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:

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:

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:

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:

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 ( and also having recently started reading his co-author Adrian Downes’ blog (, 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. 

Book Review: Microsoft SQL Server 2005 Analysis Services, by Edward Melomed, Irina Gorbach, Alexander Berger, Py Bateman

How can I review a book properly when I’ve only had it a day or so? Obviously I can’t, but I can tell you the most important thing you need to know and that is if you’re at all serious about Analysis Services you have to buy this book. Quite simply it contains so much useful information which is available nowhere else I don’t know where to start: on the overall architecture, on memory management, on query execution, on caching, and so on. The authors are all from the AS dev team so they know what they’re talking about and are able to go into great detail. There’s also a lot of information here which is available in other places, on general cube design, MDX and AS programming for instance, and it covers them very well too; in fact it’s very well-written in general with plenty of code snippets and illustrations. I’ve got a lot of reading and learning to do over the next few weeks…  
You can buy it from Amazon UK here.

Book Review: The Microsoft Data Warehouse Toolkit, by Joy Mundy and Warren Thornthwaite

At long last I’ve got round to reviewing the last big SQL2005 BI book sitting on my bookshelf: "The Microsoft Data Warehouse Toolkit" by Joy Mundy and Warren Thornthwaite. It’s another very positive review too; although I should declare that I got the book as a freebie, hopefully you’ll believe me when I say I’m not biased by this and if anyone cares to send me a copy of a rubbish book on this topic I’ll be only too happy to slag it off in public!
Let me start by saying a word about the positioning of this book. If you’ve already got other Kimball Group classics like ‘The Data Warehouse Toolkit’ you may be worried about the overlap here; similarly if you’ve got a book like Teo Lachev’s ‘Applied Analysis Services’ you may be thinking that you don’t need another one like it. In my opinion ‘The Microsoft Data Warehouse Toolkit’ sits squarely between the two camps: it’s all about how you apply Kimball methodology to a data warehouse/BI project using the Microsoft platform, and while there is a certain amount of shared ground with the two books I’ve just mentioned I think there’s more than enough valuable information in here that you won’t find anywhere else to make this a worthwhile purchase. It means you no longer need to do as much work joining the dots between how Kimball et al tell you to design your system and what Lachev et al say you can actually do with the tools you’ve got at your disposal.
Let me give you two examples of the kind of issues it deals with. The chapter on real-time data has the most level-headed discussion of this subject that I’ve read, telling you what it means, when you do really need real-time data and when you don’t, as well as telling you how to design a real-time system and making some important technical points about the strengths and weaknesses of Analysis Services. Similarly there’s a chapter on the unsexy and usually neglected topic of operations and maintenance, telling you things like what you need to monitor (disk space, usage etc) and roughly how you need to go about doing all this. Again all the important technical points are made but there’s not too much technical detail – a good balance is struck between this and the higher-level design aspects. This also makes it as good a read for project managers as it is for architects and developers.
Another good thing about the book is the way it is structured. Although you can read each chapter on its own out of context, the book discusses issues in the same order as you’d encounter them in a project. So the first chapter covers defining business requirements, and we then move on to designing the dimensional model, building the relational data warehouse, ETL, Analysis Services, Reporting Services and so on. This means that the project manager or anyone new to BI has a clear list of the tasks that need to be undertaken on this kind of project and can plan ahead more effectively, and serves as an important checklist for people like me to tend to get carried away with the more interesting jobs to the detriment of the duller stuff. The breadth too is impressive, and since no-one can be an expert in every part of the SQL2005 toolset it’s useful to have a reference which can help fill the gaps in your knowledge.
If there’s one criticism I could make (I always try to make at least one) it’s that it’s almost too early in the lifecycle of SQL2005 to be able to write authoritatively on even high-level design. It’s not something that could have been avoided though: I learnt when co-writing ‘MDX Solutions’ that books written about new software have sales cycles, and that if you don’t get your book out within a few months of the release of the software you’re writing about then booksellers won’t place big orders for it, however good it is, so as an author you can’t afford to wait a year or so until you feel you know the product completely. Take the example of the recent about-turn on cubes whether you should design one cube with multiple measure groups or multiple cubes linked together that Teo blogged about recently here. This is a fundamental design decision and on P322 the authors state that "The best practice in AS2005 is to define a single cube for a database", which is exactly what I would have said up to a few weeks ago but which now seems to be wrong. The point here is that no-one could have known about this early enough to put it in a book – these things only emerge after months or years of experience with real implementations. Joy Mundy is clearly well ahead of me and just about everyone else on this issue though, as Deepak pointed out to me recently that in her recent webcast "Designing a Scalable Data Warehouse/ Business Intelligence System" that one of her bullets reads "Create several smaller cubes with related measure groups, rather than one big cube per database". Perhaps the advantage of publishing early is that it gives you the chance of writing a second edition at some point in the future.
But I digress. The vast amount of experience that the authors have got in designing BI systems is apparent throughout this book and I can wholeheartedly recommend it. The book’s websites can be found here if you want to find out more:
…and the second site in particular contains some useful links and downloads which are worth checking out even if you don’t buy the book.
If you’re interested in other SQL2005 BI books, then check out my book list here:
The only book on there that isn’t published and that I really want to read is "Microsoft SQL Server Analysis Services 2005" by Irina Gorbach and various other members of the dev team – I’ve heard it’s got good information on the internals of AS2005 that isn’t available anywhere else.

Book Review: “Applied Microsoft Analysis Services 2005” by Teo Lachev

When I first thought of including book reviews on this site I made a vow not to review any book until I’d read it all the way through. The end result has been that I’ve got several books on my shelf which I’ve had for a while and which I’ve used extensively but which I haven’t reviewed, because strictly speaking I’ve not read them from cover to cover. Teo Lachev’s "Applied Analysis Services 2005" is one such book, but since I’ve now read so much of it (albeit a few pages at a time, when I’ve needed to look something up) I feel like I can bend my own rule and write a review at last.
In terms of content the book aims to be a general reference for anyone who is building BI solutions using Analysis Services 2005 and other, related Microsoft tools like Reporting Services, Integration Services and Office. While it’s suitable for the beginner – and I think Teo writes very clearly indeed, explaining the basic concepts very well – it’s much more than that, and goes into enough detail to make it useful for seasoned BI professionals. I’ve struggled to find a topic that it doesn’t cover in some shape or form (the book is 700 pages long so you get a lot of content for your money) and in almost all cases it goes well beyond the basics to offer sensible, practical advice. I can only think of one topic which I didn’t think was covered in enough depth and that was local cubes, but that was the exception rather than the rule and to be honest in that particular case I’m not sure anyone outside the development team knows much about AS2005’s capabilities. Teo also manages to cover advanced functionality such as measure expressions which isn’t officially documented anywhere else to my knowledge, not even in Books Online, which makes the book invaluable to anyone who wasn’t on the TAP program or doesn’t have a direct line to Mosha.
Although Teo’s quite open about the sources he’s used while writing the book, and helpfully includes a list of them with urls at the end of the chapter, I never got the impression that he was simply regurgitating information he’d found elsewhere but instead that he’d tested everything out himself and was offering the fruits of his own experience. He’s honest enough to disagree with Microsoft when he feels like he should, for example when he calls pro-active caching the "most oversold" feature of SQL 2005 after CLR stored procedures, and that to me is the sign of an author who knows his subject. And while I disagreed with him in one or two places on similar matters of opinion or style, I’ve not found any errors in the text either which is impressive for a book of this size and scope.
"Applied Analysis Services" isn’t going to be a replacement for more in-depth books like "Data Mining with SQL Server 2005" or (excuse the plug) "MDX Solutions", but if you’re only going to buy one book on AS2005 then you won’t go wrong here. There will be other similar books on the market soon but they’re going to have to be very good indeed to beat this one!
You can find out more about the book here:
You can see my list of SQL2005 BI-related books here:
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