Home > PowerPivot, SSAS, Visualisation > Is Excel 2013 Power View hurting SSAS?

 

Is Excel 2013 Power View hurting SSAS?

July 21st, 2012

Since the release of Office 2013 Preview, there has been an awful lot of commentary both in the BI blogosphere and in all media mostly praising the new look and features Microsoft are giving us. I agree that the new suite is getting a much needed face-lift (after all 2007 -> 2010 did not deliver much in this regard), and the mandatory for post-2010 releases “touch-enabled” interface. As a BI guy, the most interesting thing for me in the new Office is Excel, and within Excel, Power View (not completely ignoring the new Pivot Table options like adding new calcs natively, without using the OLAP PivotTable Extensions plug-in).

There are deficiencies in Power View as it stands now (maybe that is why it is an add-in, not enabled by default) but it is a nice data exploration tool which even Stephen Few told me was going in the right direction. It still doesn’t allow us to do things like Top 10, % of Total, etc. which I love in Excel Pivot Tables, but I am hoping that we’ll get all these and more at some point. Together with maps, small multiples and highlighting, Power View does seem like a potential killer application, making other tools like Tableau seem within reach.

However (here we go), in my opinion it has one drawback which really spoils the good things: it doesn’t work on SSAS Multidimensional cubes. I am sure that if someone from the Microsoft SSAS or SSRS teams reads this they wouldn’t be surprised. After all they have heard this numerous times since the release of Power View (even when it was Crescent). Chris Webb wrote about it and caused some stir, it was discussed and the issue was parked as “will be fixed at some point”. I don’t want to resurrect it in its previous format since we now know that a fix is coming (as publicly stated by Microsoft at PASS and other forums), but I would like to point out that last week after demoing Excel 2013 in front of some decision-makers in the organisation I currently work at, I had to answer questions like “So, we can’t use Excel with SSAS at all?” and “Do we have to upgrade all our cubes to in-memory models now?”. This made me think: we can’t cover the whole feature set of SSAS MD in SSAS Tabular, yet we can’t use the new end-user tools on SSAS MD as well. Basically, I am left with one option only – to recommend SSAS MD and Excel Pivot Tables as the only strategy for corporate BI competitive with other vendors like IBM and SAP. Furthermore, since we can’t use DirectQuery on Teradata, I can’t also say that SSAS Tabular is better than SSAS MD as an analytical platform on top of Teradata. Yes, one day when we get it working it will trump all other options, and the Teradata guys I work with are genuinely excited about the future, but it is unfortunately the future, while other options are there now. And the future in IT always looks bright, while the present is a different story altogether.

So, is Excel 2013 Power View hurting SSAS MD? Maybe not directly, but the more we promote Power View (hint: as it’s getting deployed on every workstation we hardly need to promote it), the more we also highlight the deficiencies in SSAS Tabular and make SSAS MD look like the neglected sibling. As for my demonstrations of Microsoft BI, I would probably treat the two components of SSAS – MD and Tabular as two separate stacks. MD – the best out there for corporate BI, and Tabular – the best for team/personal BI, not to be mixed together. To those who can’t wait to get their hands on a powerful, modern analytical tool working on the iPad and use it on a powerful, robust, widely used analytical engine which works on less than terabytes of memory (let me spell it out: Power View +mobile on SSAS MD), we have to tell: “at some point in the future, hopefully”.

PS: Yes, it does sound like yet another whiny post, but we have been waiting for a very long time (in IT-terms) since the inception of Crescent to get this bloody issue fixed and it is hard to imagine mighty Microsoft struggling to catch up behind Cognos (yes, they have mobile – terrible implementation, but works), Tableau (last time I checked they were a tiny company with overpriced products) and QlikView (ugly and slow from what I’ve seen). It’s not like Microsoft weren’t aware of this, and it’s not like it’s happening for the first time – remember how well PerformancePoint did being unable to connect to anything but SSAS MD and having a lacking feature set, plus SSRS to SSAS integration has always been a pain point. The new, quicker, release cycle at Microsoft seems to be delivering the same amount of features in less-complete releases, which doesn’t seem to help with inspiring confidence in its vision and ability to execute. However great these new ingredients are, the dish doesn’t taste that well when some are lacking…tends to get cold quickly too.

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  1. | #1

    Hi Boyan,

    Very interesting read. Hope it reaches the intended audience! ;)

    I share your concern, and just updated my post on excel 2013 to include this valuable reference too.

    Kind regards,

    Rui

  2. | #2

    Couldn’t agree more! Thanks for sharing the thoughts.

  3. | #3

    I have a theory that the SSRS team are allergic to MDX: it explains the mind-bogglingly bad integration of SSRS and SSAS in the past, and also explains why they didn’t do the obvious thing and make Power View speak MDX instead of using the DAX query language (and I strongly suspect they were the ones who asked for it to be invented). Hence the current mess, one which so easily could have been avoided.

  4. | #4

    Chris, I could understand the idea behind the creation of DAX, but I also can’t see a good reason why PV can’t speak MDX or MD cubes DAX. And why wasn’t there a thought that in the case of a success with Power View, MD users would demand it to work with their setup, so the whole thing gets designed to allow easier additions of those features (I guess that’s why it takes so long to get the job done).

  5. Frank Kruse
    | #5

    Some speakers at TechEd in Amsterdam this year have given me hope that Microsoft is working on a solution. If I understood correctly they work on the possibility to query a multidimensional database by DAX. And they plan to ship this in a service-release of SQL Server 2012 – before the next major release of SQL Server.

    Hopefully we’ll get it soon.

    By the way: My theory about MDX and DAX is different than that of Chris: The architecture of MDX does not fit very well for hosting BISM in the Microsoft (Azure) cloud. Therefore MS is pushing BISM-tabular and will not improve BISM-multidimensional anymore. That would be OK for me, if I have all BISM-multidimensional features in BISM-tabular. But I think I’ll have to wait a little longer for that…

  6. | #6

    Hi Frank,

    Microsoft did announce that they are working on a solution, but we don’t know when, and it does not seem like it’s coming soon.

  7. | #7

    The more interesting topic for most customers I deal with is what is the future of Silverlight as a platform? For some of them, Silverlight is already DOA and they have banned future development in the technology. It sounds like PowerView has just had its dependencies with Sharepoint 2013 removed, but it still requires Silverlight?

  8. | #8

    Hi Andrew,

    This is an interesting question, which Microsoft may be able to answer. I personally don’t really care whether it’s SilverLight or WPF, but for now it remains SilverLight according to Jen Stirrup here: http://www.jenstirrup.com/2012/07/some-thoughts-on-power-view-in-office.html

    The reason why I don’t really care is because my customers usually also do not care as they don’t do too much custom development around their BI tools and just rely on whatever comes out of the box to do their analytics. And SilverLight seems to have delivered a quite nice visualisation component in Power View…so most are happy.

  9. SBallmer
    | #9

    Come on fellas. Let’s say it

    ** PowerView is a desperate attempt to deal with the success of QlikView. **

    But QlikView was always aimed at smaller companies… how can we justify a purchase of SharePoint Enterprise to these guys?

    And at the same time we alienate enterprise users with a tool that is frankly just a bit of a toy.

    They stand to lose ground in BOTH markets if they keep this up, it is stupidity.

  10. | #10

    Hi..er..anyway – I was wondering whether to approve your comment since you did not provide your details..but I guess it’s the Internet after all…

    Have you noticed that Power View is waay more like Tableau than QlikView (which I think can’t compete on the info vis side of things AT ALL with even Excel, let alone Power View). I’m sure you meant PowerPivot.. And yes, PowerPivot is a QlikView competitor. As are Cognos Business Insight, Oracle’s Exalytics, SAP’s HANA, etc – they are all in-memory engines, some of which also self-service. So what?

    You are also a bit late with our SharePoint Enterprise comment. See, if we can use PowerPivot and Power View in Excel, we don’t need to buy SharePoint Enterprise. Prior to the Excel 2013 Preview release you did have a point. Not anymore.

    I wouldn’t say it is a toy. Well, it is..but a very powerful one (esp if you like playing with data). In the post above I said it is lacking in terms of features, but it is not a toy. Calcs on top of hundreds of millions of rows run in a few seconds in tabular and in many cases beat multidimensional by a LARGE margin. It does seem like Microsoft are steering in the right direction. I only question the particular release path they have chosen.

  11. | #11

    I feel your pain as well. The product marketing gets everyone wanting to use Power View in all scenarios. Then it’s the field consultants who break the news of incompatibilities and divergent capabilities throughout the stack.

    Generally I’m having to approach the same way right now–Tabular for workgroup and anything that works with MD for enterprise data loads.

    Hopefully the situation will soon improve and we will have one stack instead of two!

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