Intelligencia Query

Chris Webb, a fellow MVP and MDX guru, who’s blog is a must-read for all SSAS junkies, was kind enough to let me take a look at the Intelligencia Query product he’s been working on for a while with Andrew Wiles. Chris announced the product back in April which is now selling as a commercial offering.

Now, lots of things have been said about the current state of the SSRS-SSAS integration, which is to say the least wanting. In a previous blog, I wrote “In my opinion, the biggest challenge the Microsoft BI initiative faces today is the inadequate support for Analysis Services.” Alas, we won’t witness an improved SSRS-SSAS integration in SQL Server 2008 as Microsoft decided to focus on other areas and priorities.

Rest assured though that Microsoft understands the importance of this integration scenario. I personally have voiced my concerns on a few occasions and have put this on the top of my wish list which I shared with the Reporting Services team. There are good things happening already which make me believe that SQL Server.NEXT (post-SQL Server 2008) will materialize this wish. What’s really needed is Excel-like support of SSAS in Reporting Services, plus calculated members which are already supported.

Then, the question is what to do meanwhile if you target Analysis Services (and you should). One approach is to take the “I’ll stick with Microsoft” approach. This may require you find workarounds for the static schema and other limitations, such as using the Microsoft OLE DB Provider for Analysis Services instead of the built-in SSAS provider. This is not as bad as it seems as little out-of-box thinking usually gets the job done. By the way, I wrote some 50 pages in my next book to cover integrating SSRS with SSAS in as much detail as possible.

The second approach is to look at third-party offerings, such as Radius Producer and Intelligenca Query. What I liked about Intelligenca Query is that it doesn’t require throwing the baby with the water. You can still keep the Microsoft Report Designer but use Intelligenca Query to replace the built-in SSAS provider. This works because just like the built-in provider, Intelligenca Query is implemented as a data extension. I tested Intelligenca Query with SQL Server 2008 and it worked without any issues with the BIDS Report Designer and Report Builder 2.0 (aka Report Designer Preview).

The good thing about Intelligenca Query is that it lets you plug in an arbitrary MDX query. Behind the scenes, it pulls out a little trick where it rewrites the report dataset by transposing columns to rows. Consequently, you have to use the matrix region to rotate the rows back to columns to recreate the original query results. Now, my ideal provider would support a dual mode where I can tell it not to rewrite anything but just to give me the results. Of course, if another dimension member is added, it won’t show up on the report columns (assuming a table with fixed columns) but I can see this being useful for notice users that create ad hoc reports or when the columns are fairly static.

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Another thing I liked, of course, about Intelligenca Query is that it eliminates the nagging issue of server aggregates which are the aggregates for the dimension All members. With the built-in provider, you have to explicitly request them by using the Aggregate function but they won’t be retuned if you hand-code your query. Intelligenca Query simply brings them as additional rows. What if you don’t want them, such as when you need a group footer? No problem, just exclude them from the query and group on the rest of the rows.

Another cool thing is working with parent-child hierarchies. The MS built-in provider takes this strange design pattern where it dumps all members in a single column, thereby making it virtually impossible to create subtotals per level. With Intelligence Query this issue disappears:

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I also liked the graphical query designer which is pretty much in par with the Microsoft graphical MDX Query Designer. On the downside, some outstanding work is required to handle parameters and synchronize the text query with the graphical designer.

If the SSAS built-in provider is driving you nuts, I encourage you to take a look and evaluate Intelligenca Query.

SSAS HTTP Connectivity and SharePoint

Scenario

You won’t enable SSAS HTTP connectivity via a SharePoint site.

Issue

You followed the instructions in the Configuring HTTP Access to SQL Server 2005 Analysis Services on Microsoft Windows Server 2003 whitepaper but you get ” Failed to start monitoring directory changes” error when you try to access the SSAS server by its pump URL, such as http://www.adventure-works/olap/msmdpump.dll.

Solution

Ignore the step where you had to create an olap pool and assign the OLAP vroot to it. Instead, assign the vroot to the same IIS application pool as the one the SharePoint site belongs to, such as SharePoint -80. In addition, make sure you enable the web extension to the pump dll, as explained in the above article.

If you have created non-domain Windows accounts on the server for testing, make sure that the server and local Windows accounts (the one the user will use to log in to the user machine) are synchronized, that is, have the same name and password. For example, if I create a non-domain local account Bob on the server where SSAS is installed, Bob must log in to his machine as Bob and both accounts (user and server) must have the same password.

Sharing Lost Reports with Web Users

Scenario

You need to configure a SharePoint site integrated with Reporting Services for Internet access. In our case, the end users would authenticate with Windows security by using local Windows account created on the web server.

Issues

Report URLs reference the machine NetBIOS name and fail to execute with “The path of the item ‘<path’ is not valid. The full path must be less than 260 characters long; other restrictions apply”. Same happens when Report Builder tries to load models.

Solution

This one took a few hours to solve:

  1. Since Reporting Services 2008 only supports access from SharePoint URLs in the default zone, change the public URL of the default zone (SharePoint 3.0 Central Administration -> Operations -> Alternate Access Mappings) to the web server Internet URL, such as http://www.adventure-works.com/.

    This will take care of the report URLs which now should include the server Internet address. However, requesting reports would result in rsItemNotFound errors although the report URLs look perfectly normal.

  2. Open the report project in BIDS. In the project properties, change the TargetDataSources and TargetReportFolder settings to include the server Internet URL instead of NetBIOS names, such as http://www.adventure-works.com/Report Library/Shared Documents/Data Sources for the TargetDataSource setting.

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  3. Redeploy the report definition.

At this point, standards reports deployed to SharePoint should work. If you use local server accounts for your users, however, previewing reports in Report Builder may fail with mysterious errors about invalid semantic queries. You can solve this issue by making sure that the user logon and server accounts are identical, that is, have the same name and password.