Happy Independence Day America and 10 Years Packt Publishing!

4 07 2014

capitol-fireworks01

 

 

If you are in the USA, I hope you take some time today to enjoy your family and friends and see some fireworks.

 

Packt Publishing Celebrates 10 Years – $10 eBooks and Videos

This month marks 10 years since Packt Publishing embarked on its mission to deliver effective learning and information services to IT professionals. In that time it’s published over 2000 titles and helped projects become household names, awarding over $400,000 through its Open Source Project Royalty Scheme.

To celebrate this huge milestone, from June 26th Packt is offering all of its eBooks and Videos at just $10 each for 10 days – this promotion covers every title and customers can stock up on as many copies as they like until July 5th.

10 days 10 years - Home Banner

Why not grab the book I coauthored?

9809EN%20Cookbook





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.

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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.

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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.




Oracle Tips for MSBI Devs #6: Supporting SSAS Tabular Development

14 04 2014

As SQL Server Analysis Services Tabular Models become more popular, models will use Oracle databases as sources. One of the key issues whenever you work with Oracle is understanding how to properly configure the necessary components to enable development.

Getting Started

If you have worked with Oracle before, you are very aware of a few things you need to be successful. First, you need to install the Oracle client. Here is where the details get messy. When you are working with MSBI tools, you will be using SQL Server Data Tools in Visual Studio which is still only 32 bit. Of the BI tools in SSDT, only SSIS has run modes to support 32 bit and 64 bit configurations. As a result, you need to install the 32 bit Oracle client in order to develop your tabular model.

Once that has been installed you will need to update the TNSNAMES.ORA file with the servers you will be targeting during development. Ideally, your Oracle DBAs have a file for you to use so you don’t need to create one. One nice thing is that the Oracle 12c client updates the PATH environment variable with the location of the bin folder. (Yes, Oracle still uses environment variables.) I would also recommend adding or using the TNS_ADMIN variable to specify the location of the TNSNAMES.ORA file. (See http://www.orafaq.com/wiki/TNS_ADMIN for details.)

NOTE: It took me many hours to work through a variety of configuration issues related to working with the Oracle client install. A couple of reinstalls, reboots, TNSNames.ORA tweaks, and lots of fruitless searching were all required to get this working. Be warned, working with Oracle clients are neither fun nor simple.

The Issue

Now that you have the 32 bit client installed you can connect to the Oracle database through the tabular model designer. As shown below, you can connect to Oracle through the Table Import Wizard.

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You will be able to successfully test the connection as noted here.

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And you will be able to execute a query and get results. You can also use the option to select tables and views.

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However, once you decide to import the data you will encounter the following error:

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The issue is that while you can do most of your work within Visual Studio using the 32 bit client, the import process targets the SQL Server tabular instance you specified when you created the project. While the 32 bit version of SQL Server is still available, most of us would not install that, even in our development environments. If you do not encounter this error, you are either using the 32 bit client of SQL Server or you have the 64 bit Oracle client installed (more on that next). As long as Visual Studio is only 32 bit compliant and you choose to use the 64 version of SQL Server you will see this issue.

The Resolution

The resolution is fairly simple. You need to download and install the 64 bit Oracle client. I would recommend that you get it installed, then reboot your development PC. While this may not be required, it seems to have helped me with a number of connectivity issues. You will need to be prepared for some “interesting” issues as you will have more than one Oracle home installed and you have the potential of many types of ORA-XXXXX errors. Once you are up and running you should be able to develop tabular models built on Oracle databases.

Some Parting Thoughts

First, I want to be clear that I think that Oracle is a solid database platform. However, I have never been at a client site or on a project where the connectivity or client installs were totally correct or functional without some work between the Oracle team and the BI development team. I think that the .NET driver is supposed to better and I may try that out for a later post (when I have the hours to spare).

I did the testing for this completely on Azure (and my Surface). I set up an Oracle VM and a SQL Server VM on Azure. The Microsoft team put together a great reference on setting up your Oracle VM. Check it out. I also did a previous post on setting up Oracle in an Azure VM. Both VM types can be pricey, but in a testing environment all was not too bad. I encourage you to use Azure to for these types of scenarios. But be sure to turn it off when you are done.





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.





Exploring Excel 2013 for BI Tip #9: Adding Calculated Members

25 06 2013

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!

Adding Calculated Members to the Excel 2013 Workbook

In my last tip (#8), I discussed using calculated measures.  In this tip, I will talk about creating a calculated member.  The primary difference is that a member becomes a part of a dimension and can be used as a filter, column header, row header, or even a slicer.

In my simple example, I want to created an aggregated set of categories used in my polls called “Cool Cats” which contained the Fun, Entertainment, and Sports categories and puts my new member in the Poll Category attribute hierarchy.  I will use this to see how many submissions there were in these categories.

As before, you can create and manage calculated members from the ANALYZE tab in the PIVOTTABLE TOOLS ribbon.  Use the OLAP Tools menu and select the MDX Calculated Member option.  If you have already created the member, use the Manage Calculations option to edit existing members and measures.

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The New Calculated Member dialog is different from the dialog used to edit the member.  Let’s start with the create dialog as noted below.

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(1) Assign your measure a name.  It will have to be unique in the context of the the Parent Hierarchy.

(2) Assign the Parent Hierarchy and Parent Member.  This establishes where you plan to locate the new member.  As you can see you can choose any hierarchy you use in your cube.  The Parent Member property lets you choose that first level within the hierarchy.  In my case, I am choosing the Poll Category attribute hierarchy and the All member as the parent.

(3) Create your member with MDX.  Because you are creating a member, it is important that your MDX resolves to a member.  As a side note I used a set initially which passed the Test MDX operation, but displayed as #VALUE in Excel.

(4) Test MDX will allow you verify you have no syntax errors in your member creation.  However, as I noted in step 3 it is not flawless, so you may still have issues even though it is valid syntax.

A couple of important concepts. In my situation, the Cool Cats member stopped at the top level.  If I put this in the Category hierarchy which has multiple levels, Cool Cats would have no children as it is a stand alone member.  However, when applied at a filter level it will filter results properly. The image below shows the filter in use.

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Now when I pull the Poll Category hierarchy into the pivot table you will see that Cool Cats is a peer member and has the valid value.  By default Excel will not calculate the Grand Total with those members twice.

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You will need to be prepared to properly call this out for your users so the understand how calculated members operate in this scenario.

A common use case for creating calculated members is to create date members that aren’t easily created or tested.  This will allow you to work out the member and how it affects the user experience.





Exploring Excel 2013 for BI Tip #8: Adding Calculated Measures

20 06 2013

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!

Adding Calculated Measures to the Excel 2013 Workbook

If you have worked with SQL Server Analysis Services in the past you already know what calculated measures are.  More importantly, you know how to update the MDXScript without requiring a cube refresh.  (If you are unaware of this, check out the BIDS Helper project on CodePlex.)

A calculated measure uses existing measures and MDX to provide additional, shared calculations in a cube.  However, there are many times that the ability to create a calculated measure in Excel would be great.  In Excel 2013, this is now possible.

Once you have connected to a cube using a pivot table, you can add calculated measures using the OLAP Tools menu on the ANALYZE tab.

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When you select the MDX Calculated Measure item, it will open an MDX dialog designer in which you can create a measure.  (MDX Calculated Members are will be in the next tip.)

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Before we create our measure, let’s talk about the ancillary parts such as the name, folder and measure group.  You will want to give your measure a name.  It needs to be unique within the work you are doing and unique from other measures in the cube or you will get an error.

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The folder and measure group are really optional.  It really depends on how you want display the new measures in the Excel Fields window.  I would recommend that folders are used when large volumes of measures are being used.  It is a great way to organize the measures into consumable, related groups for your users.

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When you designate the measure group, the measure and folder will be put in the same group as the measure group.  This is appropriate when the measure is related exclusively to the measure group, conceptually if not technically. I usually will only do this if all of the measures come from the same measure group (technically related) or if the user understands that the measure “should” be a part of the measure group even if it is dependent on measures outside of the current measure group (conceptually).

Next, you create the measure.  The Fields and Items tab contains the measures and dimensions available while the Functions tab has the MDX functions you can use.  Use the Test MDX button to verify syntax prior to saving the measure.

The really nice part is that this measure is now contained within the workbook.  It does not get published back to the server.  However, if the measure becomes popular, you can use the MDX from this measure to create a new measure on the server.  It will be business verified before being published.  By using Excel to create calculated measures, you also prevent a glut of single use measures from being created on the server.

Finally, to manage created measures, use the Manage Calculations option on the OLAP Tools menu.  It will open a dialog with all of the calculated measures and calculated members created with this data connection in the workbook.  In my scenario, I used the MyVote Cube connection to create the measure.  Basically, the pivot table is associated with a connection and that is the defacto filter for this list.

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Use Excel to test MDX simply.  This will allow you to create measures, verify data, then deploy working code.  It is a great addition to the product.

Next up… Calculated Members.








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