PASS Summit

This month is full of conferences. I was at the Tableau Conference recently and the following week I had the privilege to attend PASS Summit 2015, which is about Microsoft SQL Server and BI, courtesy of a free conference pass from Microsoft. The conference took place in Seattle this year at the Washington State Convention Center between Oct 27-30. There were about 4,000 registered attendees this year.

PASS Summit 2015 Welcome Reception

SQL Server 2016

The talk was mostly about SQL Server 2016, no surprise there. The starting keynote pretty much went through the features of SQL Server 2016. Here's the cliff notes version of keynote that I scribbled on my notepad.

  • Stretch DB: You can store part of a table in Azure and the rest on-site. When you issue a query against the table using a client such as SSMS, the SQL engine does a remote query to Azure and combines the on-site data and produces the result.

  • Always Encrypted: You can select the columns you want to encrypt in a table using a simple wizard. You can select deterministic (searchable data) or randomized encryption for the columns. The encryption/decryption happens on the client side. SQL Server itself doesn't do anything. The first time you try to turn on the encryption, the data is downloaded to the client, encrypted with a key on the client and pushed the SQL server. The data in the SQL server is now encrypted for these columns. You need the key on the client side to decrypt the data.

  • Real Time Analytics: SQL 2016 combines in-memory OLTP with in-memory columnar storage so that you can perform real time anaytics on the transaction system with minimal impact. You don't need to do ETL from OLTP to DW to perform reporting and analytics.

  • Advanced Analytics: R is integrated right into SQL 2016. You can just copy/past any R code directly into T-SQL and run the script with the results.

  • Mobile BI: Datazen and Power BI Mobile integration comes with SQL Server 2016.

Tools Clarity

There was some clarity on what tools to use for BI and when to use them. Microsoft has a mess of products when it comes to BI and with the recent acquisition of Datazen it wasn't clear where the different products stand. Here's what Microsoft now recommends on BI tools usage.

Model Analyze & Authorize Deliver
Cloud Power BI Power BI Power BI
On-Prem SSAS Excel, Power BI Desktop, Report Builder, Datazen SSRS


Features & Improvements

Here are some of the new features and improvements to the different BI tools that I gathered from the conference.

SSRS in SQL 2016

  • SSRS is being pushed as the primary reporting tool for on-prem. PowerBI is for the cloud.

  • SSRS in SQL 2016 is HTML5 based. Visuals are updated to look more modern like PowerBI.

  • Better SSRS parameter controls. You can add spaces, multiple lines and all that but the parameters are still grouped on to the top or the side of the report. You can’t add a parameter in the middle of the report say.

  • SSRS is going to have its own web portal (responsive and really nice). The portal shows all the SSRS reports built with report builder/SSDT and also the mobile reports built with PowerBI mobile/DataZen.

  • Report builder has a new look and feel. Looks more modern.

  • You can pin any SSRS report directly to a PowerBI dashboard.

SSAS Tabular in SQL 2016

  • SSAS 2016 provides many-many relationships and bi-directional cross-filtering out of the box.

  • We can now organize dimensions and measures into folders (like BIDS helper functionality) now available in both Visual Studio and PowerPivot.

  • Visual Studio 2015 has better DAX editing support and so does the new report builder. You can enter DAX into multiple lines, add comments, declare variables, syntax highlighting and better error status.

  • There’s no more workspace server that’s required for building SSAS tabular models in Visual Studio.

  • Direct Query mode (SSAS queries data sources directly instead of pulling into in-memory first while processing) is 20x faster than in SQL 2014.

DataZen/PowerBI Mobile

  • Datazen and PowerBI mobile is going to be combined into one product to build on-prem mobile reports. PowerBI/SSRS reports are not mobile friendly so if want mobile stuff we really need to use two different products.

  • Datazen will be part of SQL Server 2016.

Power BI

  • PowerBI can now connect to on-prem SSAS server directly.

  • PowerBI is going to come with something called “enterprise gateway” where you can take any on-prem database and provide it as a source to PowerBI without pushing any of the data to the cloud. You can set security, policies, admins etc at this level.

  • You can embed Excel reports in PowerBI now.

  • Visualizations are based on D3.JS and is open sourced so we can built custom visualizations and publish it to PowerBI.

  • PowerBI Desktop is a windows application that you can download and run to build PowerBI content and publish it to PowerBI.com