Microsoft announces Power BI for Office 365

After launching a number of really neat self-service business intelligence plugins and components over the past couple of years, Microsoft has finally announced their complete self-service BI package: Power BI for Office 365.  Incorporating Microsoft’s four big self-service BI components of the past year or so; PowerPivot, PowerView, Data Explorer and GeoFlow, the Power BI suite combines these parts into a single, unified offering.  Most exciting of all though, is the inclusion of a mobile application for either Windows (I’m assuming Win 8) or iPad, which could very well be the secretive “Project Helix”, revealed at last year’s SharePoint Conference. Continue reading “Microsoft announces Power BI for Office 365” »

SQL Server Management Studio standalone download

Screenshot of SSMS 2012 Express in action

SSMS 2012 Express is available as a standalone download

Something I see online all the time, is people trying to find a standalone download for SQL Server Management Studio.  Until recently, it seems, Microsoft certainly didn’t make it easy to just install the client tools without having to install the entire SQL Server database engine as well.  The are plenty of reasons why you might want to install just the client tools and not the database engine on your computer, after all, in this world of self-service business intelligence, it’s no longer just developers and DBAs who are playing with data directly.

Fortunately, with SQL 2012 Express, you have a wide variety of download options, ranging from a standalone version of SSMS Express, to SQL Express (including SSMS), with Reporting Services  and Full Text Search.

Check out http://www.microsoft.com/en-us/download/details.aspx?id=29062 to download SSMS as a standalone component.

GeoFlow brings 3D geographical visualisation to Excel 2013

The other week, Microsoft announced GeoFlow for Excel 2013 at the SQL PASS Business Analytics conference in Chicago.  While it’s not exactly new, it is at least, a pretty impressive looking addition to the data visualisation toolkit.

However, while GeoFlow finally brings 3D geographical visualisation to Microsoft’s self-service BI utility belt (in your face, Batman), it’s hard to make a case for it for any purpose except wowing executives and potential clients.

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Continue reading “GeoFlow brings 3D geographical visualisation to Excel 2013” »

Screenshot of the "Installation Type" page in the SQL Server 2012 SP1 setup wizard

Installing SQL Server Data Tools – Business Intelligence for Visual Studio 2012

As if renaming the accurately titled Business Intelligence Development Studio (BIDS) to the rather ambiguous SQL Server Data Tools (SSDT) wasn’t bad enough, in December, Microsoft’s latest SSDT release only brought half the expected capabilities to Visual Studio 2012.  Yep, the December 2012 SSDT download was missing a key component: the project and item templates for developing MS BI projects in Visual Studio.  Thankfully, the newest release (5th March, 2013) has finally added all of the MS BI templates to SSDT, so you can now develop SSIS packages, SSAS cubes and SSRS reports in the Visual Studio 2012 environment.

Which version?

Unfortunately, they’ve not made the whole process easy.  Searching for “SQL Server Data Tools” will likely lead you to a download which, upon installation, will add connectivity and server management tools to VS 2012 – making it like an up-to-date version of SQL Server Management Studio (SSMS), but without the BI project templates.

The latest release (with the BI templates) is actually called:

Microsoft SQL Server Data Tools – Business Intelligence for Visual Studio 2012

So make sure that if you’re trying to get SSDT for BI development work, that you download the correct version.  Unfortunately, that wasn’t the end of the issues, as I had a bit of trouble with installation that I felt needed sharing.

Installation woes

Begin by downloading the correct installer for the BI enabled version of SSDT from http://www.microsoft.com/en-us/download/details.aspx?id=36843 (782 MB).

Screenshot of the "Installation Type" page in the SQL Server 2012 SP1 setup wizard

Fig. 1: On a 64-bit SQL instance, be sure to select “Perform a new installation of SQL Server 2012”

Once you execute it, the installer will unpack and run the SQL Server 2012 SP1 setup wizard.  Don’t worry about this, remember that SSDT, like BIDS before it, is actually a component of SQL Server based upon the Visual Studio shell, NOT actually an extension to Visual Studio itself.

The trick with the installation is when you reach the Installation Type step (see Fig 1.).

If you’re running an x64-based SQL instance (64-bit), make sure to select “New Instance” on the Installation Type page, and NOT “Add features to an existing instance”.

This is because although the SQL Server instance is 64-bit, the Visual Studio 2012 shell is actually 32-bit.  If you attempt to upgrade a 64-bit instance with a 32-bit component, it fails the Installation Rules checks and won’t allow you to proceed.

Choosing “New Instance” will work but don’t worry, it doesn’t actually require creation of a new SQL instance, it just allows the installer to get past the pre-installation checks.

If you’ve got a 32-bit instance of SQL Server, it doesn’t matter what option you choose here.

Installation complete

Screenshot showing adding a new Business Intelligence project in Visual Studio 2012

The new Business Intelligence Project templates in action

Once the installation has completed (may require a restart), you can open Visual Studio 2012 (or the new SQL Server Data Tools 2012 item on your start menu) and get developing.  Click “New Project” in the File menu and check for the “Business Intelligence” templates to confirm that it’s worked.

I’ve yet to find any real differences between the Visual Studio 2012 based SSDT and the Visual Studio 2010 based version that shipped with SQL Server 2012.  At the moment, the main advantage of using this release seems to be to take advantage of the improved features of Visual Studio 2012 over its 2010 counterpart, rather than any advancements in the Business Intelligence templates/tools themselves.

They might be there, however, I just haven’t come across them yet.  Let me know in the comments below if you’ve spotted any improvements over SSDT 2010 and what they are.

The HDInsight account management page

Hands-on with Hadoop and HDInsight

Hadoop.  Everyone and their dog is talking about it.  That and “Big Data”.  There was an excellent post on Brent Ozar’s DBA Reactions Tumblr blog recently that encapsulated it perfectly, titled “When the executives ask if we’re Hadooping”.  It’s a valid point though, Hadoop is mentioned in just about every article these days, along with the phrase “Big Data” (which I personally don’t like at all).  The consensus, at least on the surface, seems to be that Hadoop will solve everyone’s problems, process anything, oh and bring world peace while it’s doing that.  My sarcastic tone belies a genuine interest in playing about with it though.  With so many people talking about Hadoop (in its many implementations), I was very keen to get an opportunity to try it for myself.

Fortunately, a project came along recently that seemed like it might benefit from a distributed processing approach.  So naturally, being primarily a Microsoft Business Intelligence person, I figured the best place for me to get started was to jump onto Windows Azure and try out HDInsight, Microsoft’s own Hadoop implementation (in conjunction with Hortonworks).

 

Testing HDInsight

Start page for creating a new HDInsight cluster

You can create your cluster in seconds

Getting started with HDInsight is simple.  Incredibly simple.  Just hit up https://www.hadooponazure.com/ and sign-in to get started and request your cluster.  The good news is, it’ll be live in minutes.  the bad is that you can only get 3 nodes to begin with, which severely limits your processing capacity, except for only the simplest jobs.

This led me to actually discount HDInsight as a platform for this project soon after.  Aside from the fact that at the time of writing, it’s still in preview stage (therefore no extra nodes, pricing information or scale-out options obviously available), on the default 3 nodes, we found that the performance was terribly slow, and the management of jobs and file system actually obscured somewhat by the web interface MS have added to try and simplify the experience.  Even as a predominantly .NET/Windows person, I was much more comfortable configuring jobs and manipulating HDFS directly via the command line, rather than via the web interface (That could totally just be me though).  If you use Remote Desktop to connect to your cluster, you can actually just launch the command line from there, and also browse HDFS using the HDFS web interface by connecting to the cluster’s head node.

The HDInsight account management page

You can manage all your jobs from the web interface

The preview nature of the platform was definitely a killer, at least for this project, as we were looking for something we could start with immediately, with the option to quickly boost capacity if necessary.  One of the key selling points for using a distributed architecture has to be the ability to quickly and easily scale out capacity by adding more nodes to the cluster.  Add to that the fact that we found performance to be very slow, and it was clearly not the best option for our purposes (To be completely fair though, my experiences with distributed processing solutions suggest they’re not the best choice for processing extremely large numbers of files, being more suited to handling smaller numbers of extremely large files).

Unfortunately, there’s not a huge amount of documentation available, and that which is available is not complete, so be prepared to roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty.

 

Conclusion

I’m not for a second saying don’t try HDInsight though.  As a project, it’s still in its infancy and perhaps not moving as quickly as some of the others out there.  A Windows-based Hadoop implementation is still a very positive thing however, and while I didn’t really get on with the web UI, I’m sure others will find it fits their needs perfectly.

HDInsight just needs to haul itself up off its hands and knees and take those first couple of tentative steps.

Pros:

  • Easy to get started
  • Windows-based
  • .NET code MapReduce functions
  • Awesome SDK
  • Pretty UI

Cons:

  • Slow, especially on the default 3 nodes
  • UI obscures Hadoop and HDFS functionality
  • Incomplete documentation
  • Still in preview stage

 

I suggest that everyone gives it a go for themselves, as with most things in life (I was going to say in BI, but it’s equally applicable), one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, and depending on the requirements of each individual project, HDInsight may or may not be suitable.  Would I recommend it at the moment, ahead of a Linux-hosted Hadoop implementation?  No, I have to say I probably wouldn’t, but it’s good to see Hadoop hit Windows regardless, and there is definite promise in HDInsight.

It just needs to haul itself up off its hands and knees and take those first couple of tentative steps.