BI-NSIGHT – SQL 2016 Preview (CTP2) – SSAS Partition Manager – Power BI Quickbooks Connector – Excel 2016 Updates

What started out as a rather quiet week in terms of news and what is going on within the Microsoft space, when I started going through my daily routine today there was some pleasant updates!

SQL Server 2016 Preview (CTP2)

After the Microsoft Ignite conference it was announced if I can remember correctly that there would be a SQL 2016 preview out by Summer (Living in Australia this means Winter). And it would appear that they are ahead of schedule.

I was very eager to install and see if there were any significant changes in the current CTP version of SQL Server 2016. For me this relates to the updates in SSRS, SSAS OLAP and SSAS Tabular.

I was also pleasantly surprised to see that you could create an Azure SQL Server 2016 VM. I thought this is fantastic, because I would not be required to download the 2.5Gb ISO file. I looked into my Azure Account, and at the bottom of the list under SQL Server I could see the option for SQL Server 2016 CTP2 Evaluation. So off I went, created the VM, assigned it some decent resources, and I think it total it took 10 – 15 minutes and my VM was ready for me to log in. This is a real pleasure and so easy and simple to get my hands on testing out the latest version of SQL Server.

One of the first things that I did was to see if there were any changes in SSRS. I had to quickly configure the ReportServer database, and then the URL, and I was good to go. Unfortunately when the page finally loaded it was the same look and feel that we have been used to since SQL 2008! So it is not there yet, but I am sure it is coming sooner than later!

I then also did a quick search to see if there was an updated version of SSDT, which from what I read would be part of Visual Studio 2015, and no luck here either. My thoughts were that they might have the new design interface for SSRS.

Next I went and installed SSAS Tabular, as this is not installed by default and on the Analysis Server Configuration page, I saw the following below.

After doing some quick reading, the PowerPivot Mode, is for when you want to install SSAS Tabular for SharePoint.

Another quick note, which I really thought is worth mentioning is that they are now going to provide the ability to have Ongoing Preview Updates. This is great, because if you have a found a bug or they release some new functionality you can then get this via an ongoing update.

You can read about the announcement here: SQL Server 2016 first public preview now available!

You can read all about what is new in SQL Server 2016 here: What’s New in SQL Server 2016

So that is where I am at currently with SQL Server 2016 CTP2.

SSAS Partition Manager

I have been following this for some time, as in the past I created my own framework and process in order to dynamically add or remove SSAS Partitions for SSAS OLAP.

They now have updated their software to make this process very simple and easy for you to use, but also can be done on either SSAS OLAP or SSAS Tabular. When I get the chance and opportunity I will definitely be looking into using this. A great, clean and easy way to create and manage your SSAS partitions.

You can get all the details here: SSAS Partition Manager for Tabular and Multidimensional Cubes

Power BI – QuickBooks Connector

Just a quick note, that there is another great connector for Power BI.

If you are currently using QuickBooks online, you can now use Power BI to gain some valuable insights into your data.

This is another connector that is adding to the growing list of automated connectors in Power BI! Really great to see how much momentum it is gathering.

You can find all the details here: QuickBooks Online content pack for Power BI

Excel 2016 – Updates

Just an update on what I have found when I updated my Excel 2016 preview.

Initially I did not see anything that struck me when looking at Excel. So I thought I would just use it as I currently am, and I am sure using it on a daily basis something will pop up.

And it sure did when I created a Power Pivot workbook and then dragged in a Date column into my Pivot Table, after which I then had the following automatically created for me as shown below.

I then was inquisitive and went into my Power Pivot model and I could then see the following columns below, where they were dynamically created as well if I wanted to, see the DAX that they used.

I was amazed to see that after watching it so recently online via the Channel 9, that they had already implemented it into the Excel 2016 preview version.

Continuing on using my same Power Pivot example above, I then put in a Pivot Chart, as I find that it is always easier to view the data than try and read the data.

Now if you look at the picture below in the bottom right hand corner you will see that there is a at first I was unsure what this did.

I then clicked on the Plus and what happened was is that it expanded my Date Hierarchy to the next level down which was the Hour. So both the Pivot Table and Pivot Chart was expanded. As you can see below.

I know that this is not ideally something that is way out there or over the top. But it is really useful and makes it that much easier to interact with the data. Ideally when you just have the Pivot Chart. It means that the user can drill down or drill up without having to leave the Pivot Chart!

That is it for this week, lots to still go and look at and test out thanks to the SQL 2016 CTP2!

Power BI – Creating a Dashboard when not automatically created

What I found was that in some instances when you imported data into Power BI, it would not automatically create the dashboard.

This would also result in your dataset not being indexed (if that is the correct terminology) so that you could then use Q&A in order to enable users to easily search for results using Q&A

As with our example below, in order to replicate what would happen when Power BI does not create a dashboard, we are going to create a new report also. In effect this could be the case when for some reason Power BI does not create a report and or dashboard. And then how to quickly create the dashboard and then ensure that you can then use Q&A to interact with your data.

NOTE: We will be using our Excel file which we imported the data previously: Importing your Excel Workbook from One Drive for Business into Power BI and create a simple report and Dashboard

Creating your Power BI Report and Dashboard

  1. Log into your Power BI.
  2. Click on Datasets, then click on Explore
    1. As you can see with our example above for our Auto Update of Adventure Works DW
  3. We then create a very simple report as shown below based on our Adventure Works Data
    1. Then click on Save, and as below we saved our report with the following name:
  4. Now we can see our report under Reports
  5. Next will be to create the dashboard.
    1. The trick that I have currently found is that in order to create the dashboard which will map to the same
      report is to give it the identical name
    2. So click on the plus sign next to Dashboard to create your new dashboard as shown below
    3. So once complete it will look like the following:
    4. And the initial screenshot will also be blank, as well as in the Q&A section there will be no text prompting you to “Ask a question about the data on this dashboard
  6. Now go back to your report you created in step 3 above.
    1. Now pin an item to your dashboard
    2. Now when you go into your dashboard that you created in step 5 above you will see your pinned item or tile.
  7. Now in order to get the Q&A
    working, from what I have read you have to wait for the Power BI service to index or go through your data in order to create the required synonyms.
    1. NOTE: This can take a few
      minutes or longer to create the required synonyms.
    2. NOTE II: I have sometimes found that closing the Power BI app in your browser and opening it again, results in the Q&A then being there.
  8. If you go back into your dashboard after some time you should be greeted with the following as shown below:
    1. And now you can ask a question such as “Sales by City”

BI-NSIGHT – Power BI Designer Update – Power BI Twilio Connector – Excel 2016 Visualisations – Azure Data Lake

Fortunately this week, the Microsoft machine was a little quieter, but still as expected new updated in the Power BI Space.

Power BI Designer Update

 

I have read quite a few blog posts, downloaded and viewed the Power BI Designer update. And I have to say they are some welcome changes.

In my mind I see that over time, they are porting some of the functionality within Power Pivot into Power BI Designer. Which is a great welcome, and whilst they are doing this, they are also making additions, such as the DAX intelli-sense, which is amazing. As well as giving the user to create a column within the Report screen. It makes the report authoring experience that much quicker and better.

I do think that the product is moving along in leaps and bounds. Especially for customers and users who do not have access to Excel 2013 and potentially Excel 2016!

You can read all about the updates here: Power BI Designer May Update

Power BI – Twilio Connector

 

Just a quick note, that there is yet another great connector for Power BI. I personally have not come across this before, but in my mind it is starting to show how Power BI is starting to gain momentum from other companies, which can leverage their reporting and product exposure by utilizing Power BI. As well as a great benefit for existing customers, to have a great easy to use as well as informative reporting platform.

I am certain that the Twilio connector, will show some companies a great insight into their data and real-time communications.

You can read more about it here: Visualize and analyze your Twilio data in Power BI

Excel 2016 Visualisations (Charts)

 

Example Treemap Visualisation below

There are some great new visualisations or new charts coming in Excel 2016. I did watch the Channel 9 video from Ignite which had more details and it did showcase the new charts and how they can enable you to view your data in a totally different way. I think that this is really welcome.

Here is a link to the video: What’s Next for Visualizations in Microsoft Office

As well as a great blog post by Clint Huijbers, in which he does a great job to show examples of the new visualisations (charts): New visualizations in Excel 2016

Azure Data Lake

 

I once again have to say that this is another smart move by Microsoft. In my mind this is a great product. The reason for that is now you could have the potential to run your entire organisations data within the cloud.

You could start by storing all your data, within the Azure Data Lake, thereafter if you require a data warehouse you could then leverage the Azure SQL Data Warehouse, from which you could then visualise your data using Power BI. This is a great story to be able to tell and to explain to potential customers as to why they should potentially choose Microsoft Azure.

In terms of the Azure Data Lake, from what I have read it is not to be confused with just storing your data in the cloud. It gives you the ability to quickly and efficiently get your required data out of your data lake. The great benefit is that you can store as much data as is required. You do not have to worry about the structure of your data, you can just store it in the Azure Data Lake, and then when there is a requirement to gain insights into your data, it is immediately available.

I also see that if you had to put as much data as you won, or could get your hands on, into your Azure Data Lake, when you start looking at gaining insights, it just means that you will have a whole stack of information at your fingertips. Which then means that you could potentially cross relate data, where previously you did not have it, or it was stored in another system that was hard to access, or to extract data. If you then have to couple this with Azure SQL Data Warehouse as the extraction layer, and run that through Machine Learning, you could potentially be onto something that competitors have not even begun to realize the benefits!

You can read about it here: Introducing Azure Data Lake

 

 

BI-NSIGHT – Excel 2016 – Power BI Updates (Including new Data Sources) – Azure SQL Data Warehouse

So after last week, and the annual Microsoft Ignite conference, there was a whole stack of product announcements and updates. This was really great to see, and it once again amazes me how quickly Microsoft is able to get this to market. And being a Microsoft BI enthusiast, it excites me.

I mean who does not like to play with the latest and greatest technology, as well as potentially be ahead of other players in the BI space.

So here are the updates and the BI related content for this week. I did download and go through some of the video’s from Microsoft Ignite, which had a wealth of information.

If you want to see all the available video’s here is the link: Microsoft Ignite 2015 – Channel 9

Excel 2016

There has been a whole lot of updates and additional functionality which has been put into Excel 2016. I am currently running the Preview version and I have to say that some of the new features even though they might seem small are really good.

I am not going to go into all the features that they have, but just the ones that I consider to be important!

Searching in your Pivot Table Field List

I have to say that this is very welcome. And that even when you have a pivot table, with a rather small amount of fields, I have often found myself scrolling quite a bit. And often scrolling past the field that I want, and then having to scroll back up again.

To be able to search for your field, makes the usability that much easier, which I feel, then makes the use of pivot tables that much better.

Below is a screenshot of searching for Full Name in my data set.

Making changes to Power Pivot Model and Measures

What happens now is if you make a change to a column name, calculated column name, measure or table name, it will not break your existing reports and pivot tables. I have to say that this is a massive improvement and I am sure something we all have been waiting for. I know there has been a lot of times in the past, when I had to go back and make a change, and then what ever change I made, my reports and pivot tables would no longer display the changed information. So I would take screenshots, so that I could fix the errors.

I have already used this, and at first I did not appreciate it, but when I did notice I was amazed. I have to think that they are now using an underlying system to create the mappings, so that when we make a change to the actual name, we are not breaking the underlying relationship!

Deferred Refresh

Another thing I noticed when working in the Power Pivot model, is that they now have what they have called is deferred refresh.

In a nutshell what this will be is that they will only refresh the data once you exit the Power Pivot Model. Which is great, and I am sure will make the modelling experience that much smoother and quicker. I have to admit it was a pain the past, to create a new calculated column or calculated measure, and have to wait for it to load. Especially when it was wrong, and you had to fix it and then reload again.

New Forecasting capabilities

I have to start by saying that these are not the same calibre forecasting that you might get with SSAS, or Azure ML (Azure Machine Learning), but they are really handy for the Excel pro.

The thing that I really liked about the forecasting, is that not only can you forecast forwards, but because it is in Excel, you can drag the formula backwards, and see how close it is to data where you already have a result. I think that this is fantastic, because it means you can get a certain level of confidence on how accurate it will be going forward.

Below is a screenshot where in Orange is the forecast, and the blue line is the historical values. And you can see that there is an overlap with the orange and blue. This is where they dragged the forecast backwards.

Here is a link to more details on the new forecasting functions: Describing the forecasting models in Power View

Time Grouping

This is another great feature, and I also viewed another video, where they were talking about the time grouping as well as automatically creating the default date related columns, when you have a Date column in your Power Pivot Model.

So what the guys have done is if you right click and select Group, and then select what you want to group it by. It will then create those columns for you in your Power Pivot Model. I think this is great, as a lot of people who use Excel, know how to group their data. But when they now want to use that grouping in another report, they have to do it all over again.

Now that it is part of the model, they can just pick it from the list.

Below is a simple example where I created some sample data, and then grouped it into Months and Quarters. You can see under the covers that it created a Month Index column.



I also remember hearing in another video, that the guys are looking to implement a Date Calendar table under the covers for when they identify a Date Column. This is once again a good thing, especially for when you have people who do not have the expertise, or do now know how to create a Date Calendar Table. I also did hear that they will give you the option to use your own table if required. As well as potentially looking to see if they can give the user the ability to select specific Date Calendar tables.

New Chart Types

They have added new chart types to Excel, namely the Treemap, Sunburst, Histogram, Box & Whisper and Waterfall. While I know that these are not really new chart types created by Microsoft they are an additional welcome to be able to use them within Excel.

I have to say that they look really amazing in Excel, when compared to some of the images in the links above.

Power BI Updates

Once again there are some additional Power BI updates, that were announced last week, but I had already posted my blog, so here they are.

New Connectors within Power BI

I was reading through twitter and saw that it appeared that there are new connectors within Power BI.

Azure SQL Database

This is really an interesting connection, due to the fact that it has a direct connection to your database.

So what this means is that it does not store any data within Power BI, but sends the query back to your Azure SQL Database and then returns the data back to your report. After reading some of the information, it does appear that there are some limitations.

But one of the things that I do like is that the tiles will automatically be refreshed every 15 minutes. So if you have a live production database, this means you can get a view to see your data in near real-time.

One thing that I would highlight, is that the performance on the report, might be affected if your Azure SQL Database has been setup on a lower specification of hardware. So something to potentially keep in mind.

You can read more about it here: Using Power BI to visualize and explore Azure SQL Databases

SQL Database Auditing

After a quick read this is to connect to your database auditing to see the activity and all related information on your Azure SQL Database

You can read more about it here: Azure SQL Database Auditing connector for Power BI

DAX with Variable Support

Once again I think that this is really a great thing, it will definitely help make the creation and use of DAX measures that much easier.

And from what I have read, I have also seen, it actually makes the DAX calculation that much easier to use and to read through.

You can read all about it here at Kasper de Jonge post, which explains it very well: DAX now has variable support!

Power BI App for Windows

After installing and playing around with the Power BI App for Windows, I have to say that it has a very similar look and feel to the Power BI App for IOS. Which makes sense to keep the experience very similar if not the same.

I did enjoy it, that after connecting I could then see my dashboards and reports. And then after interacting with either the dashboards or reports they were super quick.

I also liked the idea of using this instead of going to the website. Even though it is only a few extra clicks, to have it running as an application, just means it is that much quicker to access, and to get to see the data that I want, as easily and as quickly as possible.

Here is a screenshot of the landing page when you open it up:

And here are more details: The Power BI app for Windows is now available

Scheduled refresh of Power BI Designer Files

There was mention that the guys at Microsoft are working on also enabling the scheduled refresh of the Power BI Designer files. I think that this would be welcomed by a lot of people. Due to the fact that they use and create their reports using Power BI, which by using Power Query, contains a link to their source data.

So I am going to assume that it would mean that the reports can then be refreshed from the Power Query source.

Azure SQL Data Warehouse

I know that this has also been mentioned quite a lot, but I just wanted to quickly give my idea’s on the Azure SQL Data Warehouse. Especially after watching the video Azure SQL Data Warehouse: Deep Dive (It is an in depth presentation, and if you want to find out how it all works, then this is the video to watch)

Once again the way Microsoft has designed this product, and made it really easy to use is a smart move. When you compare it to the other offerings it is really ahead of the competitors. Along with this they have based on the APS (Analytics Platform System), which has been in production for a long time, and they have a lot of experience, which they can now leverage in the cloud.

The one thing that I really enjoyed was their example where they helped a large retailer, who had a query running for 1 week, and by changing it to use a very similar or same technology as the Azure SQL Data Warehouse, and optimizing it they got it to return the same query in 1 minute. Now if that was my business and they could make such a massive improvement I would be over the moon!

I think that this could be a game changer for some large businesses, due to having the flexibility in the cloud, and only paying for what you use, and when you use it. Let’s be honest, the storage in Azure is really cheap, and coupled that with the ability to scale your compute as required means if you need the query to run faster, you can increase your compute (DWU) and it will increase proportionally to how you have increased it. Well this is what was explained in the video.

I cannot wait to get my hands on this and test it out, to see how easy it is to get data in, then to run queries and test the system to see how it works in the real world!

 

You can read more about it here: Top reasons why enterprises should choose Azure SQL Data Warehouse

BI-NSIGHT – SQL Server 2016 – Power BI Updates – Microsoft Azure Stack

Well I have to admit that it seems that the Microsoft machine has been working flat out to get out new products and updates.

If my memory serves me, this is the third week in a row that Microsoft has released new products and updates. I am really enjoying it! But hopefully this will slow down, so that we can catch our breath and actually play with some of the new products and features.

So let’s get into it. There is quite a lot to go over!!

SQL Server 2016

So with Microsoft Ignite happening this week, the wonderful guys from Microsoft have started to announce what we can expect to be in the next version of SQL Server.

I am going to focus mainly on the BI (Business Intelligence) features, and there are quite a few! Some of what I am detailing below I have only seen pictures on Twitter, or I have read about it. As well as the preview not even being released yet, I am sure that there will be some changes down the line.

SQL Server Reporting Services

It finally appears that Microsoft has been listening to our cries and requests for updates in SSRS (SQL Server Reporting Services)!

Built-in R Analytics

I think that this is really amazing, even though I am not a data scientist, I think it is a smart move my Microsoft to include this. What this means in my mind is that you can now get the data scientists to interact and test their R scripts against the data as it sits in the transactional environment. And from there, this could then be used to create amazing possibilities within SSRS.

Power Query included in SSRS

From what I have seen people tweeting about as well as what I have read, it would appear that Power Query will be included in SSRS. This is fantastic and will mean now that virtually any data source can be consumed into SSRS.

New Parameter Panel, chart types and design

I am sure we can all agree, that SSRS has required an overhaul for some time. And it seems that finally we are going to get this. It would appear that the parameters panel is going to be updated. I do hope that it will be more interactive and in a way react similar to the way the slicers do in Excel. As well as getting new chart types. Here again I am going to assume that it will be similar to what we have in Power BI!

And finally there was also mention that the reports will be rendered quicker, as well as having a better design. I also am hoping that they will deploy this using HTML 5, so that it can then be viewed natively on any device. It is going to be interesting to see what Microsoft will incorporate from their acquisition of Datazen.

SQL Server Engine

Built-in PolyBase

Once again, this is an amazing feature which I think has boundless potential. By putting this into the SQL Server Engine this means that it is a whole lot simpler to query unstructured data. Using TSQL to query this data means that for a lot of people who have invested time and effort into SQL Server, now can leverage this using PolyBase. And along with this, you do not have to extract the data from Hadoop or another format, into a table to query it. You can query it directly and then insert the rows into a table. Which means development time is that much quicker.

Real-time Operational Analytics & In-Memory OLTP

Once again the guys at Microsoft have been able to leverage off their existing findings with regards to In Memory OLTP and the column store index. And they have mentioned in their testing that this amounts to 30x improvement with In-memory OLTP as well as up to 100x for In-Memory Column store. This is really amazing and makes everything run that much quicker.

On a side note, I did read this article today with regards to SAP: 85% of SAP licensees uncommitted to new cloud-based S/4HANA

I do find this very interesting if you read the article. What it mentions is that firstly 85% of current SAP customers will not likely deploy to the new S/4HAHA cloud platform. Which in itself does not tend well for SAP.

But what I found very interesting is that to make the change would require companies to almost start again for this implementation. In any business where time is money, this is a significant investment.

When I compare this to what Microsoft has done with the In-Memory tables and column store indexes, where they can be used interchangeably, as well as there is some additional work required. On the whole it is quick and easy to make the changes. Then you couple this with what Microsoft has been doing with Microsoft Azure and it makes it so easy to make the smart choice!

SSAS (SQL Server Analysis Services)

I am happy to say that at least SSAS is getting some attention to! There were not a lot of details but what I did read is that SSAS will be getting an upgrade in Performance usability and scalability.

I am also hoping that there will be some additional functionality in both SSAS OLAP and Tabular.

SSIS (SQL Server Integration Services)

Within SSIS, there are also some new features, namely they are also going to be integrating Power Query into SSIS. This is once again wonderful news, as it means now that SSIS can also get data from virtually any source!

Power BI

Once again the guys within the Power BI team have been really busy and below is what I have seen and read about in terms of what has been happening within Power BI

Office 365 Content Pack

I would say that there are a lot of businesses that are using Office 365 in some form or other. So it makes perfect sense for Microsoft to release a content pack for Office 365 Administration

As you can see from the screenshot below, it gives a quick overview on the dashboard to see what activity is happening. As well as details of other services. I am sure that this will make a quick overview of your Office 365 systems really easy to see. And also if there are any potential issues, this could also be highlighted!

Visual Studio Online Content Pack

Another content pack that is about to be released is for people who use Visual Studio Online, I personally do not currently use this. But it does look great for people to once again have a great overview of what is going on.

You can read more about it here: Gain understanding and insights into projects in Visual Studio Online with Power BI

And as you can see below, what you can view once you have got it setup within Power BI.

Power BI planned updates

Below are the updates that I had previously voted for in Power BI. It is great to see that the Microsoft team is actively listening to their customers and implementing some of the idea’s. I have to say that I do not think that there are many other software companies that are doing this currently. And also being able to roll it out as quickly as Microsoft is.

Set Colors and Conditional Formatting in visuals

  • This is great as it will allow the report authors to have more control in terms of how their reports look.

Undo / Redo button in browser & designer

  • This might seem like a small update, but I know personally from working with the Power BI reports, that sometimes you just want to see what a different report looks like. Or adding another element. And with the Undo / Redo buttons, it just saves that little bit of time, as well as to make the report authoring experience that much more enjoyable.

Power BI Announcements from Microsoft Ignite

Below are some announcements that I have read up about either on Twitter or one of the blogs that I follow. It is really great to see so many things in the pipeline.

This means that there is a lot to look forward to, as well as ensuring that we have new and wonderful things to show.

I got this picture via Twitter, which someone must have taken at the Microsoft Ignite Conference. As you can see it is not very clear, but it does show the next update in the Power BI Designer.

You can also see the undo and redo buttons.

It also appears that in the Power BI service, there will be support for SSRS files, namely the .rdl files! Here is another picture taken from Microsoft Ignite.

 

Then there is the Many to Many relationships and bi directional cross filtering will be supported in SQL Server 2016 tabular models, which I am sure will also be included in the new Power BI backend. As this is where it stored all the data.

 

For Hybrid BI, there will be support for live querying for SSAS, currently this is already in place for SSAS Tabular.

 

It also looks like there will be a scheduled refresh for SQL Server Databases as a source. Which is great for people who either do not have either of the SSAS cubes, or want to get some of their data into Power BI.

Microsoft Azure Stack

While this is not exactly BI, it is related to BI, in that with Azure Stack you can get the Azure functionality on your own hardware which is fantastic. And I am sure for a lot of businesses this will be welcomed.

You can read more about it here: Microsoft Brings the Next Generation of Hybrid Cloud – Azure to Your Datacenter