Power BI: a new suite of Business Intelligence tools
Over the past few months, teams at Microsoft have made several new Business Intelligence tools available for preview; some only privately and some to the public. The entire suite will soon be available for either public preview or release under the new name: “Power BI”. All of the components of Power BI are listed below but the big news is a new hosted offering called “Power BI for Office 365” and “Power BI Sites”. The announcement was made at the Worldwide Partner Conference this week. Users can sign-up to be notified when the new offerings are available for general availability, apparently in the very near future. I’ve had an opportunity to work with early, pre-released versions and it has been interesting to see the gaps being filled a little at a time. On the heals of the new suite, some of the names of existing products are also being changed. It’s hard to have a conversation about the collection of Microsoft’s “Power”/”Pivot”/”Point”…named tools and not get tongue twisted but these changes bring more consistency.
Bottom line: this is good news and a promising step forward – especially for smaller businesses. Larger, enterprise customers should know that this move is consistent with Microsoft’s “cloud first” philosophy and these capabilities are being introduced through Office365/Azure platform with required connectivity. Read the commentary on community leaders’ sites below. I have no doubt that there will be a lot of discussion on this in the weeks to come with more announcements from Microsoft in the near future.
Power BI for Office 365 and Power BI Sites
When Power View was released with SQL Server 2012 Enterprise and Business Intelligence Editions, it was available only when integrated with SharePoint 2010 Enterprise Edition. This is a good solution for enterprise customers but it was complex and expensive for some to get started. Power View was also offered only as a Silverlight application that wouldn’t work on many mobile devices and web browsers. For this reason, Power View has really been viewed as a “Microsoft only” tool and only for big companies with deep pockets and very capable IT support groups. Even the new Power View add-in for Excel 2013 ProPlus Edition requires Silverlight which is not a show-stopper for most folks but a hindrance for multi-platform and tablet users. This all changes with this new offering as the Power View visualization tool in the hosted product come in 3 new flavors: native Windows 8 app (runs on desktop, Surface RT & Pro), native iOS (targeting the iPad) and HTML5 (works on practically any newer device). This means that when you open a Power View report on your Surface or iPad, it can run as an installed app with all the cool pinch-zoom and gestures you’ve come to expect on a tablet device. For now, this is good news for the cloud user as no on-premises option is currently available. An interesting new edition will be the introduction of a semantic translation engine for natural language queries, initially for English.
Formerly known as “Data Explorer”, this add-in for Excel 2013 allows you to discover and integrate data into Excel. Think of it as intelligent, personal ETL with specialized tools to pivot, transform and cleanse data obtained from web-based HTML tables and data feeds.
This Excel 2013 ProPlus add-in, which was previously known as “GeoFlow”, uses advanced 3-D imaging to plot data points on a global rendering of Bing Maps. Each data point can be visualized as a column, stacked column or heat map point positioned using latitude & longitude, named map location or address just like you would in a Bing Maps search. You can plot literally thousands of points and then tour the map with the keyboard, mouse or touch gestures to zoom and navigate the globe. A tour can be created, recorded and then played back. Aside from the immediate cool factor of this imagery, this tool has many practical applications.
The be reveal is that “PowerPivot” shall now be known as “Power Pivot”. Note, the space added so that the name is consistent with the other applications. We all know and love this tool, an add-in for Excel 2010 and Excel 2013 ProPlus (two different versions with some different features) that allow large volumes of related, multi-table data sources to be imported into an in-memory semantic model with sophisticated calculations. On a well-equipped computer, this means that a model could contain tens of millions of rows that get neatly compressed into memory and can be scanned, queried and aggregated very quickly. Power Pivot models (stored as an Excel .xlsx file) can be uploaded to a SharePoint where they become a server-managed resource. A Power Pivot model can also be promoted to a server-hosted SSAS Tabular model where data is not only managed and queried on an enterprise server but also takes on many of the features and capabilities of classic SSAS multidimensional database. Whether a Power Pivot model is published to a SharePoint library or promoted to a full-fledged SSAS Tabular model, the data can be queried by any client tool as if it were an Analysis Services cube.
For now, Power View in Excel 2013 ProPlus and Power View in SharePoint 2010 Enterprise and SharePoint 2013 Enterprise remain the same – the Silverlight-based drag-and-drop visual analytic tool. With the addition of SQL Server 2012 CU4, Power View in SharePoint can be used with SharePoint published Power Pivot models, SSAS Tabular models and SSAS Multidimensional “cube” models. There has been no news yet about a non-Silverlight replacement for the on-premise version of Power View. The Microsoft teams and leadership have heard the requests and feedback, loud-and-clear, from the community and we can only guess that there is more is in-the-works but I make no forecast or assumptions about the eventual availability of an on-premise offering similar to Power BI for Office 365.
Power View add-in in Excel 2013 ProPlus:
Here’s a demonstration that Amir Netz did of the new Power BI features at the World Wide Partner Conference this week
Additional thoughts and information from the community can be found at:
Chris Webb: Some Thoughts About Power BI
Andrew Brust: Microsoft Announces Power BI for Office 365
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