Exploring Excel 2013 for BI Tip #16: Exposing “Values” from a Tabular Model

19 06 2014

As I mentioned in my original post, Exploring Excel 2013 as Microsoft’s BI Client, I will be posting tips regularly about using Excel 2013.  Much of the content will be a result of my daily interactions with business users and other BI devs.  In order to not forget what I learn or discover, I write it down … here.  I hope you too will discover something new you can use.  Enjoy!

From Power Pivot to SSAS Tabular

As companies move through the cycle of building Excel based solutions for business intelligence and analytics, they eventually end up with a SQL Server Analysis Services Tabular Model. The tabular model comes into play when you need more data in your model or want to support more granular security.

Up to this point, users have been happily using Power Pivot models in Excel to build their analysis solutions. However, once the model is deployed to tabular some functionality or interaction with the model changes in significant ways.

To summarize this point, power users or data modelers will create Power Pivot models in Excel. These models may or may not be deployed SharePoint, but they need to take them to the next level. You can migrate a Power Pivot model to tabular with ease by using the import option in SQL Server Data Tools.

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Interacting with Power Pivot

I started by creating a simple Power Pivot model using Adventure Works DW data based on the Internet Sales fact table. I am using seven tables in my model as shown here.

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I am not going to add any calculated measures to the model because Power Pivot allows me to use the data as it sets. Next we create a pivot table based on this model. I dropped the Fiscal Year onto rows and added OrderQuantity and ExtendedAmount to the values region. When OrderQuantity and ExtendedAmount are added to the pivot table, Excel defaults to a sum calculation when working with the data. Basically Excel creates the calculation for you based on what it knows about the data.

The point here is that I have data that can be used as values without doing any additional work with the model. I saved the workbook, closed Excel and moved on to the next step.

Interacting with Tabular

First we need to convert the Power Pivot model to a tabular model. Which is done by importing the model we just saved in SQL Server Data Tools. Once we have the project open, we need to deploy the model to a SSAS tabular instance so we can connect to it with Excel.

image

Now that it has been deployed to SSAS we can reopen our workbook and add a connection to the tabular model. In the field list we notice three differences now that the model is tabular.

1. The SUM symbol (sigma) is used to highlight values or measures that can be calculated.

2. The values we created in the Power Pivot model show up here.

3. In the Values section, “_No measures defined” is shown.

image

When working with multidimensional models, the Values section are represented the same. That makes sense as the connection that Excel is using is based on MDX not DAX. This significantly changes the user experience.

Let’s add a new measure to our Power Pivot model and try to do the same in the tabular model. We can still drop the DiscountAmount into the values section in our pivot table based on Power Pivot. However, when we try to do the same on tabular we get an error saying that we cannot add it to that area of the report.

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In order for us to use DiscountAmount as a measure we will need to create an OLAP measure (See Excel Tip #8 for details) to use it in this Excel workbook or we will need to add it as a calculated measure in tabular and redeploy for it to be available.

What’s Happening

Because Excel treats a tabular model the same as a multidimensional model in SSAS you will need to add calculated measures for all measures you want to use as values in pivot tables in Excel. Multidimensional models are highly structured using the dimension and measure group techniques. While tabular “feels” like Power Pivot, to be used by Excel it needs to appear structured like multidimensional cubes.

Making this more interesting is that Excel uses MDX to communicate with tabular models, not DAX. As a result, we are able to use the OLAP tools in the PivotTable Tools ribbon.

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This option is not available when working with Power Pivot models in Excel.

Impact to Users

Overall the impact to users, in particular power users and report builders, is that they have less “freedom” to design when using a tabular model. If they want to add more calculations, they need to be familiar with MDX. Furthermore, if they want the calculations to be generally available they need to work with IT to deploy updated models.

Hopefully we will see DAX supported interaction with SSAS in the future, but for the moment you need to understand how tabular and Power Pivot differ when using pivot tables in Excel.





Techfuse, a New Laptop, and How Microsoft Azure Helped Save the Day

24 04 2014

On Tuesday, April 22, I had the opportunity to speak at the Techfuse conference in Minneapolis. I was presenting a session on the differences between tabular and multidimensional models with a focus on the developer’s experience. My deck has tenTechFuse_logo  slides including title, references, and bio. The rest of the time is spent in Visual Studio building out equivalent models in using SSAS Tabular and SSAS Multidimensional.

The previous week, I was issued a new laptop from my company, a Dell 7440. This is a very nice machine and I had it all set for the presentation. About 11 AM (I was scheduled to speak at 1:15 PM) it occurred to me that I did not recall seeing a VGA port only HDMI. Next question, did the projectors at the convention center support HDMI? Answer, No. Now I had about an hour and a half to resolve this issue. Simple, I decided to head downtown and get the convertor from Office Depot. This was about 8 blocks away. I could do that and get some exercise in.

I took off at about 11:30. First, I stopped at Target, it was closer. No luck. So on to Office Depot. Keep in mind that Office Depot sells laptops like mine with only HDMI support and it stands to reason that they would have the converter. No such luck. I was able to get the HDMI converted to DVI, but that would not help as I later found out. They directed me to Radio Shack where I promptly picked up a DVI – VGA converter. Now I have three pieces that when strung together should support my needs. I headed back to the convention center and arrived with 30 minutes to spare. Working with the AV guy, we got it all plugged in only to still have it not work. Turns out you need a convertor to convert the digital signal to analog for use in the older projectors. Now what?

The moderator for my room offered me her laptop to use for the presentation. Which was AWESOME! So now I have a way to give the presentation, all ten slides. However, she did not have Visual Studio with SSDT for BI and SQL Server installed. Which was fine, because I didn’t expect her to.

Here is where Azure comes in. I had created a VM with SQL Server Tabular installed along with Visual Studio 2012 and the SQL Server Data Tools for BI. So, I firedth9CGBMYN6 up the VM right before I gave the presentation. I warned the crowd about what had happened and decided to push the demos to the end of the presentation so everyone could leave if nothing worked and all the material could be covered.

I was able to get into the VM, fire up Visual Studio. Since the demo was a live build of a tabular model and multidimensional model, I used a database I had created in SQL Azure as the data source and we built it the models live. Granted we were not able to do a complete multidimensional model because the database was not formatted as star schema, but it helped highlight the difference between what needs to be done prior to development. Overall it went very well (I think, surveys are forthcoming…). At the end of the day, without the work I had been doing in Azure I would not have been able to demo and it would have been a very short presentation.

Some lessons learned -

  • Be sure to have what you need to support presenting in a variety of scenarios. I should have made sure to have a converter prior to the conference as most convention centers and other facilities haven’t upgraded their projectors yet.
  • I will likely set up Azure VMs to support more demos. Just in case. It is always good to have a backup plan though a wireless connection would have painful to do that on.
  • Roll with it. Don’t give up, try to make the best of a bad situation. People understand things don’t always go perfectly. At the end of the day, I came to talk about multidimensional and tabular model development. I could have opened the floor up for discussion and did Q&A. Make the most of every situation.




Setting Up Tabular Models on Windows Azure

12 03 2014

In my last post, I discussed how to set up Oracle in Windows Azure. During a customer call, there were questions about using SQL Server Analysis Services (SSAS) tabular models with Azure. This post will walk through setting up an Azure VM and deploy a tabular model to that VM.

If you do not have an Windows Azure account you can use a trial account with your Microsoft or Live account. Check out http://www.windowsazure.com for details on how to “try it free.”

Setting Up the VM in Azure

From the Management Portal on your Azure account, select Virtual Machines from the left then Add at the bottom. On the next screen, choose to create your VM from the gallery. You should see the Choose an Image option as seen below. As you can see, I have the SQL Server 2012 SP1 Enterprise image highlighted. You will need to use the Enterprise license as Tabular does not run on Standard. In this case, the Data Warehousing image is NOT the Business Intelligence Edition of SQL Server.

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You can also choose to create a “blank” VM and load up SQL Server on your own. I chose to use the image to speed up the process – which it did substantially.

After selecting the image, the next few steps guide you through setting up the VM. For the most part, the defaults will work fine. Be aware that once this is turned on, you will be charged for it running. It is up to you to make sure you understand the costs, even if you are using the free trial.

During the setup steps, you will create the VM and its related cloud service. Remember that the account is your admin account for the VM and you will need those credentials to Remote Desktop into the VM. On the last, setup page is the Endpoints. Leave the defaults, we will add an endpoint for our tabular model later.

At this point, it will take a few minutes to set up your new VM. Once it is setup, open a Remote Desktop session into it. If you look at services or at the SQL Configuration console you will notice that everything except a tabular instance have been set up for you. As a result, I would not recommend using this gallery image for a production deployment. You should look at creating your own template if you want a more locked down and refined setup.

Setting Up the Tabular Instance in Azure

As noted before, the tabular instance is not set up. The installation media is on the server, so you can run that to install your tabular instance. I won’t walk through the install process, but this was great to find because that meant I did not have to copy media to my VM.

Making the Tabular Instance Available

This section covers the tedious tasks required to make your tabular instance available for querying outside of the VM. There are three basic steps to getting your instance “online”: setting the port number in SSAS, updating the firewall, and adding endpoints. I will walk you through the steps I used to get this done followed by some references that helped me get here.

Setting the Port Number in SSAS

By default, SSAS, both multidimensional and tabular instances, use dynamic ports. In order, to allow connections through the firewall and endpoints, the port number needs to be fixed. I used guidance from TechNet and did the following steps to set the port.

    1. Opened the Task Manager to get the PID for MSOLAP$<<instance name>>.
    2. Ran netstat –ao –p TCP to get a list of ports used by current processes. Once I had identified my port number, I also noted the server IP address which is required in the next step.
    3. I chose to confirm that I had the correct port by connecting to the instance using the IP address and port number.
    4. Next, we have to go old school and modify the msmdsrv.ini file. The typical install path for this file is C:\Program Files\Microsoft SQL Server\<<instance name>>\OLAP\Config\msmdsrv.ini.
    5. Open the file in notepad and find the <Port>0</Port> tag.
    6. Change the port number to the port number that was identified above. (Technically we could have used any open port number. I chose to do this because I was sure the port number was available.)
    7. Save the changes and restart the service.
    8. Once again confirm you can connect to the server with SSMS using the IP address and port number.

Now you have set up the SSAS instance to use a fixed port number.

Updating the Firewall

Now that we have a port number, we can create a firewall rule. We access the firewall rules from the Server Manger. In the Windows Firewall console, we will be creating a new Inbound Rule..

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  1. The rule type is Port
  2. We will apply the rule to TCP and specify the port we defined above.
  3. On the action tab, we selected Allow the Connection. (If you are planning to use this in a production environment, you will need to verify your connection requirements.)
  4. Next, we clear any connection we don’t want to apply.
  5. Finally, I named the rule with a descriptive name.

Now we have the firewall rule in place to allow external connections for the tabular instance.

Adding Endpoints

The final step to making the instance available is to add the endpoints in Azure. In the WIndows Azure portal, we need to go the VMs page again, select our VM, and open the ENDPOINTS tab. From here we create a new endpoint.

  1. We are creating a standalone endpoint.
  2. Next, we select the TCP protocol and add the port number to both the private and public port textboxes.
  3. Finally, we apply the changes.

We are now ready to test connectivity.

References

Setting up VM Endpoints

Configuring Windows Firewall

Configuring Windows Firewall with SSAS

Connecting to the Tabular Instance in Azure

So to verify this works, I wanted to connect to the model with SSMS on my desktop. However, it uses Windows authentication and I am not on the same domain. (My IT staff is likely still laughing about me joining my VM to our domain.)

Thankfully, Greg Galloway (blog) reminded me of how to set up runas to use different credentials to connect to SSAS. Here is the syntax I used to connect to the tabular instance on Azure using a command window:

runas /netonly /user:<<VM name>>\<<username>> “C:\Program Files (x86)\Microsoft SQL Server\110\Tools\Binn\ManagementStudio\Ssms.exe”

This allowed me to open SSMS using those credentials. Next, I used the VM + port to connect. You will see that the Windows credentials in the dialog are not what you entered on the command line. This is expected and the credentials you entered in the command line will be passed through to the VM.

Deploying a Tabular Model to Azure

I attempted three different ways to deploy my model to the Azure VM. Two worked, one did not.

Deploying from Visual Studio on My Desktop

My first attempt was to deploy from Visual Studio on my desktop. I set the deployment properties to point to the Azure instance using the same credentials I had used with SSMS. I also set up a command line execution to use runas like with SSMS.

It appeared I could connect, but I continually got a permissions error which is shown below. After much frustration, I gave up on it and moved to the next options.

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Using XMLA to Deploy

This is the most straightforward way to deploy an SSAS DB on a different server. I used SSMS to generate the Create Database XMLA statement. Because I had not deployed it locally, I needed to modify the XMLA statement to remove the user name and guid from the database name and database ID. (AdvWorksTab1_SteveH_<<Some GUID>>)

In a bit of irony, I can use the SSMS connection from my desktop using the runas to deploy the database to the VM.

The reality is that this is easy and acceptable way to deploy SSAS databases to production environments, in Azure or in your datacenter.

Deploying from Visual Studio on the VM

The final method I used was deploying Visual Studio onto the VM and deploying from there. I used VisualStudio.com (TFS online) to transfer the source code from my desktop to the VM. I had to install the TFS client on the VM, but SSDT with BI tools is already there.

  1. Installed the VS 2010 TFS Client: http://www.microsoft.com/en-us/download/details.aspx?id=329
  2. Then installed Visual Studio SP1  http://social.msdn.microsoft.com/Forums/vstudio/en-US/4e4851dc-eb29-4081-9484-d38a6efa07ee/unable-to-connect-to-tfs-online?forum=TFService
  3. Finally installed VS2010 Team Foundation Server Compatibility GDR (KB2662296) http://www.microsoft.com/en-us/download/details.aspx?id=29082

Now it will connect to TFS Online. I got the latest from my project and pointed the project to my tabular instance.

Be sure to check the impersonation settings.

Next, I deployed the project to the local tabular instance on the VM and it worked great. This might make sense for development, but I would not use this method in a production environment.

Some Closing Thoughts

I was amazed at how simple it was to create the VM and set up tabular in Azure. Knowing what I know now, I would be able to set up a usable instance fairly quickly and deploy a database using XMLA without much effort. That was very nice.

Doesn’t work with Office 365

I started this project to determine the connectivity capability with Office 365. Well, that does not work in my current configuration. I was able to create a workbook on my desktop using my Azure tabular model and Excel. It works just as you would expect. However, when I deployed the workbook to Office 365, data refresh always failed.

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My next thought was to use a data gateway, but those only work with SQL Server Data Engine and Oracle, not SSAS. This is still a significant issue with making Power BI able to fully take advantage of existing BI assets at a company.

Using Azure Active Directory

My next step would be to use Azure Active Directory services to try to get Windows Authentication to work throughout. But that is for a later project and post.





Steps to Preload Data into Tables with SSDT

6 03 2013

I am working as the data architect and developer on a modern appMALL13_Badge_See125x125 build with a the team from Modern Apps Live! in Vegas.  The goal of the project is to provide guidance to build modern applications and use this application as a reference.  While the conference is focused on the why of the build, we have learned some interesting things about how as well.  This is one of those how items.

In this post, I needed to preload some data into the database.  I wanted to include this process in the database project I had created.  However, I quickly found out that this was not a straightforward as I thought it would be.  Here are the steps I followed and any of the gotchas along the way.

1. Create Scripts for the Load Queries.

I started out with scripts that included a DELETE statement followed by an INSERT statement.  However, this created problems when data existed, particularly when the table is a list table used as a foreign key.

Next, I tried MERGE.  This worked great.  This gives me a way to handle new records that are required for the lookup or any changes made to existing data.  Here is the script I used:

merge dbo.MVCategory as target 
using ( 
        select 1, 'Fun' 
        union 
        select 2, 'Technology' 
        union 
        select 3, 'Entertainment' 
        union 
        select 4, 'News' 
        union 
        select 5, 'Sports' 
        union 
        select 6, 'Off-Topic' 
    ) as source (CategoryID, CategoryName) 
    on target.CategoryID = source.CategoryID 
when matched then 
    update set target.CategoryName = source.CategoryName 
when not matched then 
    insert (CategoryID, CategoryName) values (source.CategoryID, source.CategoryName) 
;

After going through this process on my own, I also found the same recommendation from the SSDT team at Microsoft as noted here: http://blogs.msdn.com/b/ssdt/archive/2012/02/02/including-data-in-an-sql-server-database-project.aspx

2. Add the Scripts to Your Project

This step is pretty straight forward.  You can either create the script files and add them to your project or you can create them within your project as script files.

3. Change the Build Action to None

This was one of the key pieces I missed.  After I added the scripts to the project and then ran a build, it was broke the build.  Each of these files which were merge scripts reported an error during the build.  It turns out this is called out in the article I reference above as well.  SSDT (SQL Server Data Tools) is designed to build database objects not manipulate data.  One other area of grief caused by this is that you can break the build in the solution if your project is part of a bigger solution such as mine.  As a result, you will get grief from the other developers, you can trust me on this one.

The image below shows where to set the Build Action property to NONE.  This will exclude these files from the build in this format.

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4. Add a PostDeployment Script to Your Project

If you do not already have a PostDeployment Script, you need to do this at this point.  This is a specific type of script task that can be found in the Add menu.

image

5. Add SQLCMD Statements to the PostDeployment Script

The final part of the process is to add SQLCMD statement to the PostDeployment script to execute the files you have created.  As noted in the help in the template, you can execute the scripts by calling a single SQLCMD statement for each script.

:r .\PreLoadMVCategory.sql

The :r {filename} syntax will expand the script for execution during a publish call or DACPAC creation.

I hope you find this useful as well.  This is a common task required in creating solutions.








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