Screenshot showing chart editing in SSRS Report Builder

5 Reasons why PowerView can’t replace Reporting Services

The other week I wrote a post discussing how PowerView was the future of SQL Server Reporting Services, and the killer features that made it a compelling choice.  Despite the numerous positive advances that PowerView brings to Microsoft/SQL-based reporting, there are of course a number of counter arguments.  I deliberately left these out in order to look at some of these reasons in a later post.

As such, here are five reasons why PowerView, despite all its pizzazz, is simply not capable (in its current form) of replacing the venerable SSRS.

1 – Customisation

Screenshot showing chart editing in SSRS Report Builder

SSRS allows you to easily customise controls via a multitude of properties – like adding secondary axes, trend lines and scale breaks to charts

One of the major shortcomings of PowerView’s current implementation is its lack of customisation options.  Compared with vanilla SSRS, where you can tweak just about every single property of a control, the options in PowerView are extremely limited.

Take the charting component, for example.  In PowerView, you have a choice between 4 types of chart: Pie, Line, Scatter or Bar/Column (I’m not going to even entertain these as different types).  You can assign your axes and values, and choose a colour scheme for your view…and that’s it.  No secondary axes, scale breaks, major/minor tick marks, and so on.

SSRS is extremely powerful, and all the properties in standard SSRS objects are still there in the underlying RDL file (check out Dan English’s blog for a rundown of what makes a PowerView RDLX file), they’ve just been disabled.  It’s possible there might be more control in a future version of PowerView if Microsoft choose to expose more options, but for the time being, if you want customisation, you’re better off sticking with vanilla SSRS.

2 – Silverlight

Browser plugins are a pain in the ass.  One of the best things about the rise of complex JavaScript libraries and JS-based RIA’s is the fact that you don’t need to download annoying plugins and updates.  Thankfully, they’re on the decline as more and more companies move towards rich client-based frameworks rather than fiddly plugins.  Microsoft’s Silverlight is a nice enough attempt at getting in on the Flash market, and as plugins go, it’s miles away from being the worst offender – looking at you here Java, you bloated, offensive, security nightmare.

But it’s much easier when you don’t have to install anything extra to view your reports.

3 – SharePoint

Ahhh, SharePoint.  And not just SharePoint, but SharePoint Enterprise.  It’s like Microsoft’s own, personal licence to print money.  Yes, with Excel 2013 you can share Excel workbooks, but it’s a long way from being a portable, easily accessible solution.

SharePoint Enterprise is like Microsoft’s own, personal licence to print money.

Vanilla SSRS supports either SharePoint integration or a native mode Reporting Services server, which includes all the necessary components for deploying, managing, scheduling (more on that in a minute) and running reports.  It’s also much cheaper than forking out for a SharePoint Enterprise licence, requiring only the free SQL Server Express Edition to run an SSRS native mode server (at least in its most basic form).

Unfortunately, it’s currently SharePoint Enterprise only for PowerView, something that is sure to be a blocker to many SME’s in adopting PowerView in any serious manner.  Microsoft seem set on pushing SharePoint as an important part of their BI platform, but they really need to consider how to help people share the great things they create with the tools on offer.

4 – Automation

As I mentioned above, one of the great things about SSRS is its support for automation of report execution and delivery.  A lot of businesses rely heavily on the ability to create dynamic data-driven subscriptions and deliver reports directly to client and executive inboxes at critical times.

Screenshot illustrating the creation of a scheduled SSRS report

SSRS reports can be scheduled for regular, automatic delivery via the web interface, delivering business-critical information automatically.

With PowerView not currently having any means of scheduling or automatic report delivery, there’s a large gap here that quite simply requires SSRS.  Even if Microsoft were looking to replace vanilla SSRS with PowerView, there’s a huge infrastructure shortfall that needs addressed.  Report automation and delivery is an absolutely critical business requirement, and one that PowerView and its supporting cast is simply not equipped to handle.  It’s great for the power users and self-service BI platform, but there’s still a massive need for the business support that SSRS can provide.

5 – Extensibility

Finally, one of the greatest, and most overlooked capabilities of vanilla SSRS is its sheer flexibility.  Even if you’re totally stuck on a report and can’t figure out a way to achieve your goal, you can always extend it by using some custom code.  Simple functions can be embedded within the report itself, while entire client libraries can be deployed directly to the report server, offering a huge array of features to even the simplest report.  I’ve used custom libraries to support complex string formatting and currency conversion, customisable column naming, and many other features.

You can add JS or .NET code to SSRS…really the only limit is your imagination.

Also, with SSRS offering a native web-based UI, there are loads of other options for extending the basic functionality and adding an extra layer of style to the rather static underlying controls.  In fact, Links has an excellent post on his blog showing how to extend SSRS charts with the excellent Highcharts JavaScript library, which turns the default static charts into interactive, engaging JS based controls.

But of course, if you can add JS or .NET code to SSRS, then really the only limit is your imagination.  There are so many possibilities.  PowerView doesn’t support any custom code in its current state, and it’s a huge limitation of the current component.

Conclusion

PowerView’s first iteration and a half (It’s a stretch to call the version in Excel 2013 2.0) have delivered a solid foundation and a great tool for power users, executives and prototyping.  As a self-service component, it’s simple, quick, and graphically very impressive.

But beneath all the fanfare, there’s a worrying lack of depth.  SSRS is a complex, flexible and scalable platform that offers something for every business, from the home-run self-employed effort, to multi-national, blue-chip corporations.  Its innate flexibility allows heavy customisation straight out the box, and the infrastructure behind it supports business processes and software.

A lot of people are worried about Microsoft’s future plans for corporate-level BI, and a lot of their focus over the past year or so has been placed in the self-service side of things.  As such, there’s not been much movement on new features for the corporate crowd.  While it’s great to bring BI tools to the masses, it’s important that the business users aren’t forgotten in the long run, as there’s definitely a need for multi-tiered BI in any organisation.  Here’s hoping that SQL Server 2014 and beyond bring some new developments to keep both sides, and those of us who see the value in both approaches, happy.

Business Intelligence and so-called "Big Data" Architect at Indicia. Primarily working with the Microsoft BI stack and Hortonworks Data Platform, but love to expand my horizons with different tech. Football daft, and also an NFL fan. Partial to a spot of golf and Xbox, too.

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10 comments

  1. Pingback: 當下,Reporting Services 和 Power View 是兩個產品,沒有取代的意義 « 偶有所得

    • Some great points made in the linking article (assuming Google Translate has worked properly!), and I definitely agree to an extent. I’m certainly not suggesting that PowerView is a replacement for SSRS (at least not yet).

      A lot of people around the web are worried that it is a replacement, or that Microsoft are abandoning corporate BI solutions to focus on the self-service crowd. The purpose of my two “PowerView vs SSRS” posts is to look at the two products and examine the strengths and weaknesses of them side-by-side. There are elements of each that could benefit the other, either as standalone products, or if Microsoft does choose to unify them down the line. I’d certainly like to see the interactivity of PowerView in SSRS, or some of the customisation of SSRS in PowerView. There are a lot of similarities between the two products that, in my view anyway, warranted a side-by-side comparison to show where they differ from one another.

      Wouldn’t it be great though, if we didn’t have to have separate tools for the corporate and self-service BI people? If we could create a single type of report either in a quick, drag-and-drop WYSIWYG style (for self-service users) or in a controlled, team-based environment like Visual Studio? Given that the underlying structure is the same (the RDL file), is it really that much of a stretch to think that we might see more integration in future?

  2. Nero

    good post. very important comparisons. Any idea how/when we can deploy static/canned report with PowerView so that end users can’t change the filters?

    • Hi Nero, thanks for your comment. That’s a really good question about “freezing” your Power View report parameters. I’ve achieved this in the past by using the Power View embedded within another web page (i.e. using an iframe). Assuming that your Power View is hosted in SharePoint, you can grab the URL to this pretty easily. What you may notice, is that the URL has a load of query string parameters, very similar to what SSRS uses. By modifying these parameters, you can remove the filter pane so that uses can’t access the filters to change them.

      Obviously it’s not foolproof, and I don’t currently have a solution for achieving a similar result for Power Views that are embedded within Excel. I’ll look at writing up a new post outlining how to achieve this embedded effect at a later date. In the meantime, good luck, and I hope this helps!

  3. Pingback: Top Reasons to Choose SQL Server Reporting services (Part-1)SQL Reports

  4. The major issue for in my point of view of PV vs RS (a far as i know RS…) is that with RS you can do only undergraduate analysis. But with PV used with Excel function in the behind you can do PhD level dahsboards (fianncial forecasting techniques using ARIMA and GARCH models) and Six Sigma SPC analysis. This is why I think that managers will be much more interested to PV than to RS in the future.

    • Hi Vincent, thanks for taking the time to read and comment.

      Actually, you can pretty much do anything you want with SSRS and can perform a range of analysis from simple aggregation, all the way to complex mathematical or scientific models. Because SSRS supports a massive range of data sources: SQL, SSAS (Multi-dimensional and Tabular), ODBC (allowing Excel connectivity), Teradata, XML (allowing almost anything you can think of, including web endpoints using SOAP), and others; you can actually perform complex modelling at your data layer, and then use SSRS to visualise whatever that data may be.

      SSRS in fact, allows for much more complex visualisation techniques than are currently possible in Power View, which is restricted to simple tables, maps and charts. With SSRS, you have a hugely flexible expression language, backed up by the ability to extend reports with managed code (in-report VB or external DLL) or even with JavasScript (http://thinknook.com/running-highcharts-within-ssrs-or-any-js-graph-library-2013-01-22/).

      When you look at PV and RS as just the visualisation layer on top of your data model, you can compare the two on the strength of their presentation capabilities alone.

  5. Pingback: SQL Server Business Intelligence features creating reports based on OLAP cubes - SQL Shack

  6. I’ve recently heard that SSRS will be integrated in Power BI this summer (2014). So Power View will NOT be a replacement for SSRS but both a part of Power BI. A user can simply choose what part of Power BI he needs to get the job done. Oh and finally a new visualisation will be added to Power View this summer to: Treemaps!

    Can’t wait untill more and more visualisations are added because I work a lot with Tableau so you can understand that Power View is by far not a ready to market mature product.

    • Hi Richard, thanks for posting.

      That’s good to hear, and in my opinion solves one of the big issues with Power BI at the moment – its capability of satisfying enterprise reporting needs. Treemaps would be absolutely awesome, too. Totally agree with you in terms of directly comparing Power View to Tableau, although as a quick prototyping and visualisation tool, I find Power View to be excellent. It’s just a case of being aware of its limitations and not expecting it to do what Tableau can do.

      I look forward to the release of the new updates for Power BI/Power View! Do you have a link to some more information, or was this from some industry chatter?

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