Excel BI Tip #20: Wingdings–an Excel Services Supported Indicator Alternative

10 02 2015

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 and later.  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!

Wingdings? Really? How did we get here?

As you have seen from previous tips, I have been working with customers to build dashboards using Excel 2013 in SharePoint 2013. I am a big fan of conditional formatting. However, one of my customers wanted to use a specific design which used triangles as images on their dashboard to indicate whether the trend was improving or worsening. What you may not know is that drawing shapes and textboxes are among the objects not supported in Excel Services.

Here is what it looks like in Excel:


Here is what it looks like in Excel Services – note the warning bar at the top:


This led me to my first option – use indicators in conditional formatting, it has a similar image.


As you can see it starts out fairly small, not the large shape we want to display. So, we added the indicator into a merged cell and increased the font size. You can see the image is pixelated.


Making matters worse, when you upload it to Excel Services it will not honor the font size.


Winging it with Wingdings

For some reason, yet unknown, it occurred to me to use Wingdings. Wingdings are TrueType fonts which make them “scalable” because you can specify the font size. In this case we are looking for an upward facing triangle and down facing triangle. So the first thing we needed to do was try to find out if those symbols existed. Here is one of the clearest cheatsheets I found for Wingdings font set: http://speakingppt.com/2011/10/31/finally-a-printable-character-map-of-the-wingdings-fonts/. Bruce has created a PowerPoint slide which is easy to follow. Whether you use, his or look it up on your own, you will find that in Windings 3, the letters “p” and “q” are the directional triangles that we need (p and q). Now let’s build our visualization with Wingdings (and no, I can’t believe I said that as well).

The key to using wingdings is that you need place the font representing what you are looking for in the field as shown here. You can see that the value in the cell is “p” but the wingding font gives us the triangle.


Not only can you affect size, you can change the color.


But the end goal was to have this work in Excel Services. So I can save this sheet to my Office 365 SharePoint site. As you can see here, it works as desired.


Here is how you can put this to practical use. Let’s say we want to use a green smiley (Wingdings – J) and a red frown (Wingdings – L) based on our value. Greater than or equal to .5 or 50% will be smiling and less than .5 will be frowning. Assuming that the value we are evaluating is in K5, we would use the following formula to set the value:

=IF(K5>=0.5, “J”, “L”)

This sets the text value that we want to use. Because we are using a character value in the field, we can use conditional formatting to set the appropriate color by using the Highlight Cells Rules – Text That Contains… option. You will create two rules, one for J and one for L. You can use a default setting or create a custom format to change the color.

image image

By using Wingdings and Webdings, you will be able to further enhance your dashboards with a variety of symbols. I hope you have fun with your dashboards and get to tell your users or designers that, yes, you do use Wingdings! Enjoy winging it!

Note: The target environment needs to support the Wingding fonts. We have seen this not work when using iPads for instance. Be sure to consider and test your target environments for this solution.

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.


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..


  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.


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.


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.


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.

Logging into Azure and Office365 with Different Accounts

14 03 2013

I have been doing some work on the Modern Apps Live! content that required me to use both an Office365 account and an Azure account.  My Azure work is currently associated with my Microsoft Account (formerly known as my Live ID).  On the other hand, I am working with a Microsoft Office365 account which I have been unable to tie to my current account at this point.

While I was working with Office365, I was trying to open my Azure account to get some storage info that I wanted to use.  It told me I was already signed in with a different user ID and it did not have access to my Azure portal as noted in the image below.


Obviously I did not want to sign out, so I started looking for options.  The IT Director at Magenic, Dave Meier, mentioned he was having the same issue with multiple Microsoft accounts. So, we determined this was somehow related to IE so I installed Google Chrome.  By using Chrome I was able to work around the issue.  However, Dave came across the following article regarding this change in behavior starting in IE 8 http://blogs.msdn.com/b/askie/archive/2009/05/08/session-management-within-internet-explorer-8-0.aspx.  Turns out they changed how they manage sessions in that version.

imageThe article brings up a couple of options to work around.  One is using Alt-F-I to change the session.  Kind of annoying as I actually use my mouse (some of you keyboard junkies will like that solution).  So I used the shortcut option and created a shortcut for IE on my Windows 8 desktop which uses the switch –noframemerging.  I added this to my Taskbar, and voila, I have an easy way to open a new session browser which ignores my other session.  Keep in mind that you are essentially running two different sessions in IE which means that you will have two sets of credentials active.  Be sure to keep track of which is which.

Also, as a quick sanity test, Google Chrome works the same way.image  Even when I open a different Chrome instance, it keeps my session state. So, it appears the IE shortcut is a nice way to handle this issue.  Although, it is nice to know I can use a Chrome instance and and IE instance if that is my preferred method.

Add a comment if you try this in FireFox and want to chime in.  I really only want to use one browser, so Chrome is still one more than I want.

UPDATE:  You can also use InPrivate or Incognito modes accomplish the same thing.  Thanks to Rocky Lhotka ( T | B ) for pointing this out.


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