SQL Server BI Blog

Leaf-Level Book Review: 'Microsoft PowerPivot for Excel 2010 Give Your Data Meaning'

Being a member of the Analysis Services Insiders group is one of my favorite parts about being a Microsoft SQL/BI MVP. The Insider forums are locked down to select individuals and provide Microsoft experts with a venue to exchange ideas, thoughts, and technical solutions among one another. As a result, overtime I have begun to know both Marco & Alberto, and when I learned they were both working on a collaborative PowerPivot book it peaked my interest. Furthermore, when I learned that the book would have a focus on DAX my interest increased yet again. I received an early copy of the printed manual and over the past 24 hours I have torn thru the book’s newly printed pages eager to see what my fellow colleagues across the pond created.

Microsoft SQL Server PowerPivot is an extremely powerful and yet diverse Self-Service BI (SSBI) toolset. There are aspects of PowerPivot that are more slanted towards information workers (PowerPivot for Excel) while other aspects are intended purely for IT Pros (PowerPivot for SharePoint). The key decision for software-centric book authoring “is it better to drill down on a subset of a larger software product’s features or provide complete coverage with less details” still applies today. Marco Russo and Alberto Ferrari have clearly decided to focus on the PowerPivot for Excel experience with an advanced exploration of DAX, PowerPivot’s best in class information worker expression language.

The book’s key driver for purchase is that it is authored by seasoned Microsoft BI experts who exploit PowerPivot for Excel’s analytical capabilities to the max. Who better to teach information workers about the advanced analytical capabilities of PowerPivot for Excel (which is driven internally by the in-memory Analysis Services Vertipaq engine) than those who’ve used past incarnations of similar technology for similar purposes? While I agree that PowerPivot for Excel 100% does not require information workers to be familiar with Analysis Services concepts, the author’s background serves them well for the aspects of PowerPivot they choose to attack.

The manual begins with a nice introduction on classic Excel Pivot Tables and then demonstrates how PowerPivot for Excel clearly overcomes the limitations of the older pivot table & VLOOKUP technology. In chapters two and three the book explores PowerPivot for Excel introductory features including an introduction to DAX. The authors then introduce you to the concept of PowerPivot data models in chapter four with the loading of PowerPivot data models being covered in chapter five. Chapter six is where the authors expertise really begins to shine with a treatment of DAX’s Evaluation Context and specifically the CALCULATE function.

Chapter seven hones in on using DAX for common time intelligence calculations. Date and time calculations are the crux of any analytical solution. Common expressions such as year-to-date, year-over-year, and beginning/closing balances are covered in detail. You are then taken into a chapter that shows you how to master Excel 2010 Pivot Tables including Classic Pivot Tables, OLAP Pivot Tables, and PowerPivot Pivot Tables.

Chapters nine and ten focus on DAX and data model patterns. SSBI users will find both of these chapters are extremely well tailored for them addressing common analytical challenges such as ratio calculations, ranking calculations, banding, and even a demonstration of how to overcome unsupported relationships with DAX. The manual concludes with chapter eleven covering the publishing of PowerPivot for Excel workbooks including a primer on PowerPivot for SharePoint via SharePoint data refresh settings & configuration.

Microsoft PowerPivot for Excel 2010 is without question the best book on PowerPivot for Excel I’ve read to date. The authors have executed well on a no-holds-barred approach to exploiting PowerPivot for Excel and everything that the client-experience can provide users. Both information workers and business intelligence professionals alike who use or intend to use PowerPivot for Excel should consider the book as required reading. Additionally, due to the sheer volume of DAX coverage, readers should retain the book as a must-have DAX reference.


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