PASS Summit 2017 Day 1 BI News

There haven’t been any really big BI announcements at the PASS Summit this year – I guess we get so much amazing new stuff every month with Power BI that there’s no need to make ‘big’ announcements at conferences any more. However there have been several cool new features unveiled that I thought it would be good to highlight.

Azure SSAS automated scale-out

I’m a big fan of Azure SSAS, and what I particularly like is the way the dev team are making tasks that are complex with on-premises SSAS much easier when you go to the cloud. SSAS scale-out is a great example: on-premises you have to solve this by buying multiple servers, licensing and maintaining multiple instances of SSAS, and then setting up network load balancing on top of them. Today the Azure SSAS team announced their automated scale-out feature is live, and now all you need to do to scale out is drag a slider to the right:

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Of course this is all scriptable too, so if you know you need to have to handle more users on a Monday morning you can scale-out appropriately and then when the rush is over you can reduce the number of query replicas and pay less.

Power BI Report Server

There’s a new release of Power BI Report Server available, and you can read all about it here:

https://powerbi.microsoft.com/en-us/blog/new-version-of-power-bi-report-server-now-available/

The blog post highlights the fact that you can connect to SSRS shared datasets via OData – which is basically what I was talking about here.

Preview of in-memory/DirectQuery hybrid datasets

Christian Wade of the SSAS dev team gave a very cool demo of building Power BI reports on a trillion row dataset. Not many details are available about how this works, or when it will be released, but it seems to be through a feature where you can combine tables stored in-memory and tables that use DirectQuery storage (in the demo this was DirectQuery on Spark) in the same dataset. It sounds a bit like HOLAP: queries that request aggregated values hit the fast, in-memory data, but when you want to look at detail-level data queries use DirectQuery. Someone is very excited about this:

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PowerApps/Power BI integration

Something that was going to be demoed – but the demo failed so we didn’t see it – was the promised integration between PowerApps and Power BI. Apparently this will be released soon.

ESRI Plus subscription for Power BI

Mentioned in the keynote but again with very few details is the fact that ESRI is going to offer a special subscription for users of the ESRI maps visual in Power BI. It looks like this is it and it is slated for release in November:

http://go.esri.com/plus-subscription

Here’s what the ESRI site says the benefits will be:

  • Access global demographics
  • Access verified ready-to-use data, curated from authoritative sources
  • Access more basemaps including satellite imagery and terrain
  • Map and view more locations on your visualization

Pre-Conference Training Day On Data Loading With Power BI/Excel Get & Transform/Power Query At PASS Summit

I’m pleased to announce that I’m running a pre-conference training day on “Loading and transforming data with Power BI and Power Query” at this year’s PASS Summit in Seattle. For the full agenda and details on how to register, see:
http://www.pass.org/summit/2017/Sessions/Details.aspx?sid=66485

This full-day session will teach you everything you need to know about loading data into Power BI or Excel; it’s specifically focussed on self-service BI scenarios, but if you want to learn M for SSAS 2017 you might find some of what I cover useful too. Topics covered include using the UI to build queries; using parameters and functions; the M language; data privacy settings; and creating custom data connectors. I hope to see you there!

Analysing Audience Reaction To The PASS Summit 2015 Keynote

If my post from a few weeks back asking for help with my session at PASS piqued your interest, I’m pleased to say that you can now watch the recording of my session “Analysing Audience Reaction To The PASS Summit 2015 Keynote” online here:

Despite having only 24 hours to prepare all my demos after collecting the data I think it went pretty well. The data from Bing Pulse was particularly interesting: I had around 30-35 people providing regular feedback throughout the keynote and there were some obvious peaks and troughs, as you can see from this graph:

BingPulse

Audience satisfaction was a little flat for the first half hour and then rose noticeably when the content became more technical and the demos started. Both the SQL Server R Services and Stretch Database demos were the high points as far as my panel were concerned; the lowest point came when there was mild outrage at the use of Profiler in a demo.

Thanks once again to everyone who helped me out!

Power BI And SQL Server 2016 BI Announcements At PASS Summit 2015

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This year’s PASS Summit is drawing to a close as I write this, and I have to say that the number of Microsoft BI-related announcements made over the last few days has been overwhelming. There have been announcements made via blog posts, such as (shock!) the roadmap blog post:
http://blogs.technet.com/b/dataplatforminsider/archive/2015/10/29/microsoft-business-intelligence-our-reporting-roadmap.aspx

…which you should probably read before anything else, as well as the following posts which have more details on specific areas:
http://blogs.technet.com/b/dataplatforminsider/archive/2015/10/28/sql-server-2016-community-technology-preview-3-0-is-available.aspx

http://blogs.msdn.com/b/analysisservices/archive/2015/10/28/what-s-new-for-sql-server-2016-analysis-services-in-ctp3.aspx

http://blogs.msdn.com/b/sqlrsteamblog/archive/2015/10/28/pin-reporting-services-charts-to-power-bi-dashboards-with-sql-server-2016-ctp-3-0.aspx

There have also been a lot of other announcements made in sessions about functionality that will be available at some point in the next few months, including (and in no particular order):

  • The performance problem with Excel subtotals that I described in this blog post: https://blog.crossjoin.co.uk/2011/10/07/excel-subtotals-when-querying-multidimensional-and-tabular-models/ is finally going to be addressed in Excel 2016 in an update that will be available before the end of the year. This is going to solve a lot of people’s performance problems – problems that people may not even realise they had.
  • SSDT for SSAS 2016 will have a script view where you can see all of your DAX calculations in one place
  • SSDT will be getting monthly updates so new functionality can be delivered much more quickly
  • On top of the improvements in SSAS Tabular DirectQuery mentioned in the blog posts above, we’ll also get support for row-level security and calculated columns (but only ones that reference values in the same row of the table that the calculated column is on)
  • SSAS Tabular will also get Translations, but only for metadata and not for data
  • There will be a Power BI Enterprise Gateway, the corporate big brother of the Personal Gateway
  • Datazen will be rolled into SSRS and Datazen reports will be a new ‘mobile’ report type
  • The Power BI mobile app will be able to display these new SSRS mobile reports as well as Power BI reports
  • The Power BI team will be releasing a new custom datavisualisation component every week. We had the new Chiclet slicer this week, which I am already using lots, and in one demo I spotted a Proclarity-style decomposition tree
  • Power BI desktop will work with SSAS Multidimensional as a live data source (ie not through importing data, but running DAX queries in the background) by the end of this year
  • PowerBI.com dashboard tiles will become properly interactive, and you will be able to pin entire reports as well as just individual components to them
  • You’ll be able to embed ranges and charts from Excel workbooks into PowerBI.com reports; integration looks much nicer than the rather basic functionality that’s already there
  • Power Map/3D maps will be embedded in Power BI Desktop and PowerBI.com
  • You’ll be able to run R scripts in Power BI Desktop and display R visualisations in there too
  • There was a demo of an Android(?) phone version of the Power BI mobile app, where when the phone camera saw a QR code it displayed a report for the product that the QR code represented over the camera feed. Virtual reality BI!
  • Power BI Desktop will get a “Get Insights” button that, when pushed, will display a report that does some basic statistical analysis of your data, looking for minimums, maximums, outliers etc
  • The Power BI API will be able to give you a list of reports and their URLs
  • Power BI will soon have its own registration page for applications that use the API; no need to go to the Azure Portal.
  • Synonyms and phrasings for Q&A will be coming to Power BI by the end of the year

I *think* that’s everything, but I may well have missed a few things. Many of the features that were mentioned in passing would have deserved a five-minute slot in a keynote in previous years.

Power BI is finally a commercially viable product and it’s getting even better every week – the competition should be very worried. I’m also really pleased that MS are taking corporate, on-premises BI seriously at last and that SSRS is back in favour (I would have loved more new features in SSAS Multidimensional, but hey, you can’t have everything) – if you’re wondering what the picture at the top of this post is, it’s the cloud and boxed SQL Server “happy together” at last, and it appeared in several MS presentations this week. The box is back! Most importantly, for the first time in a long time, Microsoft has a coherent vision for how all of its BI products should work together, it’s working on new features to make that vision a reality, and it is willing to share it with us as a roadmap.

In summary I can’t remember the last time I felt this positive about the future of Microsoft BI. What MS have achieved over the last year has been remarkable, and it seems like it’s the leadership of James Phillips that has made all the difference – every MS employee I’ve talked to has had good things to say about him and I guess this explains why he got a promotion in the reorg last week. I hope all this continues.

Are You Going To PASS Summit 2015? I Need Your Help!

This year at the PASS Summit I’m delivering a rather ambitious and risky session. Here’s the abstract:

Analyzing Audience Reaction to the PASS Summit Keynote

If you’ve been to PASS Summit before, you know that social media channels such as Twitter go wild during the keynote speeches. Many people comment on what’s being said: Some comments are positive, some … not so positive. How can you make sense of it all? Which announcements did attendees like and which ones didn’t they like? When were the attendees engaged and when were they bored? Who are the thought-leaders in the SQL Server community? Do DBAs behave differently from BI pros?

In this session, you’ll see how a variety of Microsoft tools can be used to analyze this activity:

* Use Bing Pulse to capture real-time audience feedback during the keynote.
* Use Power BI to analyze data from Bing Pulse, Twitter, and other social media sources.
* Use NodeXL to perform network analysis on Twitter data.
* Use Azure Machine Learning to perform sentiment analysis.

As you can see, a important part of this session involves using Bing Pulse (I blogged about it here) to capture feedback on the session as it happens. And this is where I need your help.

If you are attending the PASS Summit 2015 keynote on Wednesday October 28, and you don’t mind clicking a button on your phone/tablet/laptop every minute to indicate what you think about what’s being said, please leave your name and email address here:

http://eepurl.com/bCa3cH

It won’t involve much effort, I promise, nothing more than a few clicks throughout the keynote. Your individual opinions will remain private. However I do need to sign up as many people as possible from all parts of the SQL Server Family – DBAs and developers as well as BI Pros – so I can get as much data as possible, and so get some interesting insights into what you’re all thinking.

Thanks!

I’m speaking at the PASS BA Conference

I haven’t been shy about stating my support for the PASS BA conference and the associated efforts by PASS to reach out beyond its traditional audience to analysts and other power users (see here for example). I won’t bore you with my opinions again, except to say that at the third attempt I think PASS have got the balance of session topics right at the upcoming PASS BA conference in Santa Clara this April. There’s a stellar team of Excel speakers, including Mr Excel and Chandoo. There’s David Smith from Revolution Analytics, the company bought by Microsoft recently; plenty of sessions on predictive analytics; various Microsoft dev teams will be out in force; and Marco Russo and I will be speaking too. I think it promises to be a great conference, definitely not a PASS BI conference, and very different from the PASS Summit.

You can register here, and using the code BASPCHR will give you a $150 discount.

PASS Summit 2014 Day 2 Keynote: A Masterclass In Cloud Databases, And Also A Masterclass In Tech Marketing

The PASS Summit keynote today was given by Dr Rimma Nehme, a colleague of PASS favourite Dr David DeWitt, who gave a great talk on cloud databases. A recording of the keynote will I’m sure be posted somewhere to view if you weren’t able to watch it live – it was an excellent presentation, I learned a lot and I recommend you watch it. However, the technical content of today’s presentation is not what I want to talk about here.

Sitting on the blogger’s table yesterday and today, I realised something about tech marketing in general and the challenges that Microsoft faces in marketing its cloud-first, BI-heavy strategy to its existing SQL Server customers. Let’s imagine you knew nothing about SQL Server, Microsoft, PASS and so on. If you looked at the reactions on Twitter (which I think are representative of the reactions of the SQL Server community as a whole) to yesterday’s keynote and today’s keynote, you would have seen a big difference. Yesterday there was a mixture of supportive comments and the snarking/complaining/moaning that has become common in PASS keynotes. Now it’s hard to put your own opinions on Microsoft’s strategy and how MVPs should behave on Twitter to one side, but if you can then you have to admit that the negative reactions represent a gigantic marketing failure. Some people, a lot of people, are unhappy with the message that Microsoft is putting across. Part of me wants people not to be unhappy – and I’m sure lots of people at Microsoft are equally frustrated – because I can see the logic behind Microsoft’s decisions, but wanting people to change their minds is not the same thing as persuading people to change their minds.

In contrast, the reaction on Twitter to Dr Nehme’s talk today was overwhelmingly positive. The same people who were unhappy yesterday were respectful and attentive today. There was a standing ovation at the end. But what was the topic? The cloud! Isn’t the cloud the root of all evil? Why were the reactions so different? Well, you say, this was technical education, not marketing. It was indeed technical education, but let me be clear: today’s keynote was just as much a marketing presentation as yesterday’s keynote. The difference is that it was highly effective marketing for the cloud, rather than a ham-fisted attempt to ram the cloud down people’s throats. Truly effective marketing is not obvious as marketing; truly effective marketing of this kind is something that the intended audience actively enjoys (and I’m not saying this is done as some kind of cynical deception – today’s audiences are too aware for anything insincere to succeed). Today’s keynote did more for the perception of Microsoft’s cloud strategy in its target audience than anything else I have seen recently. The other confusing aspect of this is that the ineffective marketing here is the work– I assume – of marketing professionals – whereas the effective marketing has been done by someone who is clearly One Of Us (although she mentioned at the beginning of her presentation, I think, that she had an MBA as well as a laundry list of other impressive qualifications) and not a marketing professional.

So what can we, and more importantly Microsoft, learn from this? It’s that if you want to do effective marketing to a technical audience you have to talk tech to them. Speak to them as equals in a language they understand, and provide strong technical reasons to back up what you’re saying. Traditional marketing that relies on theatre and pizzazz and that has no substance is actually counter-productive and damaging. The good news is that Microsoft does have a lot of people who instinctively understand this. I have always felt that Buck Woody is a true technical marketing genius, quite apart from his many other accomplishments. Donald Farmer is too, and that’s why so many people saw his leaving Microsoft as a significant blow for Microsoft BI. I’m not arguing that Microsoft fire its marketing department and let the techies handle marketing itself because that’s clearly never going to happen, I doubt the techies would want to do that job full-time, and let’s face it the techies would be equally inept at marketing but in different ways. What needs to happen is that the marketing professionals at Microsoft understand that their current, very traditional strategy is failing and that it should be replaced with an entirely new approach. The evidence from PASS is that the content itself is not the problem, it’s the way it is being presented.