Two PowerPivot Books

There’s no way I could ever pretend to be an impartial reviewer of Marco Russo and Alberto Ferrari’s new book, “PowerPivot for Excel 2010: Give Your Data Meaning”. First of all, they’re good friends of mine (we wrote “Expert Cube Development with SQL Server Analysis Services 2008” together last year); and secondly, I got a freebie copy of the book. But all that aside, I do honestly think it is a really good book. Just as an example, I’ve been playing around with some DAX problems over the last few days with a view to writing a some blog posts and had been struggling to get the EARLIER function to work in the way I’d been expecting; there are only a few examples of its use on the web but I found the book had a very detailed explanation of how it works. Indeed a large part of the book is concerned with DAX and it’s probably the best resource on that subject that I’ve seen, so that’s reason enough to buy it.

It’s important to point out, though, that Marco and Alberto’s book doesn’t really go into any detail on PowerPivot for Sharepoint – there is one chapter at the end, but it’s main focus is on PowerPivot for Excel. If you want to learn more about the Sharepoint side of things I can recommend “Professional PowerPivot for Excel and Sharepoint” by Siva Harinath, Ron Pihlgren and Denny Lee (and yes, I got this book as a freebie too – it’s one of the perks of being a blogger that you get loads of free books!). There’s very little overlap between the two books – the only thing they both cover is the basic info on how to build a PowerPivot model, and that subject is so basic most people will be able to work it out for themselves – so it’s probably worth getting both if you’re serious about learning PowerPivot.

One last bit of advertising: Marco and Alberto are running a two day PowerPivot workshop in the Netherlands at the beginning of December. More details can be found here:
http://www.sqlbi.com/workshop/

Query performance tuning chapter from “Expert Cube Development” available online

As you probably know, last year I co-wrote a book called “Expert Cube Development with SQL Server Analysis Services 2008” with Marco Russo and Alberto Ferrari. Although I’m sure you all already own a copy, those of you that don’t might be interested to know that as well as the sample chapter that’s available on the book’s home page, the chapter on query performance tuning is available as a two-part article here:
http://www.packtpub.com/article/query-performance-tuning-microsoft-analysis-services-part1
http://www.packtpub.com/article/query-performance-tuning-microsoft-analysis-services-part2

In fact it’s been available for quite a while, but I thought I’d post a link up because I was searching for it the other day and couldn’t find it myself…

Announcing “Expert Cube Development with Microsoft SQL Server 2008 Analysis Services”

Expert Cube Development with Microsoft SQL Server 2008 Analysis Services

I’m pleased to announce that, after a lot of effort and late nights, the book that Marco Russo, Alberto Ferrari and I have been working on has finally been published! It’s called “Expert Cube Development with Microsoft SQL Server 2008 Analysis Services” and, basically, it’s a book about building cubes with Analysis Services 2008. So no surprises there then…

Why should you buy this book? There are a lot of other, really good SSAS books out there on the market, but we’d like to think ours is a bit different. For a start, it’s not a book for beginners and we assume you’ve already built a few cubes and know what a cube is; that’s not to say we ignore the basics, but we don’t spend too much time on them and as a result we can get onto the more interesting problems you’ll face when building cubes. Secondly this is a book with an opinion: we tell you which features work well and which don’t, how to work around any limitations in SSAS, and what the best practices are for building cubes; we make a lot of references to using BIDS Helper and MDX Studio for example, and not just the out-of-the-box features, and we reference a lot of useful material that’s on the net in white papers and on blogs. Thirdly, it’s meant to be a book you can read from cover-to-cover rather than a reference book: it’s relatively short, it follows the lifecycle of an SSAS project, and tries to tell a story; it doesn’t cover every possible piece of functionality in exhaustive detail. It’s not the only SSAS book you’ll ever need, but if you’ve already got a beginner-level book this will be a useful addition.

You can buy the book direct from the publishers here, from Amazon UK here, or Amazon US here. The table of contents is here, and there’s a sample chapter here.

Oh, and I should point out that this is a real book and not a hoax like last time…!

“MDX Solutions” in Chinese

I’ve just been told that "MDX Solutions" has been translated into Chinese:
http://www.amazon.cn/mn/detailApp?qid=1226604599&ref=SR&sr=13-1&uid=168-2365553-3706601&prodid=bkbk863548#

It’s a shame that Wiley aren’t interested in doing a third edition at the moment, but luckily not much has changed in MDX between AS2005 and AS2008 so the content is still relevant. I see there’s some competition coming in the future from "Microsoft SQL Server 2008 MDX Step-By-Step" though…

Book review: Applied Microsoft SQL Server 2008 Reporting Services, by Teo Lachev

Here’s the deal: if you liked Teo Lachev’s book "Applied Microsoft Analysis Services 2005", which I did, then you’ll like "Applied Microsoft SQL Server 2008 Reporting Services". Both books share the same format and approach and are exhaustive guides to their subjects.

In case you’ve not seen one of Teo’s books before, though, what should you expect? Well, "Applied Reporting Services 2008" is 750 pages long and covers just about every aspect of Reporting Services 2008 that’s worth covering, from installation to report design to management to security to extensibility in great detail. This probably isn’t a book you’re going to sit down and read from cover to cover, but it’s a great reference guide and Teo’s prose is very clear so reading individual chapters as and when you need to is no chore. The best thing about this book, though, is the fact that on every page you can see Teo’s vast real-world experience showing through. For some reason many books on Reporting Services fall into the trap of being Books Online rewritten, never telling you the stuff you really need to know; this book on the other hand is a goldmine of information on how things really work. Let me take the chapter I can really speak from authority on – the chapter on using Reporting Services with Analysis Services. Every other SSRS book I’ve seen has been written by someone with clearly no practical experience of using SSAS and SSRS together, and parrots the usual line about ‘great integration’ and ‘easy-to-use MDX query designer’ etc. Teo on the other hand has, for the first time anywhere, put together all the tips and tricks I’ve ever seen (plus a few I haven’t) on this topic in one place – he lists the pros and cons of the built-in Analysis Services datasource and the OLEDB datasource and how to work around them, how to handle parent/child hierarchies, using extended properties, the lot.

All in all, then, a very highly recommended book; it’s ideal for both beginners and experienced developers and probably the only Reporting Services 2008 book you’ll ever need. You can read some sample chapters and see video demos on the book website here:
http://www.prologika.com/Books/0976635313/Book.aspx

Book Review: The Rational Guide to Business Scorecard Manager 2005, by Nick Barclay and Adrian Downes

I’ve got an admission to make: I’ve never really done anything seriously with Business Scorecard Manager (perhaps European businesses are less interested in formal methodologies like the Balanced Scorecard?), so when Nick Barclay asked me if I’d like a free copy of his new book about it I was very interested to see it so I could get up to speed. Having been a long-time reader of his blog (http://nickbarclay.blogspot.com/) and also having recently started reading his co-author Adrian Downes’ blog (http://adriandownes.blogspot.com/), I had high expectations since both are among the best Microsoft BI-related blogs out there and I wasn’t disappointed.

BSM2005 isn’t a massive topic, and as such is an ideal fit for the Rational Guide series where books are limited to 224 pages in length to make sure they’re as concise as possible. In a world where most IT books seem to be doorstop-sized this is a welcome move, and although Nick and Adrian have sidestepped this constraint by making a couple of extra chapters download-only the book is very to-the-point without descending to Books Online territory. The technical side of things is handled with great clarity and there’s also a healthy amount of discussion of the theory of performance management too. The text is clearly laid out with a lot of illustrations and all processes are broken up into numbered steps making it all very readable.

The one obvious (and probably unfair, but it’s what everyone will be thinking) criticism that can be made about this book is that it’s about BSM2005 rather than the forthcoming PerformancePoint. Hopefully the authors are planning to update it as soon as PerformancePoint gets released, whenever that will be – it seems like the entire Microsoft BI world has been holding its breathe waiting for PerformancePoint for so long we’re in danger of turning blue and fainting. Apart from that, if you’re about to start a project involving BSM2005 I can’t imagine a better resource to have on your desk.

You can buy it from Amazon UK here.

Essential Sharepoint 2007

Now I know pretty much nothing about Sharepoint; just about all I do know is that since it’s playing a big role in Microsoft’s BI strategy I ought to find out more about it. Mauro Cardarelli blogs about BI from the Sharepoint point of view and has just announced that he and his co-authors have just finished a book, "Essential Sharepoint 2007":
Looks like it’s pitched at the right level for someone like me, and it has a chapter on "Providing Business Intelligence" too. I’d better put it on pre-order at Amazon.