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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.

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, 416 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, 467 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, 1,305 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, 584 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, 447 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, 905 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 (updated 8/9/17):

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… Read more

3 comments, 366 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, 225 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, 288 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, 154 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, 266 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, 165 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, 159 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, 176 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, 119 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, 143 reads

Posted in James Serra's Blog on 21 December 2016

What is HTAP?

I have been seeing the term “HTAP” mentioned a lot recently, and I thought I would briefly explain the term.  HTAP stands for Hybrid Transactional and Analytical Processing.

HTAP is used to describe the capability of a single database that can perform both online transaction processing (OLTP) and online analytical… Read more

1 comments, 110 reads

Posted in James Serra's Blog on 14 December 2016

Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) Calculator

For a long time clients would ask me how to determine the cost savings by migrating their applications and databases to Azure.  I never had a good answer until now: The Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) Calculator.  Now in preview, just provide a brief description of your on-premises environment… Read more

3 comments, 99 reads

Posted in James Serra's Blog on 6 December 2016

Azure Advisor

Azure Advisor is a really cool personalized recommendation engine that provides you with proactive best practices guidance on High Availability, Security, Performance and Cost when using Azure.  It is in public preview.  Learn more about Azure Advisor here.

Azure Advisor analyzes your resource configuration and usage telemetry to detect… Read more

0 comments, 118 reads

Posted in James Serra's Blog on 1 December 2016

Analytics Platform System 2016 Release

Microsoft has a new release for the Analytics Platform System (APS).  This appliance update is called APS 2016 and has been released to manufacturing and is now generally available.  APS is Microsoft’s scale-out Massively Parallel Processing fully integrated system for data warehouse specific workloads.

This release is built on the… Read more

4 comments, 182 reads

Posted in James Serra's Blog on 29 November 2016

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