at Building 92, 15010 NE 35th St, Redmond, Washington, United States, 98052. SQLSaturday#696 is a free one day training event for SQL Server professionals and those interested in SQL Server. Please register for SQL Saturday Redmond 2018 at Registration.

Four All-day Preconferences – Friday, Feb 9, 2018

Also this year, we are offering Pre-Cons on Friday February 9, 2018, the day before SQLSaturday, in the same building (92): 8:00 AM to 4:30 PM. Each PreCon is well worth the modest fee. Register for a SQL Saturday Redmond PreCon by accessing its Eventbrite link below:

Building a Business Intelligence Solution with Power BI – Paul Turley https://www.eventbrite.com/e/power-bi-hands-on-workshop-tickets-41327327148

T-SQL for Performance and Accuracy – Vern Rabe https://www.eventbrite.com/e/t-sql-for-performance-and-accuracy-tickets-41172854115?aff=es2

Quelling Your Queasies: Mastering Technical Presentations – Arnie Rowland https://redmondprecon2017.eventbrite.com/

PowerShell Modules for the DBA – Ben Miller https://www.eventbrite.com/e/powershell-modules-for-the-dba-tickets-41368075026

See you there!

Please plan to join us in Redmond, on the Microsoft Campus – for the preconference on Friday, February 9th – and for SQL Saturday on February 10th, 2018.

Keeping Up with Power BI – A Never Ending Story

This first week of the new year has been a lot of housecleaning for me (literally and figuratively…  my office desk and cabinet will be clean by the end of the day!).  Three years into teaching classes and workshops on being productive with Power BI, it continues to be a product requiring a lot of work to stay current.  New features are introduced in every Power BI Desktop monthly update; not to mention updates to the cloud service and on-prem server.  You would have to be a child of the 80s to get the Never Ending Story reference.  Otherwise, it’s just a really bad flying dog – and pop song, which are both hard to explain, so we won’t.  The point is that it’s an ongoing effort to keep skills, courseware and presentation material up-to-date.

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If you’re like me, sometimes all these updates can be a bit of a distraction (we’re talking about Power BI again – not the dog, movie or song… case in point).  I’m excited by the continual innovations and improvements to Power BI.  However, the foundational rules of good design don’t really change that much.  Effective data curation, correct modeling and good core visualization design are as critical as ever.  The trick is to know which new features may be used to improve foundational design and which ones you can leave as icing on the cake for minor enhancements.  Updating courseware and workshop labs seems to be a never ending task and I’m hard at work revising older material and adding new content to prepare for new events this year.  An important topic I will continue to revisit this year is how Power BI is used along with other Microsoft tools to create different types of solutions.  I’m working on a new presentation to describe all of the incarnations of Power BI, used to deliver everything from self-service desktop reports – all the way up to enterprise-scale solutions for corporate users with governed and secured data – and most everything in-between.

The first workshop of the new year will be a one day preconference before the Redmond SQL Saturday, on Microsoft campus Friday, February 9.  You can sign-up for this event here.  I’m working on a few others in the following months and will update this and other blog posts when they are scheduled.  I hope to see you there.  You are welcome to send me questions or suggestions about specific topics of focus.  Just add a comment to this post, or reach me through Twitter or LinkedIn.

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Power Query Skills Apply to Excel, Power BI and SSAS Tabular

Did you know that if you learn to use Power Query to “Get” and transform data in one of these Microsoft Business Intelligence & data analysis tools, you actually have the skills to use any of them?  Power Query is an amazing technology for acquiring and wrangling data from a vast portfolio of data sources, and it can be used to perform simple and very advanced data transformations.  In my interview with Chris Webb at the 2017 PASS Summit, he said that Power Query is everywhere and being added to more and more Microsoft products.  We can expect to see Power Query in web-based tools for use with cloud services.  Today, it is the “Get Data experience” on the Data ribbon in Excel, Power BI Desktop and now in SQL Server Data Tools (SSDT) for SSAS 2017 Tabular projects.  The adoption rate  for Power Query has been fantastic and it is a tool that once you learn the basics, you just can’t go back and use older tools.  Power Query makes data wrangling and transformations a creative process rather than simply an exercise in connecting the dots (or tasks and transforms).  The Query Editor generates “M” Script, a powerful and flexible data mashup language that translates transformation steps into native query code.

In this tutorial, I use Excel 2016, Power BI Desktop and SSDT for Visual Studio 2017 to create three different sample projects.  Using a few of the lab data files from my Mastering Power BI Workshop course, I import a folder full of CSV files; using the same technique in each of the three tools.  This demonstration makes the point the Power Query generally works the same in workbook, desktop and enterprise BI and analytics solutions.  There are a few subtle differences to be aware of.  By default, Excel uses the Power Query output to populate worksheet tables in addition to the embedded Power Query data model.  In the new SSAS Tabular designer within SSDT, you define connections first, and then use the Tabular Model Explorer to import tables from established connections.  File, folder and data source connections are also managed a little differently in an SSAS project because the deployed databases is managed by the SSAS service account.

Spontaneous Interviews at PASS Summit 2017

Conversations with Julie Koesmarno, Olivier Matrat, Aaron Nelson, Seth Bauer and Robert Bruckner captured in video interviews below…

Continuing my video blog series of interviews from PASS Summit, I had the opportunity to catch-up with several Microsoft BI and Data Platform industry leaders amid the crowds and between sessions.  Stay tuned to this station for many more interviews and insider information about the Microsoft Business Intelligence and Data Platform.

I caught up with Julie Koesmarno in the Community Zone, a few days after travelling together on the SQL Train (aka “Oregon SQL Party Train to Seattle”) from Oregon SQL Saturday the weekend before Summit.  She’s been a non-stop community advocate for several years, and continues to speak at events all over.  Julie was an Business Intelligence consultant and user group leader in Australia and Southern California before joining Microsoft as technical evangelist.  You might recognize her from the executive demonstration during the opening keynote at PASS Summit last year.

Olivier Matrat, Principal Program Manager (that’s Microsoft job title code for “in charge of a lot of important stuff”), talks about how they are hard at work integrating several products in the “Power *” suite.  This is the first time I’d heard of all the “Power…” prefixed product names unofficially referred to as “Power Star”, but it makes perfect sense.  Olivier said that we can expect to see tighter integration between tools like Power BI, Flow and Power Apps with more embeddable features for developers and solution integrators.

Aaron Nelson, Data Platform MVP and hard-core PowerShell enthusiast, spoke about some new capabilities he presented in his session about PowerShell for Business Intelligence. The new REST API will let Power BI and report server admins orchestrate server migrations and task automation with PowerShell CmdLets.  He seized the opportunity to promote the PASS PowerShell virtual group that he helps manage, at SQLPS.IO.  I’ve promised Aaron a follow-up post to demonstrate how the REST API works with PowerShell and the new MSBuild integration, so please watch my blog for that in the next few days.

I chatted with Seth Bauer, BI consultant and Data Platform MVP, on the escalator in the Washington State Convention Center between sessions.  Seth has been on the front lines of the Power BI advisors community since the product launched.  He cites Q&A Natural Language and Explain the Difference as examples of the most compelling features.   He participates in PASS Summit for professional networking and to stay current with BI technologies.

Robert Bruckner is a Senior Architect on the Power BI team and long-time developer lead for Reporting Services.  He told me that there are many exciting capabilities on the horizon for Power BI and other integrated reporting technologies that are still under NDA.  He mentioned a recent announcement that the On-premises gateway will soon support single sign-on, delegation, load balancing and high-availability.  It is truly exciting to see such emphasis on enterprise-scale capabilities for these tools.