Spending the past two weeks at the annual PASS Global Summit and the Microsoft MVP Summit, I’ve consumed a literal firehouse of information about the Microsoft BI platform. I’ve participated in the PASS Summit for twelve years and the MVP Summit for seven years thus far and in that time, I don’t recall as much innovative change and product momentum as we have seen lately. The pace of significant additions to the business intelligence offering is truly astounding. Attending both of these events, I often learn about product feature investments on different levels which include those that are publically announced and those that are part of the roadmap and things that the product teams are working on or seriously considering in the near and longer-term future.
At both of these events, we saw a lot of very exciting functionality and heard some very bold statements about what the BI product teams are working on. Citing the product team official blog: “Our goal is simple – we want to put the power of data in the hands of every business and person on the planet. It is our objective to serve over a billion users with the Microsoft business intelligence (BI) platform.” To reach that goal, there are several very specific efforts in motion. The first objective is to harmonize all of the disparate report types that are currently surfaced in different tools like Reporting Services, Excel, Datazen and Power BI. This objective is to standardize reporting content types across Microsoft on-premises, cloud and hybrid systems. These include paginated reports, interactive reports, mobile reports and analytical reports & charts. There will be two different places for users to get to all their report content: Power BI dashboards and the new Reporting Services Portal. Both of these “portals” will serve up a variety of reports and visual content whether hosted on-premises or in the cloud. Additionally, users will have access to visual reports on mobile devices for all the platforms. Some details are still in flux but the direction and roadmap are quite clear.
Power BI: Past, Present & Future
Power BI was front and center in many sessions and discussions and the pace of new feature delivery is dizzying. The online Power BI service is updated weekly and the Power BI Desktop application is updated every month. What was crystal clear is that Power BI is getting tremendous attention from the product teams and leadership as the go-to visualization, modeling and data mash-up tool for many important scenarios. To-date, Power BI has been primarily marketed as a self-service analysis tool in the same way that Power Query, Power Pivot and Power View work in Excel. However, it is quickly becoming an enterprise product with the ability to integrate, automate and use it in a variety of managed business scenarios.
Consider each of these possible options:
- Power BI Desktop running on a user’s computer with data connected from many sources; across the Internet and on-premises.
- Power BI datasets, reports and dashboards published to the secure cloud subscription services, shared with different permissions for different groups of organization users.
- Power BI dashboards containing PBI report visuals, on-prem SSRS report visuals, mobile reports & KPIs, and Excel visuals.
- On prem Reporting Services Portal containing Power BI reports & dashboards, SSRS reports, mobile dashboards & KPIs, and Excel visuals.
- Power BI reports and dashboards in the cloud connected to live, on-prem SSAS tabular, SSAS multidimensional, or relational data sources using DirectQuery.
Although we can’t say exactly how or when, we will have the ability to publish Power BI Desktop Reports on-premises. This is very welcome news. We will also have the ability to pin on-premises reports and other content to a Power BI dashboard in the cloud. Some of that capability was just added to SQL Server 2016 CTP 3.0.
Custom Visuals – This is one of several examples of how Microsoft is embracing open source code and community development. In addition to the dozens of D3-based visuals that community developers have contributed, the product team is releasing one new visual per week. Any custom visual in the gallery can be downloaded, added to a Power BI Desktop report and published to the service. This is quickly making most common and special-purpose BI visuals available to everyone in one tool.
DirectQuery – connections to live data sources use query folding to optimize performance and real-time results from SQL Server, Azure SQL Database and Azure SQL Data Warehouse. This also includes connectivity to MDX/multidimensional SSAS in SQL Server 2016!
Real-time dashboards & reports – Options for real-time data interaction include DirectQuery and direct connect through the Analysis Service connecter. On-prem data can also be managed with the Personal Gateway. According to team leadership at PASS, gateway enhancements for personal and enterprise applications should be announced soon.
Pinning SSRS Reports – A Reporting Services 2016 server can be registered to integrate with a Power BI subscription using the Reporting Services Configuration Manager. This allows SSRS report visuals to be pinned to a Power BI dashboard. I just tried this in the 2016 CTP 3.0 and it works quite well. When viewing a report in Report Manager, a toolbar icon appears. This prompts the report user to select a visual on the SSRS report and then for a dashboard in their Power BI subscription.
There is SO MUCH more coming!! The product team members are so excited to share what they’re working on and lines between what they “eluded” to in their PASS session presentations and what they told us and demonstrated at the MVP Summit under strict NDA were very fine. Just keep watching and you will see an astounding release velocity of new and impressive features in the next few months.
New Reporting Services
In SQL Server 2016, Reporting Services is getting a significant face lift on several fronts. The HTML renderer has been completely rewritten to emit pure HTML 5 to produce consistent output in every modern browser on every device. This capability is in the current CTP today.
Report Manager is replaced with a modern report portal that will host content from SSRS, mobile dashboards (formerly known as Datazen), Excel and eventually Power BI on premises reports. This raises questions about the availability of Power BI on-prem and the only comment I can make based on public information is that it is planned for some time in the future.
Report parameters can be moved around and organized with greater precision in the parameter bar at the top of the report.
The printing capability in SSRS will use a “plug-in free” PDF renderer rather than the old ActiveX control that will no longer require a plug-in download or special permissions to run.
Two new chart types are added (treemap and sunburst) and changes are planned to modernize the default look of report visuals.