What’s New in SQL Server 2016 for BI?
On a personal note, I’m excited to announce the launch of the new Prologika website (http://prologika.com), which adds a slew of new features to connect better with customers and readers, including site-wide search, responsive web design, case studies, book and blog discussion lists, and more to come. Although the old blog feed should still work, please update it to http://www.prologika.com/feed/. Continuing on the list of announcements, Microsoft added a Prologika Power BI case study to the Power BI partner showcase. Speaking of Power BI, I definitely see a lot of interest from customers in Power BI-based solutions, ranging from self-service BI to white-labeling and report embedding. Last but not list, our Atlanta MS BI group is an official Power BI group! So, if you’re interested in Power BI, check our monthly meetings which now feature more Power BI content.
Spring is here and it brings again a new version of SQL Server. Microsoft launched SQL Server 2016 on March 10th. Its product page include nice videos covering some of the new features. The great news is that the “box” has seen a renewed interest and Microsoft has made significant investments in all the bundled services to help you implement cost-effective and modern data analytics solutions on premises. In this newsletter, I’ll enumerate my favorite BI new features in SQL Server 2016. Feel free to also check my slides on this topic on my LinkedIn profile page.
The days of waiting years for the next SQL Server release are coming to an end, as you first witness with the client tools.
- SSMS – You no longer have to run the SQL Server setup just to get SQL Server Management Studio (SSMS). SSMS is now available as a free and standalone download here. Moreover, it will be updated on a monthly basis and it will be backward compatible for all SQL Server supported versions!
- SSDT – Also, to everybody’s delight, the BI add-on to SQL Server Data Tools (SSDT) is gone. Instead, you just download and install SQL Server Data Tools, which includes the BI projects. No more installing three setup packages to get to the BI stuff. To make your joy complete, SSDT is backward compatible. Actually, SSRS and SSAS have been backward compatible for a while, but now SSIS joins the list so that you can use SSDT to work with legacy SSIS packages.
There are many new features in the Database Engine but the following will be of particular interest to BI practitioners:
- Updatable columnstore indexes – They will allow you to speed up aggregated queries without having to drop and recreate the columnstore index.
- Live query statistics – How many times you had to troubleshoot the performance of massive query with many joins? Live query statistics will now show you which joins slows the query down.
- Temporal tables – Anyone who’s implemented ODS knows that maintaining Type 2 changes is no fun. Temporal tables can maintain changes on any column for you. This feature is also great if you need data change auditing.
- Integration with R – Leveraging the Revolution Analytics acquisition, the R Server allows your data analysts to run R scripts on top of the SQL Server data. Moreover, DBAs can configure resource limits so that these scripts don’t impact the database performance.
SQL Server Integration Services (SSIS) and Master Data Services (MDS)
I’m somewhat disappointed that the Power Query integration and Lineage Statistics didn’t make the cut. Anyway, here are my favorites:
- Incremental project deployment – you can just deploy changed packages to the catalog instead of deploying the entire project.
- Package parts – you can refactor some control flow tasks in reusable package parts that you can manage separately. This could be very beneficial for SSIS “frameworks” so that you don’t have to update all packages if some changes are introduced later in the development cycle.
- Cloud tasks and connectors – Lots of attention to moving and transforming data in Azure. For example, there is a task that will allow you to move data to Azure Blog storage in the most efficient way. Continuing this line of thought, the fastest way to move the data to Azure SQL DW would be to use Polybase which supports HDInsight and Azure Blob Storage.
- MDS Entity Sync – Allows you to reuse entities among models. For example, you can implement a Common model with entities, such as Geography, that you can configure for auto synchronization with other models.
- 15x performance increase in MDS Excel add-in.
SQL Server Reporting Services (SSRS)
As per the Microsoft’s updated reporting roadmap, SSRS comes out of the closet to fulfill its new role of becoming the on-premises platform for paginated (pixel-perfect), mobile, and Power BI Desktop reports (support for Power BI Desktop files in SSRS will happen after SQL Server 2016). SSRS saw a lot of attention in SQL Server 2016 and brings major new enhancements:
- Better mobile support – SSRS reports now render in HTML5. Users can use the Power BI native apps for iOS, Android and Windows devices to render both SSRS and Power BI reports. ActiveX print control has been replaced with PDF printing that works on all modern browsers.
- Facelift – SSRS 2016 brings a new report portal (aka Report Manager). Report Builder has a new look too. Charts and gauges have a new modern look. New chart types (Sunburst and Treemap) have been added. You can now add KPIs directly in the Report Portal.
- Mobile reports – Thanks to the Datazen acquisitions, you can now have in the box reports that specifically target mobile devices, that have similar features as competing vendors, such as PushBI (now part of Tibco) and RoamBI.
- Parameter area – You can now control the parameter placement. Personally, I expected also more control over parameters, such as parameter validation, but the alas, the wait is not over.
- Prioritized native report mode – Microsoft now prioritizes SSRS in native mode which is a great news for customers who previously had to adopt SharePoint Enterprise just for BI. In fact, all the new features are available only in SSRS native mode.
SQL Server Analysis Services (SSAS)
As you know by now, I’m a big fan of classic BI solutions that feature a semantic layer (Multidimensional or Tabular). SSAS gets many new features, including:
- Tabular many-to-many relationships – You can now implement M2M relationships by setting the relationship cross filtering direction to Both, as you can in Power BI Desktop.
- Tabular Direct Query enhancements – Microsoft put a lot of effort to lift previous Direct Query limitations in Tabular so that you can build Tabular models on top of fast databases without having to cache the data. Direct Query now have better performance, support for row level security, support for MDX clients such as Excel, support for Oracle, Teradata, and Azure DW.
- New Tabular scripting language – Tabular models are now described in a new lightweight JSON grammar. This speeds up scheme changes, such as renaming columns. In addition, a new Tabular Object Model (TOM) is introduced to help developers auto-generate Tabular models.
- DAX new functions – Many new DAX functions (super DAX) were introduced.
- Multidimensional – support for Power BI and Power BI Desktop. Support for Netezza as a data source. Distinct count ROLAP optimization for DB2, Oracle, and Netezza. Drillthrough is now supported with multi-selection, such as then the user filters on multiple values in Excel.
MS BI Events in Atlanta
- Atlanta BI Group: “Azure Data Factory” presentation by Luis Figueroa on 4/25/2016
- Atlanta BI Group: “What’s New in SQL Server 2016” presentation by Paco Gonzalez on 5/23/2016
- SQL Saturday Atlanta #521: A free training event for all things SQL Server on May 21st.
As you’d probably agree, the BI landscape is fast-moving and it might be overwhelming. If you need any help with planning and implementing your next-generation BI solution, don’t hesitate to contact me. As a Microsoft Gold Partner and premier BI firm, you can trust us to help you plan and implement your data analytics projects, and rest assured that you’ll get the best service.
Prologika, LLC | Making Sense of Data
Microsoft Partner | Gold Data Analytics