What! NO? Get with it, my friend. Power BI is for everyone. All the kids are doing it… not to mention the business owners, marketers, sales campaign planners and scientists, IT Pros and common folk. Power BI is all the rage and can be used to analyze everything under the sun – oh, and that Pluto mission tracking thing that Microsoft did for NASA. Yea, pretty much everybody’s using Power BI!
On the 27th of August, I’ll lead an online virtual workshop “Building Business Intelligence Solutions with Power BI” that will show you how to put Power BI to work. I’ll demonstrate techniques to use with serious business data but we’re also going to have some fun with data from the National UFO Reporting Center. This database contains all of the publically available UFO sighting information, since Thomas Jefferson reported seeing a flying light in the sky up to the latest flying saucer sighting today. You’ll learn to import and mash-up data from different sources, create a data model or analysis and reporting and then create compelling, interactive, highly-visual report and dashboards. You’ll ask you dashboard questions in plain English and she’ll answer you in magically-crafted prose of wisdom and insightful knowledge, investing artistic charts and visualizations while you do nothing but talk to your data. Yep, really.
There’s still time to signup for the training sessions:
On Friday, James Phillips, Microsoft VP of Business Intelligence, announced the general availability of the new Power BI Business Analytics Service will be July 24th. Also referred to as “Power BI 2.0”, the new service will eventually replace the 1.0 Power BI extension to Office 365. In a nutshell, this means that data transformations, data modeling, dashboard visualization and report design can be performed in the free Power BI Designer stand-alone application rather than requiring you to license Excel 2013 ProPlus and/or Office 365. A Power BI online subscription is free and advanced features are about $10 per month per user. Models and reports created using the Excel add-ins can still be published to the Power BI hosted service but Excel is no longer a requirement. Read the complete announcement here.
There are many fine points to the Power BI equation that will be important factors for companies considering the adoption of Power BI. Interest in the industry is very high and I’ve had several conversations lately with business leaders from companies who want to learn more and and are considering using Power BI to empower analysts and business users instead of relying on traditional IT solution design. To clear the muddy water, here are some popular questions and answers:
To use Power BI, are we required to put our data in the cloud? Technically, Yes; but maybe not. To use all of the latest features of Power BI, including Q&A natural language queries, new visuals, sharing published reports and dashboards; you will need to publish the queries, models & reports you author with the Power BI Designer or Excel 2013 ProPlus add-ins to the cloud-based service at PowerBI.com. The content is secured and encrypted but this is the biggest blocking point for many large businesses who, either for regulatory reasons or just out of fear for losing control of their important data or intellectual property. For other companies who have learned to trust cloud services, this is no big deal. Heck, just about all of us move sensitive data over the Internet every day but it’s still a hang-up for a lot of big companies.
What options are there to use Power BI features on-premises? Quite a few, actually. Most of the features of Power BI were originally created as add-ins for Excel. This isn’t to say that the features in Excel are the same as the latest Power BI service… they’re not but most are either the same or very similar. To use the more recent versions of Power Query, Power Pivot and Power View, you’ll need Office 2013 ProPlus and you should be using the 64 bit flavor rather than 32 bit. This is also a bit of a hang-up in big companies who don’t upgrade software very quickly. I’ve found that even in big, stodging businesses, getting the right version of Office installed isn’t impossible if you can make a case for the business value it brings. If compatibility with old Excel add-ins is a concern, you can use a virtual machine or install new Office on a second computer.
Once you’re using Excel 2013 to author models and reports, you have a few options to share Power Pivot data models, Power View reports and Excel reports with other team members:1. Excel, Power Pivot and Power View integrate with SharePoint 2013 Enterprise edition. This isn’t cheap or real easy to setup but it will allow many users to share and manage content. The latest Power BI cloud features won’t always be supported but we can likely expect occasional updates.
2. Just stick the Excel file on a shared folder so others running the right Excel version can open and view it. This isn’t exactly a collaborative solution but will work with a small group and zero additional effort.
3. Suck it up and use the cloud. This is where everything is going. Microsoft’s directive for all their products is “cloud-first, mobile-first” and most of their competitors are now doing the same – including the major BI vendors. For most companies, adopting the cloud isn’t really a security or regulatory problem so much but it requires a shift in business culture and accepting new options and different challenges.
4. Wait for the on-prem version. Microsoft has promised that most new capabilities introduced in the cloud will eventually make it into installed editions of their software. We probably won’t see on-prem parity with Power BI real soon but individual features will most likely be migrated when they can.
What is the real cost of Power BI? When Microsoft says Power BI is “free”, they mean it – really. According to the pricing information here, at no cost, users can manage 1 GB of compressed data. That’s actually a lot. There are other factors and limitations that won’t affect casual data analysts with moderate needs. Having a development and demo sandbox with no expiration date is pretty cool. For about $10/month, users can collaborate with team members, manage and integrate larger sets of data. That’s pretty cheap.
Can we integrate Power BI with on-prem data and IT systems? Yes. The Power BI REST API lets you programmatically push data into a published model at-will rather than scheduling data refresh or requiring users to do it manually.
The SSAS connector allows report and dashboard visuals to query an on-premises instance of SSAS Tabular rather than pushing the model into the cloud.
The Data Management Gateway allows a data model to refresh data from your on-premises SQL Server databases at scheduled intervals.
Data models can be scheduled to refresh once-per-day for users with the free Power BI subscription and up to once-per-hour with the Pro ($10) subscription.
How does Power BI measure up to competing services like Tabeau and Qlik?
In my opinion, Microsoft is the underdog with the best integration story but they have lost ground to make up. The article from Martin Heller below is a great comparison of features & capabilities. In the past few years, Microsoft has taken it’s BI and reporting platform in all kinds of crazy, confusing directions and have created several interesting but disconnected products. Under new leadership and vision, they’re moving quickly toward a new goal and I’m encouraged by what I see. Power BI development is moving faster than other products at Microsoft can keep-up with (part of the reason they disconnected Power BI from Excel). We’re seeing features added to Power BI just about every month.
As a rule, don’t ever bet on what might be but do pay attention to how quickly Power BI has progressed in the past few months – and what they’re likely accomplish in the near-term future with this product.
How can I see what features are coming, what others are asking for and how can I voice my opinion about new Power BI features?
A new Power BI Community site is managed and monitored by the Power BI leadership and development team. Check out http://community.powerbi.com/
Here are a few good articles & posts related to the new Power BI offering:
I’m pleased to share the first two articles in a series for SQL Server Pro Magazine. Here’s a short excerpt from each with a link to the full article:
Getting Started with Datazen, Microsoft’s New Mobile Dashboard Platform (Part 1)
Microsoft Datazen is a new tool from Microsoft built on a mature and time-tested foundation of enterprise services and visualization components from Component Art. Interactive, touch-friendly, analytic dashboards created by data professionals are available to users on desktops and practically all modern mobile device platforms.
Getting Started with Datazen
The story you are about to read is going to sound too good to be true but it is true and it’s awesome.
About two years ago, I was helping a big consulting client evaluate mobile BI dashboard options for their Microsoft BI solution. A friend on the BI platform team at Microsoft asked for my thoughts about a new mobile dashboard tool called Datazen. My initial impression was that the product needed to mature to meet my client’s needs but the interactivity and visual experience was stunning. Half joking (in a Freudian sort of way), I told him that Microsoft should buy the company and finish integrating it with their BI platform. Imagine my delight when I learned last month that it actually happened.
Last month Microsoft announced that they had acquired the DataZen mobile BI platform and were adding it to their enterprise BI product suite. This is very exciting news that rounds out the Microsoft BI capabilities of their entire product portfolio. What’s more, is that they plan to make if free for SQL Server Enterprise customers who have Software Assurance agreements.
I presented a session at the PASS Global Summit in 2013 showcasing DataZen called “New York, London, Paris Munich; Everybody’s Talking About Mobile BI”. A product team leader in the Microsoft BI Visualization team had introduced me to DataZen and recommended I take a look. This led me to recommend that we evaluate the product for one of our enterprise BI clients and to talk about my experience in the conference session. My response to the Microsoft team was to recommend that they acquire DataZen. Whether I actually had anything to do with this product acquisition or not, it does give me a sense of satisfaction to know that it is now part of the Microsoft family.
So, what, exactly is DataZen and what are its capabilities and challenges? Continue reading →
I’ve just finished a series of four articles for SQL Server Pro Magazine, along with sample projects and hands-on exercises. The series will take you through SSAS Tabular model design from start to finish, using the Adventure Works sample data in SQL Server 2012 or 2014. Here are links to all four articles followed by an excerpt from each.
Starting Your Modeling Career with Analysis Services Tabular Models Part 1
This is the first of a four-part series about getting started with Tabular model design using SQL Server Analysis Services in SQL Server 2012 and 2014. You will learn the basics from start to finish and build a complete solution. A sample project is provided for for each stage of the solution so you can follow-along with each article. Continue reading →
It was a great honor to be asked to join my associates from SolidQ at the Microsoft Virtual Academy Studios in Redmond and talk about how to upgrade to SQL Server 2012 and 2014. These recordings, which are also on my YouTube Channel, include the material I covered in these sessions. The entire series of studio presentations are hosted on Channel 9 and here at the MVA with accompanying assessment surveys and resources.
In these studio sessions, I am joined by my fellow authors of the 429 page SQL Server 2014 Upgrade Technical Guide; Richard Waymire, Ron Talmage and Jim Miller from SolidQ. Jim and I were responsible for the Business Intelligence content. In our sessions Jim covered SSIS and SSAS Multidimensional, and I covered SSAS Tabular, BI tools and SSRS. In this edited portion of the SSAS session, Jim begins with a brief summary of multidimensional upgrade options and I continue to discuss opportunities to implement SSAS Tabular solutions. BI topics apply equally to SQL Server 2012 and 2014 upgrades. Continue reading →
There have been a lot of changes in and around Microsoft in the past few months. Under the leadership of Satya Nadella, the push toward “cloud first” and “mobile first” services, things are stirred-up a bit right now. I have to admit that having worked with consulting clients who can’t, aren’t ready or just don’t want to move to the cloud; I’ve gotten a little caught up asking why it’s all necessary. The short answer is that cloud services are a reality. Just about everyone does business on the Internet in some way and, for technology product and service providers like Microsoft, it’s faster and more efficient to deliver to the cloud before shrink-wrapping boxes of software to be installed on traditional servers and desktop computers.
Microsoft just released their public Cloud Platform roadmap to tell the world where a lot of things stand, where they’re going and what they’re thinking. The cloud discussion is a complicated one for a lot of folks. Depending on the business need and scenario, moving certain services to the cloud could make a lot, a little or no sense at all. Fact of the matter is that Microsoft is offering new stuff in the cloud first and angry peasants with torches and pitchforks won’t change that. I’ve attended a few insider meetings where bits of this and related roadmaps were presented in certain specialty areas. My general sense is that when there are big changes made, there is natural resistance, they will followed by adjustments to fill gaps and complete the story. Mistakes will be made and perhaps corrected but awesome new capabilities will also surface that will radically alter and maybe improve the way we do certain things. I think the new Power BI offering is an excellent example.
In jest (maybe…a little); If you wanted to settle-down and be comfortable, why are you working in Information Technology? Just some thoughts based on my observation.