Microsoft SQL Server 2012: The BISM Tabular Model is now available to buy!

I decided to wait until I had a real, physical, made-of-dead-tree copy of it in my hands before blogging, but I’m pleased to announced that the new book that Marco, Alberto and I wrote on SSAS 2012 Tabular models is now available to purchase (even though, as Marco says here it was actually officially released a few weeks ago).

A sample chapter can be found here:

You can buy it all all good bookshops, including Amazon UK. It has two five-star reviews on Amazon already, and Javier Guillén wrote a very detailed review here. Why not buy several copies so you can share it with your colleagues, friends, significant others, children, neighbours etc? It also makes ideal beach reading if you are currently on your holidays.

You may also have noticed there’s another SSAS Tabular book out, by Teo Lachev. Teo is an author I have the utmost respect for and I’m a big fan of everything he’s written; this book lives up to the high standards of his previous work. While it’s true there’s some overlap between his book and ours, the focus of his book is broader, covering topics such as Sharepoint, whereas ours has a narrower focus and goes into much greater detail on subjects such as DAX; so (again, as Marco says) you should probably consider buying both.

Storage and the NameColumn and KeyColumns Properties

Those of you who have worked with SSAS Multidimensional for a reasonable amount time will, no doubt, be very familiar with the NameColumn and KeyColumns properties of an attribute (if you’re not, see here and here) and how they should be used. You will probably also know that when the KeyColumns property has been set to only one column, then the NameColumn property can be left unset and the key will be used as the name of the attribute’s members.

However, while onsite with a customer recently I noticed something strange. Here’s an illustration: if you create a simple dimension based on the DimCustomer table in Adventure Works and create a single attribute based on the CustomerKey column, this is what you see in the Properties for that attribute:


However, if you deploy the database then import it into a new project in SSDT/BIDS, then you see that the NameColumn property has been set:


My first thought was that this was a bit dangerous, because it might mean that the imported version of the database would start storing extra strings for the names. But this was incorrect because a look at the data directories for the two versions of the dimensions showed they contained the same files and were using the same amount of storage:


I’m very grateful to Akshai Mirchandani of the dev team for confirming that in this situation, it is irrelevant whether you set the NameColumn or not – data duplication will always happen, and the key values will be stored again as strings. The only time it doesn’t happen is when the key and the name of the attribute are both the same column and that column is a string.

This means that if you have a very large attribute that is in danger of exceeding the infamous 4GB limit (although this is of course fixed in SSAS 2012) and which never needs to be visible, you can use the trick that Greg Galloway describes here to reduce the size of the string store. This involves creating a dummy column in your DSV (or underlying view or table) that contains only an empty string and then setting this as the NameColumn of your attribute. For the example above, this is the result:



For this example, the overall amount of storage used for the dimension has gone down from 1.24MB to 1.04MB, and although you can see the .ahstore file (the hash store) for the Customer Key attribute have grown, the size of the string store, Customer Key.asstore (note: don’t get confused between .asstore and .astore files), has reduced from 362KB to 1KB.

Office 2013 Store and BI

By now you’ve probably already seen that the new Office Store, where you can get hold of apps for Office and Sharepoint, is now open. If you haven’t, check out the following blog posts:

The implications for BI are obvious: new apps for data visualisation (along the lines of what’s available in  Sparklines for Excel maybe; perhaps also the long-lost decomposition tree from Proclarity?), analysis, importing and exporting data. I’ve already downloaded and had a play with the Bubbles app, which is quite fun:


Will it take off? Who knows; it’ll certainly be a while before enough people are on Office 2013 before we can tell. Will anyone want to pay for apps? Again, who knows – I wonder if we’ll see something similar to OLAP PivotTable Extensions appear, and if free, open source apps will kill the paid app market at least in some areas? If you’ve got any ideas for a BI-related app, please leave a comment!

Access 2013 and Self-Service BI

Wait, I know what you’re thinking: Access, isn’t that dead yet? Well, no – and if you’ve been reading the blogs about Access 2013 that it’s undergone something of a transformation, one that’s very interesting from a BI point of view. The key change is mentioned here:

One of the biggest improvements in Access 2013 is one you may not even notice—except that you’re whole app will be faster, more reliable, and work great with large amounts of data. When Access databases are published to SharePoint—whether on-premise or through Office 365—a full-fledged SQL Server database is automatically created to store the data. Advanced users who are already familiar with SQL Server will be able to directly connect to this database for advanced reporting and analysis with familiar tools such as Excel, Power View, and Crystal Reports. Everyday users can rest assured that their apps are ready for the future if they ever need to enhance them with advanced integrations or migrations.

So while Access 2013 is still a desktop database, the Access Web App is essentially a power-user-friendly tool for creating SQL Server/Azure SQL database applications. As Tim Anderson points out here (in a post that’s also worth a read) there seems to be a bit of an overlap with LightSwitch; but that’s incidental here. The real point I wanted to make is that this is another key piece in the Microsoft self-service BI stack in place. By the time users are working with Office 2013 for real, I can imagine some quite sophisticated self-service BI solutions being built where data is loaded into a SQL Server database designed in Access (maybe using Data Explorer?) before it gets to Excel/PowerPivot, a much more robust approach than loading data direct from the original source into Excel/PowerPivot. I’m sure there’ll still be plenty of opportunity for SQL Server DBAs to look down on the work of Access developers, but it looks like this will give Access a new lease of life.

Unfortunately it looks like Access 2013 Web Apps won’t support OData just yet. Here’s a comment from Todd Haugen, a program manager on the Access team, on the first blog post referenced above:

Sorry to say we did not get to enable support for OData at RTM. This is a key area we are looking at for the next release. In the near-term SQL Azure will be turning on ODBC access which will allow you to hook Excel and PowerPivot together with Access. This feature will be available by RTM.

I had hoped to be able to write up a demo of PowerPivot connecting to a database created with the Access Web App, but this comment (and my inability to get it working, even though I can see the server name and database name I’d need to connect to in Access) means you’ll just have to imagine what might be possible…

Further reading:

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