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UK Power BI Summit 2017: What’s next for Power BI?

During the keynote at the UK Power BI Summit, Microsoft announced some new features coming into Power BI. Chris Webb also provided a session on Azure Analysis Services, hinting at what may be next and more importantly, how they may impact Power BI. 

Without further ado, I will dive straight in.

Power BI Visuals

Some exciting visuals were demoed by Will Thompson (Program Manager for Power BI). They were shown in an exclusive preview of Power BI, not available to the general public:

-          Themes

o   Finally! Companies can now easily ‘skin’ a suite of reports to use standardised logos, fonts, etc. 

o   The themes will be driven by JSON file.

o   All themes can be uploaded into PowerBI.com, using the ‘Themes Gallery’.

-          Slicer Improvements

o   A numeric, sliding scale slicer will be available as a new configuration option.

o   Currently only designed for attributes. 

o   Measure slicers are not  an immediate focus, but Microsoft are giving it thought.

-          Matrix/Table Visuals

o   Whilst they currently exist, a new visual will be added. This includes:

§  Drill down capabilities.

§  Include/Exclude – like what you see in charts currently.

§  Ability to highlight rows and columns, which also cross filters and highlights the selections on accompanying charts.

Analysis Services

All of the features discussed are for Azure Analysis Services, but I am sure they will also be made available on-prem soon after GA release:

-          Live Connect to Analysis Services

o   Add ad hoc measures within the Power BI Model.

o   It does not update your actual Analysis Services model, therefore, adding measures in Power BI need to be done so with caution.

o   Currently Tabular only, but should eventually come into Multidimensional too.

o   Available in both Azure (cloud) and on-prem.

-          Power Query/M Integration

o   This is the missing jigsaw to the Power BI/Analysis Services puzzle.

-          Table Level Security

o   Ability to implement this and row-level security together.

-          Migrating existing Power BI Models

o   This will be awesome! Imagine being able to move your complex Power BI model (which is now performing badly) into an Azure Analysis Services model?

o   At the moment, you have to create the tabular model again.

Conclusion

Whilst no official dates have been given, I hope that March’s release will include the visual features, such as themes. The ones specific to Azure Analysis Services are ideas that have come from many blogs (professional experts) and the Microsoft roadmap. 

If there is a feature that your customer needs or just something you believe should be in Power BI, the Ideas forum is a great place to submit your suggestion.

Further Reading

For up to date Microsoft announcements, I would definitely advise following the below blogs and twitter users:

-          Blogs

o   Power BI Ideas - https://ideas.powerbi.com/forums/265200-power-bi-ideas

o   Power BI Blog - https://powerbi.microsoft.com/en-us/blog/

o   Power BI Blog Announcements -  http://bit.ly/2kAv4Id

o   Chris Webb’s blog - https://blog.crossjoin.co.uk/

-          Twitter

o   Will Thompson (Power BI Program Manager) - @Will_MI77

o   Riccardo Muti (SSRS Program Manager) @RiccardoMuti

Contact Me

If you have any questions, please comment below or contact me directly on Twitter (@DataVizWhizz ) .

Microsoft BI – Coming Soon to SQL Server 2016

After attending the Pass Summit 2016 a couple of weeks ago, I attended a number of sessions that provided an insight into the direction Microsoft are heading with BI.  I thought I’d share this with the community.

Looking back to October 2015, the official Reporting Roadmap blog from Microsoft stated their intent in dramatically improving the visualisations, integration and harmonisation of both on-prem (SSRS) and cloud based services (Power BI).  Whilst reporting appeared to be a renewed focus, they are constantly driving other areas of BI - such as analysis services and database/data warehousing development in the cloud.

Now, for the interesting bit.  Here is what we can expect in the SQL Server 20916 BI Stack in the near future:

-          SQL Server 2018 CTP (to be released within the next month).

o   This seems very early, considering 2016 has only just been released!  Let’s wait for an official Microsoft announcement.

-          Azure DW

o   Auto Create Statistics

§  Currently statistics have to be generated and updated on the fly.

o   Replicated Distributed Table

§  One that will excite any cloud based SQL Server developer.

§  This will reduce data transfer between distributions/nodes and consequently improve performance.

-          Azure Data Lake

o   General Availability (GA) is imminent.

o   Future Features:

§  Polybase, so that you can connect the two big MMP platforms (ADL and DW).

§  SSIS connectors (released with GA) for Store.

§  Python and R in U-SQL.

-          SSIS

o   Lots of new connectors, including:

§  ADLS.

§  CRM.

-          SSAS

o   Migrating Power BI Models into Tabular.

§  This is coming very soon apparently, but will be developed in Azure SSAS first.

o   Object Level Security in Tabular

§  We currently have row level, but there are talk to secure a physical object, not just a row.

§  Even better news - Microsoft want to integrate the two together, which will make security awesome in Tabular.

-          SSRS

o   Supporting (not pinning) Excel reports in RS report.

§  This will come, but Power BI is the focus right now and we may have to wait a while.

-          Power BI

o   Additional and better Pivot Table functionality.

o   Integrating Active Directory dynamically.

o   Potential to use Direct Query and Imported modes together – as a hybrid.

§  Functionality is possible, but performance needs to be weighed up by Microsoft before anything will emerge.

o   Quick Calcs.

§  Only ‘Percent of Current Total’ currently available.

§  Potential is to offer lots more – such as YTD, MAT, Current Year vs. Previous Year, etc.

§  This is for the users who aren’t familiar with DAX.

o   Template organisational Content Packs.

§  The ability to give the user the ability to personalise colours, fonts, etc. within a structured (organisational) content pack.

-          Power BI Embed

o   Application developer will be able to limit user sessions and therefore, reduce the charge per 1 hour costs that come with it.

 

There are some features/issues Microsoft do not plan to change.  Although, the good thing about Microsoft is that they are community driven, so if you feel strongly about anything (and get support from your peers), they may change their minds.

-          SSRS

o   Q&A, Query Editor (Power Query), R integration, etc. not being developed.

§  Pretty obvious really.  Whilst they are going to introduce almost everything from Power BI, some elements of functionality are just not needed for on pre purposes.

§  R Scripts may come one day, but not a focus right now.

-          Power BI

o   Source Control

§  No immediate plans to integrate with TFS or modularise the pbix files (for a more developer based solution)

§  Not surprising as this is a self-service tool, not a development team.

§  Work around is to upload pbix files into OneDrive and use the versioning as an element of Source Control or add a file into Visual Studio.

§  Keep Voting on PowerBI.com if you want this! (Currently 278 votes).

·         https://ideas.powerbi.com/forums/265200-power-bi-ideas/suggestions/9677517-source-control

-          Power BI Embed

o   Licence model

§  ‘Speak to Marketing’ is what we were told.

 

Is everyone excited?  I certainly am.  Microsoft are openly admitting that any new BI related feature will be developed in the cloud first, but this was pretty obvious.  For all you on-prem fanatics (me included), at least the bugs/undocumented features will be ironed out before we get to use them!  My personal favourite has to be the direction SSRS is going.  It was recently labelled a ‘mature’ product, but now RS has suddenly become a cool and current tool to use.  The fact Power BI and SSRS will become almost the same product, tells us all that on-prem is still an important part of the Microsoft licensing strategy.

 

I am sure there are lots of other features coming into the BI stack over the next 6 months to a year and these were just the ones I had heard about.  Feel free to comment if you have additional ones to share.

New Features in SQL Server 2016 – Part 2: Analysis Services

This blog solely focuses on the new Analysis Services features of SQL Server 2016 CTP2.  For anyone who may missed it – click here to view my opening blog on the Database Engine.

Although there have not been any major Analysis Services (SSAS) enhancements in CTP2, it is pleasing Microsoft are still looking to improve this part of the BI Stack.  The majority of them seem to be geared towards Tabular and DAX, although there are plans to release further Multidimensional functionality in CTP2 and beyond.

There are five key enhancements for SSAS:

1.      Tabular Model Partitions (Tabular).

2.      Many 2 Many (Tabular).

3.      Analysis Services PowerPivot mode.

4.      New DAX Functions (Tabular).

5.      Enable/disable attribute hierarchies.

Tabular Model Partitions
SQL Server SSAS 2016 CTP2 includes new parallel processing functionality for tables with two or more partitions, increasing processing performance. There are no configuration settings for this.  More information on this feature is displayed below:

1.      IN SSAS Tabular, partitioning big data marts will help drastically when processing new data.  Instead of having to process all data, you can just partition the relevant ones.

2.      In order to create, manage, and process partitions in SQL Server Management Studio, you must have the appropriate Analysis Services permissions defined in a security role.

3.      Parallel processing is also available in SSAS.  This happens automatically, when processing a table with more than one partitions.  Although you can choose to independently process a partition if required.

Many to Many Dimensions (Tabular)

There isn’t too much to show or say here yet apart from the fact that this feature is FINALLY HERE!  Gone are the complications of workarounds (thanks to Marco Russo and Alberto Ferrari), we can now just use the Many to Many functionality in Tabular.  Multidimensional already has this feature, which is one of the reasons why developers have yet to buy in to Tabular. 

Unfortunately, Microsoft have yet to reveal much detail on to how this feature will work.  I just hope it performs as well as the current workarounds.

Analysis Services PowerPivot mode

To install PowerPivot for SharePoint is now a lot easier.  If you already know how to configure SharePoint 2013, this will help you greatly. 

Taken from the MSDN Microsoft website, you simply use the Install Wizard and do the following:

1.      Select ‘Analysis Services’ from the standard Instance Feature.

2.      Choose ‘Analysis Services server mode’ and configure administrators (screenshot below).

clip_image002[4]

 

New DAX Functions

There are many new DAX functions, which are all detailed on MSDN website – click here for further detail.

I have picked out 5 functions that will be highly beneficial when creating an SSAS Tabular cube.  I am looking at this form a very BI focused background so I would recommend looking at all of the new functions to see if they benefit your needs.

1.      TOPn

a.      This is not actually a new function but has been updated.

b.     Now allows TRUE/FALSE/ASC/DESC to specify sorting direction.

2.      CALENDAR

a.      Returns a table with a single column named “Date” that contains a common set of dates. The range of dates is from the specified start date to the specified end date.

b.      See Similar – CALENDARAUTO

3.      MEDIAN

a.      Very simple – returns the median numbers in a column.

b.      See Similar – MEDIANX (uses an expression).

4.      NATURALINNERJOIN

a.      Inner join of a table with another table. The tables are joined on common columns in the two tables. If the two tables have no common column names, an error is returned.

b.      See similar – NATURALLEFTOUTERJOIN

5.      SUMMARIZECOLUMNS

a.      Enables you to group data together and return a summary table.

Enable/Disable Attribute Hierarchies

Again, this functionality is tailored towards SSAS Tabular.  There is a new setting that ties back to the Tabular mode metadata

1.      ColumnUsage property

a.      DAXUsage

                                                    i.     Attribute hierarchies can only be used in measures.

b.     UnrestrictedUsage

                                                    i.     Can be set in the XMLA (in SSDT) or by using an ALTER statement in the Tabular model.

                                                   ii.     An example taken from MSDN:

       <Alter>

  <ObjectDefinition...>

    <Database>

      <Dimensions>

        <Dimension>

          <Attributes>

            <Attribute>

               <ddl500:ColumnUsage value=”ddl500_500”>

               DAXUsage | UnrestrictedUsage

               </ddl500:ColumnUsage>

 

Multidimensional Features

The full SQL Server 2016 release will include some key enhancement to Multidimensional SSAS.  These include:

1.      Netezza as a Data Source (Netezza Data Warehouse | IBM - NDM Technologies).

2.      General performance improvements.

3.      Unnatural hierarchies.

4.      Distinct counts.

5.      DBCC support. Checks the logical and physical integrity of objects in the specified database.

6.      Expose on-premises multidimensional cubes in the cloud with Power BI.

I will provide further information on the improvements, as and when Microsoft announce them.

References

For more information on all of the new SSAS SQL Server 2016 features, the below resources/blogs are highly recommended.

·        Official Microsoft Page -
https://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/bb522628(v=sql.130).aspx

·        Brew your own Business Intelligence Blog –

http://byobi.com/blog/2015/05/ssas-related-enhancements-in-sql-server-2016/

·        Jorg Klein SQL Server Blog -
http://sqlblog.com/blogs/jorg_klein/archive/2015/05/22/bi-on-your-terms-with-sql-server-2016.aspx