Top Takeaways from Microsoft's Reporting Roadmap

The future for on-premises Microsoft business intelligence looks a whole lot brighter these days. Here are the top five takeaways from Microsoft's recent business intelligence announcements.

Jen Underwood

January 25, 2016

4 Min Read
SQL Server 2016 Reporting Services
SQL Server 2016 Reporting Services

At PASS Summit, Microsoft quietly unveiled a public reporting roadmap that eased customer minds and answered long lingering questions. If you work with Power BI, SQL Server Reporting Services or Analysis Services, the official blog is a must read and the PASS Summit BI Foundational session is a must see.  The future for on-premises Microsoft business intelligence looks a whole lot brighter these days. Here are the top takeaways from these exciting announcements.


1.   The Box is Back

After several years of cloud heavy messaging, Microsoft shared a refreshing change in stance. The “box is back” theme was sprinkled into the opening keynote and in numerous session presentations. Attendees heard phrases such as “we have our head in the cloud with our feet on the ground”, “move to cloud at your own pace”, “cloud and on-premises are better together” and “choice”. Although Azure cloud offerings such as Power BI and Cortana Analytics are getting the most marketing attention, customers should be relieved to know that Microsoft has been silently making massive on-premises investments for business intelligence in SQL Server 2016.



2.   Cloud and On-Premises Reporting Symmetry

Microsoft executives and product team members showcased symmetry across on-premises and cloud BI solutions. On-premises Reporting Services now includes classic Reporting Service reports and new mobile reports (Datazen) beautifully integrated together. Further unification of on-premises reporting will include future Power BI Desktop report publishing to on-premises Reporting Services. Reporting Services content can be optionally pinned to the Power BI cloud solution and all these various content types can be seamlessly delivered through the Power BI native mobile apps. If you are interested in evaluating these capabilities, download the latest SQL Server 2016 CTP 3.2+ release.



3.   Reporting Services Resurgence

By far the biggest crowd pleaser was the amazing Reporting Services make-over showcasing updated native reports and new fully-interactive, mobile reports. Excel aside, Reporting Services is the most popular business intelligence offering from Microsoft. Updated Reporting Services also boasts modern browser support with a HTML5-based renderer, more out-of-the box charts including treemap and sunburst, support for R data visualizations with libraries like ggplot2, improved parameter placement, export to PowerPoint and so much more.


4.   Investing in Both Modes of Analysis Services

To the delight of thousands of customers around the world with deployments of Analysis Services Multidimensional mode, Microsoft shared improvements in the diagram view layout, performance and maintenance. New DirectQuery capabilities with SQL Server, SQL Server Parallel Data Warehouse (Microsoft Analytics Platform System), Oracle and Teradata and MDX support for DirectQuery was also shared. Microsoft also showcased Power BI Desktop direct connectivity with Analysis Services Multidimensional mode models. A key point to take away from those actions is that Analysis Services Multidimensional is finally getting investment attention. It will not be going away anytime soon.

For Analysis Services Tabular fans, bi-directional cross filtering was added. Note that we got a first glimpse of bi-directional cross filtering in the Power BI Desktop engine last year.  Power BI Desktop leverages Analysis Services Tabular, in-memory technology. We also saw rich DAX formula editing and a new tabular scripting capability in SQL Server Data Tools (SSDT). Speaking SQL Server Data Tools (SSDT), those are now nicely cooked in Visual Studio 2015.


A key theme was the concept of Analysis Services as the one modernized semantic model for governed self-service business intelligence and enterprise business intelligence. Now that in-memory technology is much more powerful, traditional aggregated OLAP may not always be needed or wanted. For groups wanting the benefits of a BI Semantic Model that contains consistent enterprise-wide dimensions, facts and business logic for use in numerous BI tools such as Excel, Reporting Services, Power BI Desktop and other vendor BI tools, DirectQuery capabilities in Analysis Services is significantly improving. DirectQuery allows the data to stay in place at the data source versus moving or copying large amounts of data into an aggregated format. The reduces Analysis Services processing times, storage requirements and maintenance while retaining the elegance of empowering self-service BI to masses with a business user friendly reporting model.   


5.   Microsoft is Moving Fast

The pace of innovation is extreme with Azure, Cortana Analytics and Power BI cloud offerings delivering weekly releases of new capabilities. Now we are hearing that the on-premises releases will speed up following the SQL Server 2016 general availability release expected later this year. The days of waiting five years, three years or even one year for needed, top requested features are long gone. The stride of customer uptake of these new offerings will likely be the laggard in the modern software delivery models. 

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Jen Underwood

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