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SQL Server 2012: Tabular Models vs PowerPivot Models

In SQL Server 2012, there is a new data model, called tabular, that is part of the new feature called the Business Intelligence Semantic Model (BISM).  BISM also includes the multidimensional model (formally called the UDM).

The Tabular model is based on concepts like tables and relationships that are familiar to anyone who has a relational database background, making it easier to use than the multidimensional model.  The tabular model is a server mode you choose when installing Analysis Services.

The tabular model is an enhancement of the current PowerPivot data model experience, both of which use the Vertipaq engine.  When opening a PowerPivot for SharePoint workbook, a SSAS cube is created behind the scenes, which is why PowerPivot for SharePoint requires SSAS to be installed.

So if tabular models and PowerPivot models use the same Analysis Services engine, why are tabular models necessary when we already have PowerPivot?

There are four things that tabular models offer that PowerPivot models does not:

  1. Scalability - PowerPivot has a 2 GB limit for the size of the Excel file and does not support partitions, but tabular models have no limit and support partitions.  Tabular models also support DirectQuery
  2. Manageability – There are a lot of tools you can use with the tabular model that you can’t use with PowerPivot: SSMS, AMO, AMOMD, XMLA, Deployment Wizard, AMO for PowerShell, and Integration Services
  3. Securability – Tabular models can use row security and dynamic security, neither of which PowerPivot supports, only Excel workbook file security
  4. Professional development toolchain - Tabular models live in the Visual Studio shell.  Thus, they enjoy all the shell services such as integrated source control, msbuild integration, and Team Build integration.  PowerPivot lives in the Excel environment, thus it is limited to the extensibility model provided in Excel (which doesn’t include source control or build configuration).  Also, because tabular models live in the VS environment, build and deployment can be naturally separated

So Analysis Services can now be installed in one of three server modes: Multidimensional and Data Mining (default), PowerPivot for SharePoint, and Tabular.

More info:

When to choose tabular models over PowerPivot models

SQL Server 2012 Tabular Models vs. PowerPivot

Decisions: PowerPivot, SSAS Tabular, or SSAS Multidimensional Model in SQL Server 2012

Comparing Analysis Services and PowerPivot

Feature by Server Mode or Solution Type (SSAS)

Converting a PowerPivot model to a 2012 SSAS Tabular Cube

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.


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