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Intro to SSAS BI Workshop - Review

 A Synopsis of My Experiences of the “Intro to SSAS” BI Workshop in NYC!

By Robert Pearl

Well it’s a wrap of the NYC SSAS BI Workshop, presented by Pragmatic works' Brian Knight and Mike Davis. These guys don't need me to promote them, but I do want to share my experience with this compressed 2-day event, Intro to SSAS.

As you know Brian is SQL MVP and Founder of Pragmatic Works, and Mike is Sr. Business Intelligence Consultant, MCTS, and MCITP there. 

A few days before the class, I got an email from one their coordinators. “It will be intense and deep as we get into the product so make sure you have plenty of caffeine!  Your instructors will be Brian Knight and Mike Davis. Brian and Mike will do our best to keep it engaging and interesting for all of you.”

Indeed they delivered as promised! They truly were great together - with synchronized coordination throughout, and awesome speakers thoroughly knowledgeable on the topic from top to bottom.  There were often humorous moments between the two, in a perfect Odd Couple like exchange!  Their chemistry only complimented the overall seriousness and complexity of the subject at hand.  You can tell that not only are they very comfortable on BI and SSAS features, they very much enjoy presenting and interacting with the audience.  This combination makes for a truly unique user experience!

Let me emphatically tell you, that this workshop was in NO WAY a marketing session. This was a pure MS SQL SSAS class. I actually expected some plugs. Although we know they were the peeps from Pragmatic Works, I barely remember a mention of their product line and suite of BI tools.

I do believe, however, they are worthy of mention here, as audience members themselves volunteered some of their user experiences and testimonials. 

Pragmatic Works is a versatile company that specializes in, “making business intelligent”. They have numerous offerings in the BI space including, SQL Server and BI Training, Online Video Training, enterprise tools for  MS BI,  as well as BI Consulting and Services.  Many of their software solutions take BI to a new level and are extremely helpful, intuitive, easy to use tools. Check them out and download them. Their product suite, such as BIXpress, BIDocumenter, DTSXchange and TaskFactory, allows for easier development, management and documentation of SSIS, SSAS, and SSRS.

Now back to the class….

Normally, this is a 4-day class, but they crammed all this awesome content into 2-days of intense learning, lecture, workshop and fun!  It was a sold out packed audience, and the energy was exhilarating! You could feel the enthusiasm in the room, and it was a highly participatory give and take crowd. There were some great questions coming fast and furious, but BI experts Brian and Mike fielded every question and batted them out of the ball park! 

Due to the size of the attendance, it was a total seminar style with Mike and Brian jumping from one side of the room to the other. To keep interest, I won't give away any secrets; it was a very interactive session, with members of the audience involved all the way.  There were some giveaways, and an audience challenge, unlike any I've seen before!  Perfect ending that had them roaring in the rows, and adeptly serving as a pop-quiz review of all the material learned in the 2-days before.  Some lucky participants walked away with hard copies of their books, “Knight's 24-Hour Trainer for SSIS” and “Knight's Microsoft Business Intelligence 24-Hour Trainer”, written by some of your favorite MVPs.  And, I just love the Pragmatic Works t-shirt logo: “Kicking SSAS”! 

It was clear that the attendees were fully engaged, and awake the whole time!  Believe me, this is not an easy feat, covering so many intense topics in a 2-day period. Some of us did get a little delirious when discussing and demoing MDX, but we know that this is a dry and deep dive, and nothing to do with the delivery. Brian even invited us to make suggestions on how better to present this, but it was all good!  With my initial exposure to MDX, at least I know that it stands for Multi-dimensional expression language! :-) Totally different than TSQL, it is a bit of a learning curve, but some of the hands-on and wizardry was a great help! 

Once we moved onto DMX (not a misprint), it was much more a natural language for those who are used to T-SQL.  DMX, Data Mining Extensions, is a language that you can use to create and work
with data mining models in Microsoft SQL Server Analysis Services.

Most folks brought their own laptops, as we were invited to follow along on the demos and labs.

Pretty much, the knowledge-packed agenda of the class was as follows: Learn how to use SSAS 2008 in your enterprise. This class takes you from the ground-up, teaching you the fundamental skills you need to develop and deploy SSAS solutions and present this new data to your end users. This class is presented in SQL Server 2008 but is appropriate for those using SQL 2005 as well. Some of the topics covered in this class are: How to develop a data warehouse for your company, how to develop a repeatable methodology for a successful SSAS project, how to create and configure a cube and dimensions, how to write MDX (the querying language for cubes), how to define calculations, Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and perspectives, implementing dynamic security, how to administer and deploy SSAS, defining actions, implementing data mining, how to build office-based BI applications and dashboards, and administering SSAS.

With training like this, there’s no excuse not to learn!  Brian and Mike offered very real-world, practical uses and implementations of the technology they taught.  They showed examples of many uses in today’s verticals, such as healthcare, government, finance and e-commerce shops.

It started out with dimensional modeling and basics of data warehouses.  Then we got an overview of SSAS core components such as data source views (DSV’s), Cubes, dimensions, measures, and aggregates.  We learned how to create process and build the cube, defining dimension, attribute and hierarchy properties, as well as creating the relationships between facts and dimensions.  On to MDX, the must-know query language of the cube.  Once we moved on to data mining, it was totally a topic of appreciation amongst the audience.  Really cool features on mining the data and predictive analysis.  So, if based on my historical data, preferences and profile of a potential buyer, what is the likelihood that he or she will buy a particular product?  The all-knowing OLAP Cube will predict the future!  J  Think this is new?  All the PR and marketing firms already use this method.  Hey did you know that people who buy diapers in the middle of the night, are just as likely to buy beer (thus, the reason why you get 10% coupons off Budweiser when buying those Pampers!)  Of course, if you’re running for diapers into the wee hours, then I can see why you’ll need a beer! J

Brian and his crew are on a nationwide tour bringing SSAS and SSIS training to a city near you!  I wish I could make it to the SSIS class, but back to business. Training is delivered in a variety of formats as well, to meet your own conveniences.  Either on-site training, or on-line, you will not be disappointed!  You can view the latest training schedule here, and choose an appropriate class and venue:

http://pragmaticworks.com/services/training/NewTrainingSchedule.aspx

Some words of advice: Register early, as most, if not all, end up booked and sold out rather quickly.  And, the costs of this terrific training are very reasonable! If you want to take your SQL DBA and Developer experience to new heights, Business Intelligence is exploding all over.  With the advent and maturation of products like SQL Server 2008 R2’s SSIS, SSAS, SSRS, and even integration with Excel and SharePoint, many companies large and small are beginning to take notice and recognize the need to build data warehouses, need data mining, and intelligent reporting.  Pragmatic Works’ BI workshops offer this fundamental skill and exposure that you will need to build OLAP Cubes, extract data, and create reports.

I thoroughly enjoyed the class, and look forward to solidifying my knowledge on what we learned, and putting it to use very soon!  After this, I now understand the term, Zero to Cube!

It was great to get them up here to the Northeast, hosted at MS NYC HQ.  Brian missed all the snow, but he did leave the sandals home this time :-)

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