The last day of the conference came round quickly and due to my relatively early flight I only attended a couple of sessions and spent most of the day meeting more people in and around the BI community. Shout out to Peter Eberhardy (PeterEb), a real highlight. Barry Tousley, Test Dev on the PPS Server; thanks for listening to my grumbles about the PPS Data Migration Tool and explaining why it does what it does. Norm Warren of NormBI fame. Patrick Husting, who I actually met on Day 2 and Brian Berry of BlumShapiro, who I met on Day 1 and reportedly follows this blog !
I thought the conference was great. The organisation was slick and right on the button, from registration, meals, session offerings right up to the party. I think last year, the main criticism was the sessions were not technical enough, they appear to have raised the technical level of some of the sessions but I still found most of them to be a bit dated and apart from a couple of choice sessions most BI people wouldn't have learnt a great deal - Nothing official at all about PPS v2 :o( Also, a couple of the sessions I wanted to attend clashed so I'll have to find the time to watch them on the reported DVD containing a video of every session. However, I did the feel the standard of presentation was excellent, well practiced, clear, funny and engaging.
I'll definitely be vying for a place at next years, where they really should have lots to show off!
Day 2 kicked off with some good key notes and still full of steak from day 1 I hauled myself to TK Anand and Akshai Mirchandani's session on Optimising Query Performance in AS 2008. For me this was one of the best sessions of the conference as I do spend a fair bit of trying to tune and optimise MDX queries. They gave a really good explanation of the difference between cell-by-cell calculation and the subspace calculation (or block computation) methods - the latter relies on a sparse cube - the most important aspect of speeding up queries using subspace calculations.
Another point they raised, particularly from an AS2008 perspective is that "Non Empty Behaviour is Evil!" - their words!
There was a good set of tips and tricks, some of which can also be applied and adopted to AS2005.
The afternoon started with what I thought would be the busiest session of the conference - New Horizons for BI with Self Service Analysis technologies. Effectively the deep dive presentation on Project 'Gemini'. It really is impressive, not only the tool and the capability of the tool, but the supporting framework. They have implemented an extremely rich administration console that keeps track of user created models on the server and a history of it's usage, query time etc etc. It allows IT to see who is using what, by how much and what impact it is having on servers, other models etc and allows them to take appropriate action by, for example, bringing it in house into IT by upgrading to PerformancePoint. We've got a few clients that would just go nuts for this stuff !
That evening, the Attendee Appreciation Party was held at Qwest Field stadium where I have to say, they put on a great party. I've never been on the field of a huge stadium like that, most impressive, and I've never eaten so many chocolate covered marshmallows, cookies or brownies in my life!
Da Boyz ! Jeremy and Tim
So, although later than the trail blazers, I thought I'd write up a brief note about day one of the Microsoft BI Conference. The 'Kilimanjaro' announcements have been done to death although I've noticed a couple of crossed wires. Kilimanjaro is NOT the next version of SQL Server - it sounds more like an interim release, whether that comes as part of a service pack or a new type of feature pack delivery method I guess we'll have to wait and see. However it arrives, we have to wait until the first half of calendar year 2010.
With regard to 'Gemini' I'm hoping they make the in-memory (column based storage?) engine part of the SQL Server engine proper, as this can then benefit PPS and any SQL Server dependent app, not just the 'Gemini' framework. Imagine PPS-P data entry/reporting running in memory ! It's certainly a game-changer and it will be interesting to see where and how it's positioned. I can't help thinking that it's verging on promoting data silos and 'multiple versions of the truth' and it wouldn't surprise me if it's misused by some customers. "We don't need a data-warehouse, we'll just use Gemini".. Although Tim did quiz the team on this. Having said all that, it's pretty damn exciting and will change the face of BI for both customers and BI implementers.
The first breakout session I attended was a Chalk and Talk by the engaging Peter Bull on moving from the spreadsheet world to PerformancePoint Planning. He outlined a suggested method for converting existing excel based 'business applications' into PerformancePoint models, he was open and honest about some of the shortcomings of the product but also brought our attention to the the built-in features that aid design and productivity.
The following tips were core to the session:
- Don't replicate the current Excel 'models'.
- Use filters to reduce scope and size of input matrices.
- Limit definition rules (Don't build cell by cell calculations)
- Don't use flat hierarchies.
- Don't assume all calculations need to be real time.
- Performance test by cut and pasting MDX.
Another Chalk and Talk followed, held by Michael Bower and Scott Sebelsky on using PPS-P for Financial Consolidation. They discussed the consolidation functionality available in PPS-P and using a two model site application, walked us through the implementation using US GAAP (Corporate Model Site) and IFRS (EMEA Model Site).
The demo, supporting white-paper, and a new planning demo will be available shortly and was shown off in the hands on labs at the conference. I'll shortly be able to post more information on these new demos...
My third session of the day effectively covered some elements, mainly Report Builder 2.0, of the SQL 2008 feature pack that is out later this month. One of the features demonstrated Component Based Report building from a self-service perspective and did look quite slick. The session was presented by the SSRS PM team and they had a clever way of obtaining feedback from the audience on what features they would like to see the most. They handed out a crib sheet of features and asked us to allocate a $100 budget to each feature - they collected in the sheets and will use this as a basis on what features to focus on. In addition to Component based self-service reporting, features such as Office Integration using the acquired Software Artisans technology, Notify Me, Interactive Reports and Rich Presentation were shown off to good effect.
Steve Hoberecht and Srini Nallapareddy were next on my list, taking us through Advanced PPS Planning rules and calculations. There was some good stuff - I always thought the fact the ALLOCATE statement appended data was a bug, but now I know why it does what it does and warrants a separate post. Some other tips, particularly for definition rules, some new some old, were also presented:
- Reduce Scope
- Avoid Hard-coded member labels to avoid security restriction errors
- Consider automatic rules/ scheduled assignments.
- Rule order is important / Avoid infinite loops
- Consider moving calcs to Excel
- Consider input/Reporting models
- Locate bad performing rules by commenting out the rules in BIDS and introducing the rules on by one (from within BIDS) rather than setting the active flag from within PBM as that is more tedious.
The day was rounded off by a great steak, with the other UK BI partners at Ruths and Chris Steakhouse.