Project “Crescent” is the name currently used to describe the new self-service reporting capability to be released in the next version of SQL Server. It’s a fully-interactive, browser-based data visualization surfaced using Silverlight interactive and animated controls. It’s Reporting Services, only sexier. We saw several knock-your-socks-off demonstrations of this impressive tool at the PASS Summit and various insider events. I’ve been on a steering committee for the product team to help with the UI design concepts for about a year and can say that they are delivering exactly what we envisioned and more.
A Crescent report is designed directly from a SharePoint site, in the web browser. Users connect to data through a prepared semantic (BISM) model and then just select the tables & fields they want to see in different types of report elements. It supports tables, grids, panels and a variety of charts. Data is filtered and sliced by simply clicking on regions and data points. Like PerformancePoint dashboards, report content changes in-place and data regions are synchronized when any region is used to filter the data.
The objective is simplicity and a fully interactive experience for business users. Since Crescent is designed for the user and not for the IT professional; in the current incarnation it doesn’t support expressions, parameters or any sort of custom programming. It’s super easy to use, has a lot of business value right out of the box but it doesn’t afford the same level of customization and power of professional Reporting Services. No doubt that we’ll see future integration enhancements but the emphasis will continue to be simplicity and ease-of-use. Crescent reports are stored in RDLX format which is an extension of the RDL XML schema. There probably won’t be a migration path from Crescent reports to RDL reports right away but this will likely come in the near future. We’re also likely to see the Silverlight controls extended to RDL reports for no other reason than report designers will demand the same cool and dynamic behaviors in their IT-designed operational reports.
Another part of the self-service reporting experience in Denali is a new feature, somewhat similar to report subscriptions, called Report Alerts. Like Crescent, this is only available from a SharePoint 2010 Enterprise environment and uses the SharePoint event model rather than the SQL Agent. The concept is that users are notified when the data feeding a report changes and meets some specific criteria. This may be useful when a metric falls below and threshold or target. Current plans call for alerts to support both RDL and Crescent style reports.