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James Serra's Blog

James is a big data and data warehousing technology specialist at Microsoft. He is a thought leader in the use and application of Big Data technologies, including MPP solutions involving hybrid technologies of relational data, Hadoop, and private and public cloud. Previously he was an independent consultant working as a Data Warehouse/Business Intelligence architect and developer. He is a prior SQL Server MVP with over 30 years of IT experience. James is a popular blogger (JamesSerra.com) and speaker, having presented at dozens of PASS events including the PASS Business Analytics conference and the PASS Summit. He is the author of the book “Reporting with Microsoft SQL Server 2012”. He received a Bachelor of Science degree in Computer Engineering from the University of Nevada-Las Vegas.

Azure DevTest Labs

I have been working at Microsoft now for 3 years and 4 months (side note: it’s by far the best company I have ever worked for).  You would think by now I know about every Azure product, but we release new products and services at such a tremendously fast pace… Read more

2 comments, 210 reads

Posted in James Serra's Blog on 21 June 2017

Data Science Virtual Machine

The Data Science Virtual Machine (DSVM) is a customized VM image on Microsoft’s Azure cloud built specifically for doing data science.  It has many popular data science and other tools pre-installed and pre-configured to jump-start building intelligent applications for advanced analytics.  So instead of you having to create a VM… Read more

3 comments, 1,512 reads

Posted in James Serra's Blog on 14 June 2017

Data Warehouse Fast Track Reference Guide for SQL Server 2016

I had previously blogged about the Data Warehouse Fast Track for SQL Server 2016, a joint effort between Microsoft and its hardware partners to deliver validated, pre-configured solutions that reduce the complexity of implementing a data warehouse on SQL Server Enterprise Edition.

Now available are two new excellent white… Read more

2 comments, 289 reads

Posted in James Serra's Blog on 7 June 2017

SSAS high availability

If you are looking at providing high availability (HA) for SSAS, here are 3 options:

  1. Install SSAS on a Windows Server Failover Cluster (WSFC)
    Here’s a good article. The main issue with this option is that SSAS isn’t cluster-aware, so if windows is “OK” but SSAS (the service)…

Read more

5 comments, 187 reads

Posted in James Serra's Blog on 24 May 2017

SQL Data Warehouse reference architectures

With so many product options to choose from for building a big data solution in the cloud, such as SQL Data Warehouse (SQL DW), Azure Analysis Services (AAS), SQL Database (SQL DB), and Azure Data Lake (ADL), there are various combinations of using the products, each with pros/cons along with… Read more

6 comments, 194 reads

Posted in James Serra's Blog on 17 May 2017

Microsoft Build event announcements

Another Microsoft event and another bunch of exciting announcements.  At the Microsoft Build event this week, the major announcements in the data platform space were:

Azure Cosmos DB

Azure Cosmos DB is the next big leap in the evolution of DocumentDB.  Cosmos DB is Microsoft’s globally-distributed, horizontally scalable, multi-model database… Read more

2 comments, 284 reads

Posted in James Serra's Blog on 12 May 2017

Power BI Premium, Report Server, Apps and API

Announced today are some really cool new Power BI features:

Power BI Premium

Previously available were two tiers, Power BI Free and Power BI Pro ($10/user/month).  The problem with Power BI Pro is that for large organizations, this can add up.  In addition, their performance needs might not be met.… Read more

15 comments, 936 reads

Posted in James Serra's Blog on 3 May 2017

Microsoft Data Amp event announcements

Yesterday was the Microsoft Data Amp event where a bunch of very exciting announcements were made:

  • SQL Server vNext CTP 2.0 is now available and the product will be officially called SQL Server 2017:
    • Runs on Linux and Docker
    • Support for Graph queries.  More info
    • Support for R and now…

Read more

1 comments, 412 reads

Posted in James Serra's Blog on 20 April 2017

Using Azure for free

There are a number of options for using Azure for free.  This is very useful for those of you who are not familiar with Azure and want to “play” with it:

Read more

1 comments, 304 reads

Posted in James Serra's Blog on 11 April 2017

Artificial Intelligence defined

The new buzzword in the industry is “Artificial Intelligence” (AI).  But exactly what is AI and how does it compare to “machine learning” and “deep learning”?  The best definitions I have seen come from the excellent article “Why Deep Learning is Suddenly Changing Your Life”:

So, AI is really… Read more

2 comments, 719 reads

Posted in James Serra's Blog on 6 April 2017

Microsoft database migration tools

There are various Microsoft tools that you can use to help you migrate your database:

Data Migration Assistant (DMA) – enables you to upgrade to a modern data platform by detecting compatibility issues that can impact database functionality on your new version of SQL Server and Azure SQL Database.  It… Read more

3 comments, 128 reads

Posted in James Serra's Blog on 29 March 2017

U-SQL Defined

Azure Data Lake Analytics (ADLA) is a distributed analytics service built on Apache YARN that allows developers to be productive immediately on big data.  This is accomplished by submitting a job to the service where the service will automatically run it in parallel in the cloud and scale to process… Read more

2 comments, 90 reads

Posted in James Serra's Blog on 23 March 2017

PolyBase use cases clarified

I previously talked about PolyBase and its enhancements (see PASS Summit Announcements: PolyBase enhancements).  There is some confusion on PolyBase use cases as they are different depending on whether you are using PolyBase with Azure SQL Data Warehouse (SQL DW) or SQL Server 2016, as well as the sources… Read more

3 comments, 102 reads

Posted in James Serra's Blog on 15 March 2017

SQL DB now supports 4TB max database size

Azure SQL Database (SQL DB) has increased its max database size from 1TB to 4TB at no additional cost.

Customers using P11 and P15 premium performance levels can use up to 4 TB of included storage at no additional charge.  This 4 TB option is currently in public preview in… Read more

0 comments, 80 reads

Posted in James Serra's Blog on 10 March 2017

Power BI and Excel options for Hadoop

Below I have attempted to list the various options for reporting off of Hadoop (HDInsight, HDP, Cloudera) using Power BI Desktop and Excel.  Some of the data sources prompt you to choose the Data Connectivity mode of either Import or DirectQuery.  For those that don’t you are limited to Import… Read more

0 comments, 78 reads

Posted in James Serra's Blog on 9 March 2017

Azure Data Factory and SSIS compared

I see a lot of confusion when it comes to Azure Data Factory (ADF) and how it compares to SSIS.  It is not simply “SSIS in the cloud”.  See What is Azure Data Factory? for an overview of ADF, and I’ll assume you know SSIS.  So how are they… Read more

4 comments, 85 reads

Posted in James Serra's Blog on 1 March 2017

IoT Hub vs. Event Hub

There can sometimes be confusion, in IoT scenarios, between IoT Hub and Event Hub, as they can both be valid choices for streaming data ingestion.  My Microsoft colleague, Steve Busby, an IoT Technology Specialist, is here to clear up the confusion:

The majority of the time, if the data… Read more

1 comments, 94 reads

Posted in James Serra's Blog on 8 February 2017

Microsoft Products vs Hadoop/OSS Products

Microsoft’s end goal is for Azure to become the best cloud platform for customers to run their data workloads.  This means Microsoft will provide customers the best environment to run their big data/Hadoop as well as a place where Microsoft can offer services with our unique point-of-view.  Specific decision points… Read more

0 comments, 99 reads

Posted in James Serra's Blog on 18 January 2017

Create quick queries quickly with SSAS in Azure

In a perfect world a data warehouse would always return all queries very quickly, no matter what the size or complexity of the data warehouse.  But the reality is that sometimes we won’t get the performance we need from the data warehouse, and the solution is to use a SQL… Read more

6 comments, 79 reads

Posted in James Serra's Blog on 4 January 2017

Data gateway confusion

Microsoft has created data gateways as a way that cloud products such as Power BI and Azure Machine Learning can access on-prem data, often called a hybrid model.  This is most useful for companies that do not want to put their data in the cloud, or there is simply too… Read more

2 comments, 85 reads

Posted in James Serra's Blog on 21 December 2016

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