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.
13 thoughts on “The Resurrection of Reporting Services & The Maturing of Power BI”
I made a correction to this post today. I had originally said that different reports types could be viewed in “Power BI Desktop”… and meant to say “Power BI dashboards”. Important distinction here.
Nice post. My only issue with SSRS charts is the flat, lifeless colors. You still can’t get pretty, shiny graphs. You can have some control if you switch to 3D, but that usually makes it hard to read the graph. But I would have hoped for much better presentation by now.
The default chart styles are definitely overdue for a refresh and I’m glad to say we’re working on updating them so you get beautifully modern charts by default. Check out this tweet as one example: http://blogs.msdn.com/b/sqlrsteamblog/archive/2015/10/28/pin-reporting-services-charts-to-power-bi-dashboards-with-sql-server-2016-ctp-3-0.aspx. You can indeed create modern charts and gauges like these ones in SSRS today, but it takes more work than it should; we’re going to make it much quicker and easier.
Meant to link to this tweet :/
That’s great, but you actually can’t do it today. Those examples are from 2016 and most aren’t going to run a beta in prod, or roll it out to their entire shop. Do you have an example of something you can actually do today? And honestly, those still looked flat. They were new chart types, but there was nothing eye-popping about them.
I’d like you guys to really put some actual effort into making some gorgeous graphics for even simple charts like lines and bars.
I remember a long time ago there was an app, sorry I don’t remember the name, but it had charts. One of the line charts was beautiful. It had a line graph with a max line going across it. That max line was just to show the average value and the bar was the actual value at any give point. Sorry I don’t remember the SSRS terms for each element. And when the line graph broke through the average line, it had little shards of glass being thrown up into the air. The line graph was literally breaking through that barrier in some places. The avg line actually looked like glass if I remember rightly. But that was a very beautiful impact. Seeing the glass being broken and flying up into the air. Now, it was all static, and the shards were just floating, but you get the idea.
But this is what I’m talking about. Put some honest effort into making really nice graphics. Get an artist to design a few things. Get a photoshop guy to design some nice metal or glass images… do something other than just a few new chart types.
Sean, you’re shattering all my preconceptions about DBAs, being all artistic and such. Seriously, there is a lot of fad a fashion to visual report and chart design. As Riccardo says, the current trend is flat and solid. Bell-bottoms are out and straight-legs are in… for a season and then the industry pendulum swings back. I don’t think we can expect the product team to retrofit the existing platform but it would (will?) be nice to have a styling mechanism to easily apply a new look and feel to charts and visuals once designed.
@midnightdbasean: Aside from the Treemap, which is indeed a new chart type in SSRS 2016, the others are existing SSRS 2014 (or earlier) charts and gauges that I created. (Also, I meant to link to this tweet and screenshot: https://twitter.com/Ko_Ver/status/660052128031870976) In any case, it proves the point that creating these modern visuals today requires too much tweaking and that’s why we’re making it quicker and easier.
Your feedback about the aesthetic appeal of even the new/modern styles is valid and goes to show how aesthetics are often subjective – in general and also in the field of data visualization. When you say the design is still “flat” and devoid of effects like “metal or glass,” you’re quite correct; today’s design trend does favor “flat” design and has moved away from skeumorphism and skeumorphic effects (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flat_design). More specifically within the field of data visualization, there’s increasing awareness of data visualization principles and demand for products that follow them by default, and what some people find “eye-popping” other people categorize as “chartjunk” (an industry term, not mine). We do need to take some position on a default design theme and there we’re aligning with our design language (which we already use in Power BI, so you’ll see some consistency in default styles across Power BI and SSRS) and data visualization principles. But at the same time, acknowledging the subjective nature of aesthetics and the value of user customizability in general, we’ll continue to give you control over a ton of chart style properties so you can customize charts to your liking. And if there’s demand for more elaborate visual effects, we’ll certainly collect and consider that feedback as well. Thanks!
Thanks for posting of a review of this information.
This is fantastic! Cant wait to see all of this in unison and craft a great story for clients.