By now you may have already heard the news that, as part of SQL Server 2012 SP1 CU4, new functionality has been released that means that Power View now works with Analysis Services Multidimensional (ie cubes, as opposed to the Tabular Model, which always worked with Power View). I won’t bother to repeat the technical details which you can read about here:
…but the main points are that Analysis Services Multidimensional can now be queried in DAX, and this plus some tweaks to Power View mean that the two can be used together for the first time. Unfortunately Power View in Excel 2013 doesn’t work with Analysis Services Multidimensional yet, but I hope that will also be fixed very soon.
I’ve been playing with the public CTP of this for a while and done a few presentations with it, and from a technical point of view it’s a solid bit of work by the Analysis Services dev team. It just works, and while there are a few limitations they’re trivial. Arguably it should not have been necessary to do it in the first place – why didn’t Power View speak MDX when it was built, which would have meant it could have queried both Tabular and Multidimensional? But it’s here now, and that’s what counts. It also opens up some interesting possibilities for using DAX queries to create detail-level reports on cubes, and also for defining DAX calculations inside those queries.
However I think its real importance is strategic. This is the first significant bit of new functionality in Analysis Services Multidimensional for a long while, and it acts as a bridge between the classic SQL Server BI stack that most of us are using and the brave new world of Office/Sharepoint-led BI. It is also the first time in a long time that Analysis Services Multidimensional users have had a dedicated client tool for data analysis from Microsoft that isn’t Excel. Don’t get me wrong, I love Excel as a client tool for SSAS but I’ve always thought (and I think industry trends over the last few years support this view) that even though Excel is a great way to bring data analysis to the masses, there’s still an important niche among power users for a more advanced data analysis and data visualisation tool.
You may be thinking at this point that pretty graphs and charts are all very well, but your users don’t need anything other than the SSRS reports and basic PivotTables that they’ve been using for the last few years. I say that you ignore Power View at your own risk. Microsoft’s competitors in the BI space are hungry for new customers and are interested in migration projects. You might well arrive at the office next Monday morning to find that there’s a new CFO who used QlikView in his last job, and who wants the same pretty graphs and charts he had there again. It’s not going to be any use arguing that you’ve spent years developing this cube, that it’s lightning fast and has all sorts of tricky business logic coded into thousands of lines of MDX – if your BI solution’s user interface looks and feels dated, then whatever its technical merits it will have the musty smell of legacy software about it. If, however, you can fire up a VM with Sharepoint 2013 and Power View on and show off some slick dashboards created from your existing cubes, even if this is something the majority of your end users wouldn’t really be interested in (and you may be wrong, they might love it), you’re going to be showing the business two important things:
- Microsoft can do sexy dashboards and visualizations too, and while they come at a price, that price is probably a lot less than it would cost to rip and replace what you’ve got with a competitor’s software. So the option’s there if you want to spend the money and do the upgrade.
- Analysis Services cubes are not a dead-end, and Microsoft has made a significant investment here to prove this. I’d still love to see a coherent roadmap that explains where Microsoft is heading with its BI tools and how it expects its existing customers to get there, but I doubt we’ll get one. This functionality was, however, delivered in response to popular demand, so I’m hopeful that if we as customers can make our voices heard as to what we want in the future then we can influence Microsoft’s direction.
So go forth and Power View. Both Rob Kerr and Koen Verbeeck have recently published some excellent, detailed guides to setting up a Sharepoint 2013 demo environment; you have no excuse for not testing this out and being ready to face the competition.