Power BI for Grownups

The message from the Microsoft Business Applications Summit this week was very clear: Power BI is growing up.

We have known for a while that Power BI is a great front-end tool for enterprise-scale tabular and multidimensional models.  Power BI Premium will now allow almost limitless data scale using extremely large datasets by leveraging composite models that employ both DirectQuery and VertiPaq cached mode tables.  This feature shatters the previous barriers where data models could only support either DirectQuery or cached mode (imported data).  Additionally, Microsoft publicly unveiled plans to add IT developer centric features to Power BI Desktop for managing large models, version control and application development lifecycle.

These announcements leave many open questions about how Microsoft will continue to support self-service and enterprise customers with one tool and about the long-term future of SSAS and Visual Studio-based SSDT. At this point, none of these tools are on the chopping block, but it is clear that James Phillips and his team have significant momentum and are not slowing down to wait for other products to catch-up.

In this interview with Christian Wade, he describes the benefits of this new capability.  Christian is Group Program Manager on the Power BI and Analysis Services product team with focus on data model development and scalability features.

Composite Models & Aggregations

In the opening keynote and again in his sessions, Christian demonstrated Power BI reports on the taxi driver activity database with over a trillion rows of raw data.  The larger dataset was in a Spark cluster, accessed using DirectQuery.  Aggregated tables were stored in the in-memory model using the new composite model feature.  As the data was explored in report visuals, the Power BI engine would seamlessly switch from tabular in-memory aggregate tables to DirectQuery source data in order to return low-level details.  Composite models will allow mashing-up imported database and file-based data with an DirectQuery.

There are limits and complexities with these new features.  You cannot mashup imported tables in a Power BI model based in a direct connection to SSAS, but enterprise-scale features in Power BI arguably may not steer a solution architect to select SSAS over Power BI for serious data modeling.  With incremental data refresh, large model support, row-level security and many other “big kid” features, Power BI might be a preferable choice.  I’m not ready to rule-out Analysis Services as the better option for most enterprise solutions – at least not in the near future, but Power BI is definitely heading in that direction.

Power BI Desktop Features for Developers

News Flash: Power BI Desktop will be the primary tool for serious, enterprise data model development.  A bunch of features are in the works and will arrive soon for preview.  The obvious question is what will happen to SSDT for Visual Studio and the answer is that it’s not going away but the product team is putting their energy into enhancing Power BI Desktop for now.  It will likely have some kind of “Beginner/Advanced” switch to simplify things for the novice user and isolate advanced or complicated, developer-centric features.

Here are a few screen captures of the forthcoming features:

Schema Compare & Model Integration

Like the BISM Normalizer tool created by Christian Wade, there will be a fully-supported compare and merge tool baked into Desktop.  The early build is branded with components from MAQ Software.

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Relationship Diagram Designer, Properties Pane and Application Lifecycle Management Features

A new-and-improved diagram designer is imminent.  It will allow large models to be more effectively managed and displayed.  You will have the ability to save individual views of the diagram with selected, subject-area tables.

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Like in Visual Studio, properties can be set and managed in a Properties sheet window.  Support for standard SSAS features like display folders is coming and can be managed here.

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Business Applications Release Notes

With the velocity of features and updates, a comprehensive set of release notes are available here.  This document will be updated frequently with the revised roadmap, feature history and announcements.

APIS and Powershell CmdLets for Power BI Administration

At the MVP Summit in March Kay Unkroth promised API endpoints and Powershell CmdLets for managing all aspects of Power BI.  He even did a dance and sang a song to make the announcement memorable.  This week, the product team delivered what they promised, with the announcement official here.

The following features and capabilities are on the delivery short list coming in the next 2-3 months:

Power BI Service

The new, “modern workspace” eventually replacing current workspaces integrated with Office 365 groups.  The new app workspace will no longer be bound to an Office 365 Group. The feature will be optional at first, but will replace current workspaces soon.

Now, users can be: Member, Admin, Contributor

Can add groups to workspace

Premium capacity tenants can have nodes in different regions

Admins will have visibility and access to all objects and resources

Microsoft Business Applications Summit

Keynotes and Featured Sessions from the Microsoft Business Applications Summit are here.

Implementing Row-Level Security in Power BI

The best method to implement row-level security in a published Power BI model or SSAS Tabular model consumed from the Power BI service will depend to some degree on your data structure and requirements.  The method I demonstrate here is one of the most flexible approaches and one that I commonly use in my projects. Continue reading

SSAS Tabular Modeling Article Series on SQL Server Pro Magazine

I’ve just finished a series of four articles for SQL Server Pro Magazine, along with sample projects and hands-on exercises. The series will take you through SSAS Tabular model design from start to finish, using the Adventure Works sample data in SQL Server 2012 or 2014.  Here are links to all four articles followed by an excerpt from each.

Part 1 – Getting Started with SSAS Tabular
Part 2 – Easy DAX – Getting Started with Data Analysis Expressions
Part 3 – Tabular Model Administration
Part 4 – Deep Dive DAX – Solving Complex Business Problems with Data Analysis Expressions

Download the sample projects here:  Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4

Starting Your Modeling Career with Analysis Services Tabular Models Part 1

Four-part series

This is the first of a four-part series about getting started with Tabular model design using SQL Server Analysis Services in SQL Server 2012 and 2014.  You will learn the basics from start to finish and build a complete solution.  A sample project is provided for for each stage of the solution so you can follow-along with each article. Continue reading

Power View for Multidimensional Cubes Released

The Power View connectivity for Multidimensional Models has been released to the public as part of SQL Server 2012 Service Pack 1 Cumulative Update 4.  This announcement was made by Robert Bruckner to the SQL Server BI community last night, on May 31, 2013.  The official public announcement, posted by Siva Harinath, is on the Analysis Service & PowerPivot Blog.

In March, I posted about the public preview of the “Microsoft SQL Server 2012 With Power View For Multidimensional Models”.  Well, the official release is now available for those currently using SQL Server 2012.  When the preview became available a couple of months ago, I was very excited to test it out so I downloaded it, quickly scanned the release notes and then proceeded to upgrade an existing SQL Server 2012  SP1 development server.  What I missed in the release notes was the requirement to uninstall several existing components and then to install them from scratch.  That wasn’t as easy as I had hoped but it’s pretty typical for prereleased software to not include upgrade support.  After all, the product teams are focused on finishing features and debugging and not getting all the upgrades and installation details sorted out.  Those steps usually happen last in the release cycle.

Not to worry, this new capability is now part of the Cumulative Update 4 for SQL Server 2012. This means that it will be fully-supported as an upgrade to an existing SQL Server 2012 installation.  This is very exciting news.  If you have seen Power View demonstrated with new SSAS tabular models and PowerPivot models in Excel and SharePoint, you know what a simple and powerful data browsing and visualization tool it is.  Some people have been a little disappointed that Power View initially only worked with new xVelocity-based tabular models and not the multidimensional cubes built with SQL Server Analysis Services, that have become common in many Microsoft centered IT shops throughout the industry.

The Microsoft product teams have shared a lot of good news, like this, recently about BI innovations – with Power View in Excel 2013 and GeoFlow recently released.  They are likely to share even more good news in the weeks and months ahead.  It’s an exciting time to see some very impressive, powerful, fun to develop and fun to use BI business and IT tools all coming together to meet very real business problems.

I don’t know about you but I’m going to get this baby installed and working right away.  I have clients who have been waiting patiently (and some not so patiently) to use Power View with their existing cubes.  I love to be the bearer of good news.

As is usual when something noteworthy happens on the Microsoft BI community, Chris Webb has blog eloquently on the topic and with significant detail.  Read today’s post on his blog here.

Power View Now Works with Cubes!

This is a very significant day in the progression of the Microsoft Business Intelligence platform.  Earlier this year, Power View was released with SQL Server 2012; a remarkable step forward in data visualization. It wasn’t all bad news that Power View only worked with the new tabular semantic models and PowerPivot worksheets published in SharePoint but it did limit our options.  We’ve quietly lived with the fact that this great new reporting tool couldn’t be used with Microsoft’s flagship analytical data (OLAP) engine without building new semantic models.  Well, now it does, and that’s very good news.

Continue reading