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James Serra's Blog

James is currently a Senior Business Intelligence Architect/Developer and has over 20 years of IT experience. James started his career as a software developer, then became a DBA 12 years ago, and for the last five years he has been working extensively with Business Intelligence using the SQL Server BI stack (SSAS, SSRS, and SSIS). James has been at times a permanent employee, consultant, contractor, and owner of his own business. All these experiences along with continuous learning has helped James to develop many successful data warehouse and BI projects. James has earned the MCITP Business Developer 2008, MCITP Database Administrator 2008, and MCITP Database Developer 2008, and has a Bachelor of Science degree in Computer Engineering. His blog is at .

Azure SQL Data Warehouse

Analytics Platform System (APS) is Microsoft’s massively parallel processing (MPP) data warehouse technology.  This has only been available as an on-prem solution (see video Overview of Microsoft Analytics Platform System).  Until now.  At the recent Microsoft Build Developer Conference, Executive Vice President Scott Guthrie announced the… Read more

10 comments, 661 reads

Posted in James Serra's Blog on 6 May 2015

TechEd is now Microsoft Ignite

In case you were wondering what happened to the TechEd conferences, Microsoft is now bringing together the best of previously individual events – the Management Summit, the Exchange, SharePoint, Lync, Project, and TechEd conferences – and then taking it to the next level, based on what customers and partners have… Read more

1 comments, 311 reads

Posted in James Serra's Blog on 4 May 2015

Types of NoSQL databases

A NoSQL database provides a mechanism for storage and retrieval of data that is modeled in means other than the tabular relations used in relational databases.  NoSQL is often interpreted as Not-only-SQL to emphasize that they may also support SQL-like query languages.  Most NoSQL databases are designed to store… Read more

8 comments, 778 reads

Posted in James Serra's Blog on 15 April 2015

What is a data lake?

A “data lake” is a storage repository, usually in Hadoop, that holds a vast amount of raw data in its native format until it is needed.  It’s a great place for investigating, exploring, experimenting, and refining data, in addition to archiving data.  There are various products that you can use… Read more

7 comments, 594 reads

Posted in James Serra's Blog on 8 April 2015

Creating a large data warehouse in Azure

Microsoft Azure provides you two options when hosting your SQL Server-based data warehouse: Microsoft Azure SQL Database and SQL Server in Azure Virtual Machine.  Which one is appropriate based on the size of the data warehouse?  What are some hardware features to choose from for an Azure VM for… Read more

7 comments, 6,531 reads

Posted in James Serra's Blog on 19 March 2015

Operational Data Store (ODS) Defined

I see a lot of confusion on what exactly is an Operational Data Store (ODS).  While it can mean different things to different people, I’ll explain what I see as the most common definition.  First let me mention that an ODS is not a data warehouse or data mart.  A… Read more

5 comments, 6,770 reads

Posted in James Serra's Blog on 26 February 2015

Presentation slides for “Building a Big Data Solution”

Thanks to everyone who attended my session “Building a Big Data Solution” (Building an Effective Data Warehouse Architecture with Hadoop, Cloud and MPP) for Pragmatic Works today.  The abstract for my session is below and the recording will be available here tomorrow.  I hope you enjoyed it!

Here is the… Read more

0 comments, 538 reads

Posted in James Serra's Blog on 24 February 2015

Power BI Made Simple

In an effort to understand Power BI and all the products it encompasses, I have made this slide deck to hopefully make things easy for you: Power BI Made Simple.

It is a presentation that covers all the products under the Power BI umbrella. I give an overview of… Read more

4 comments, 649 reads

Posted in James Serra's Blog on 18 February 2015

What is Advanced Analytics?

Advanced Analytics, or Business Analytics, refers to future-oriented analysis that can be used to help drive changes and improvements in business practices.  It is made up of four phases:

Descriptive Analytics: What is generally referred to as “business intelligence”, this phase is where a lot of digital… Read more

0 comments, 576 reads

Posted in James Serra's Blog on 11 February 2015

Microsoft product roadmap now public

Ever wonder about Microsoft’s product roadmap?  With Microsoft rapidly releases products and services, they realized the need to provide better transparency.  Well wonder no more!  They have released the Cloud Platform Roadmap Site (visit here).

Roadmaps are given for: Microsoft Azure, Intune, Power BI, and Visual Studio Online; server… Read more

1 comments, 7,756 reads

Posted in James Serra's Blog on 4 February 2015

Power BI Designer and Power BI Dashboard

Long has the question been asked “Which Microsoft tool do I use for dashboards?”.  SSRS, Excel, PowerView, Report Builder and PerformancePoint are all candidates.  But that has all changed, and the future of dashboarding is here: Power BI Designer.

The Power BI Designer is a new companion application for Power… Read more

3 comments, 940 reads

Posted in James Serra's Blog on 14 January 2015

Using Power BI to access on-premise data

The following blog describes how to use certain cloud-based Power BI for Office 365 products (Power View and Q&A) on a Power BI Site that will reference data on-premises.  To do this you will use certain on-premise Power BI products (Power Pivot and Power Query) to gather the data.  Note… Read more

5 comments, 1,060 reads

Posted in James Serra's Blog on 7 January 2015

Analytics Platform System (APS) AU3 released

The Analytics Platform System (APS), which is a renaming of the Parallel Data Warehouse (PDW), has just released an appliance update (AU3), which is sort of like a service pack, except that it includes many new features.  These appliance updates are made available frequently, about every 3-4 months.… Read more

0 comments, 806 reads

Posted in James Serra's Blog on 17 December 2014

The Modern Data Warehouse

The traditional data warehouse has served us well for many years, but new trends are causing it to break in four different ways: data growth, fast query expectations from users, non-relational/unstructured data, and cloud-born data.  How can you prevent this from happening?  Enter the modern data warehouse, which is… Read more

6 comments, 7,653 reads

Posted in James Serra's Blog on 3 December 2014

What is Azure Data Factory?

The Azure Data Factory is a service designed to allow developers to integrate disparate data sources.  It is a platform somewhat like SSIS in the cloud to manage the data you have both on-prem and in the cloud.

It provides access to on-premises data in SQL Server and cloud data… Read more

0 comments, 849 reads

Posted in James Serra's Blog on 26 November 2014

Fast Track Data Warehouse Reference Architecture for SQL Server 2014

I have previously blogged about the Fast Track Data Warehouse, a reference configuration optimized for data warehousing (see Microsoft SQL Server Reference Architecture and Appliances).  That was version 3.0 of the reference configuration that was for SQL Server 2008 R2.  Released a couple of years ago was version 4.0… Read more

3 comments, 830 reads

Posted in James Serra's Blog on 19 November 2014

Should you move your data to the cloud?

Should you move your data to the cloud?  That is the question.  The answer is not simple.  While moving data to the cloud is all the rage, the fact is a large majority of the Fortune 500 companies are not keeping any data in the cloud at all.  At least… Read more

3 comments, 429 reads

Posted in James Serra's Blog on 12 November 2014

Book: Microsoft SQL Server 2014 Business Intelligence Development Beginner’s Guide

I was fortunate to be a technical reviewer for a new book, SQL Server 2014 Business Intelligence Development by Reza Rad.  Below is the abstract.  It’s a great book for those of you trying to learn about all the various tools in the Microsoft BI stack.  Click here to check… Read more

0 comments, 1,000 reads

Posted in James Serra's Blog on 5 November 2014

Analytics Platform System (APS) AU2 released

The Analytics Platform System (APS), which is a renaming of the Parallel Data Warehouse (PDW), has recently released an appliance update (AU2), which is sort of like a service pack, except that it includes many new features.  These appliance updates are made available frequently, about every 3-4 months.… Read more

1 comments, 502 reads

Posted in James Serra's Blog on 16 October 2014

Non-obvious APS/PDW benefits

The Analytics Platform System (APS), which is a renaming of the Parallel Data Warehouse (PDW), has a lot of obvious benefits, which I discuss here.  For those of you who find your database is getting too big, or becoming too slow, or you need to integrate non-relational data,… Read more

8 comments, 609 reads

Posted in James Serra's Blog on 7 October 2014

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