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PASS Summit - Tom Casey

Today's keynote was from Tom Casey, called Bringing Greater agility to your business.

The number for the day is 20%. Fewer than 20% of the people that we help every day as data professionals, have access to BI tools and technology. I wonder if that's true. In many places I'd think it was lower, but I do agree with Tom that we have to do better. We have to find ways to better bring data to our customers.

And educating them. Helping them not only to see data and use tools, but also how to understand patterns in data. That requires some business and knowledge growth from us as well.

Microsoft continues to work on traditional BI tools and technology, and continues to increase their investment. They also support PASS, with 2 dedicated BI tracks and over 50 BI sessions. 31% of the people attending chose DW and BI as their tracks. It's good to keep in mind that Microsoft cancelled their BI conference, so they have sent a lot of people here. I hope they continue to support BI at PASS, even if they revive their own conference.

Or maybe PASS would sponsor a BI conference?

A customer success story from Premier Bankcard, 9th largest M/C issuer in the US. They're likely a good BI customer, needing to analyze lots of data and understand trends. They supposedly feed information from the data warehouse to all employees. That's like saying all users receive information from the financial system because they get a pay stub.

As much as I like the idea of showcasing customers, I hate that things are hyped up and unrealistic. We believe in MS technology. You don't need to hype, BS, or excite us. We're already there. Give us real details and reasons along with realistic issues that have to have occurred.

The MS vision, BI for everyone. It's good that they're recognizing that there are all kinds of information, stored in all kinds of formats. And you can't force it all to be in databases or cubes. We have to find a new way to bring information together in new ways, and giving that power to more users.

Are you THAT GUY?

The DIY guy, the guy, or gal, that needs to get things done. You assemble the information yourself, in Access or Excel. You build an application that's effective.

And it's done fast.

And as more people start to want your data, because it works, your application becomes a problem. It doesn't scale in Access or Excel.

It IT we've tried to squash that guy too often. We complain about them, but they're effective. Microsoft I think is giving up on fighting this guy and instead embrace him and give him more tools. I agree with that, and PowerPivot is a tool designed to work with this guy.

Gemini has become PowerPivot for Excel and PowerPivot for Sharepoint. Amir Netz, who is a great speaker, is doing a PowerPivot demo. I saw some of this yesterday in a press briefing, and talked to a TAP customer whose data they are using for the demo. It's pretty cool.

One very interesting thing in the Powerpoint demo is the amount of compression they get. I saw 101,000,000 rows in an Excel, PowerPivot table. It's 20+GB raw, but it's compressed to 133MB. It sorts and scrolls fast, faster than it used to take for 65k rows. The demo is impressive. I might need to get Red Gate's Data Generator and give this a try and see if it really works on my desktop.

The way it works is there is an instance of SSAS running in-process in Excel. I hope it scales well, and doesn't crush the average desktop machine when it's running Outlook, etc.

There are some enhancements to the formula engine in PowerPivot, using Excel type expressions, but bringing more BI type functionality. The formulas now work with tables, not just scalars.

The thing I worry about is the refresh/recalculate of Excel being used to requery data, or recalculate things when someone hits a button or opens an XLSX. That could cause quite a load on the system. It's a good idea in practice, but I start to see the potential mesh interconnections of these XLSXes with more systems. It could cause more problems.

The idea is that users will integrate with Sharepoint and upload their spreadsheets there. There are new skins to present the documents in new ways instead of just a list of names. That is cool. Eye candy for the information worker. Not a bad thing, but I can see a meeting to decide what view to present to people.

One thing I saw yesterday, and it very cool, is a set of geographical controls for visualizing data. I haven't needed these often, but when I have, it's been hard to visualize things without a good control. And cumbersome to set one up. That is a nice enhancement.

When you upload the XLSX to Sharepoint, the application uses an instance of Analysis Services on the server. That's good and bad. It gives us something to manage, but the application appears to be automatically built to power the PowerPivot functionality. That's scary for IT and I don't know what it means, but I have the utmost confidence that things will not work smoothly and DBAs will still have jobs.

The thing that it seems to me is that you have to go 2010 all the way. Office, Sharepoint, SQL Server 2008 R2. And it's a lot of 1.0 technology.

I wonder how many people are willing to do this? I did speak with one of the TAP customers at breakfast and he likes it. It has worked well for him, and he doesn't seem to be too worried. How much of that is NDA and he can't talk about issues, I don't know. How much of it is that he's been dunked in the MS kool-aid? Who knows, but I think that it must be working well for him to be willing to share this information.

There is more information at www.powerpivot.com and @powerpivot.

The Voice of the DBA

Steve Jones is the editor of SQLServerCentral.com and visits a wide variety of data related topics in his daily editorial. Steve has spent years working as a DBA and general purpose Windows administrator, primarily working with SQL Server since it was ported from Sybase in 1990. You can follow Steve on Twitter at twitter.com/way0utwest


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