Microsoft's First Annual BI Power Hour

Microsoft's General Manager of Business Intelligence (BI) Bill Baker presided over an unorthodox session during the Microsoft Tech Ed 2005 conference in Orlando Florida two weeks ago. Microsoft called the session "The First Annual BI Power Hour." The session centered on demonstrations of SQL Server 2005 BI products. Baker and his team used SQL Server 2005 Integration Services (SSIS), SQL Server 2005 Analysis Services, SQL Server 2005 Reporting Services, and SQL Server 2005 Notification Services (which is now officially considered part of the SQL Server BI platform) to show us nifty product features. Between each speaker the audience was bombarded with t-shirts, beach balls, and Frisbees launched by an unlikely crowd of surplus SQL Server product and program managers. The demonstrations showed the variety of BI tools Microsoft is providing, how they integrate with each other, and how businesses can use them in practical ways.

James MacLennen started the session by building an Analysis Services data-mining model to predict which session a Tech Ed attendee would attend the final day based on their earlier session selections. Next, Donald Farmer used SSIS to create a skeleton map of the west coast using ZIP code information with corresponding latitude and longitude designations visualized during data import through a scatter diagram data reader. Up third, Shyam Pather used Notification Services to add alerting to an e-commerce application. By using Notification Services, the application let users subscribe for customized alerts about new products of interest to them. Then, Richard Tkachuk walked through using Analysis Services to gain insight from Web-log analysis. Batting fifth, Brian Welcker spun up Reporting Services to build a report against a Web service data source, then created a self-referencing labyrinth of reports in which a report could treat itself as a Web service data source. Donald Farmer took the stage again to show import and text mining of a live RSS data feed by using SSIS. For the seventh demo, Richard Tkachuk showed how Analysis Services 2005 handles the complex problem of many-to-many (M:N) relationships in underlying relational data sources and how visual totals aren't necessarily reality. Almost finished... James MacLennan came back for a data-mining encore and used Microsft Excel and a cell formula containing a data mining extensions (DMX) query that used other cells in the row to predict the value of an unknown cell. With time running out, Brian Welcker came back for the ninth and final demo. He wrote a complex report--from scratch--that functioned as an interactive game of the old favorite Hangman using a sliced-up image of Amir Netz (Product Unit Manager for Analysis Services) in a crazy cowboy outfit as the unlucky victim.

Bill Baker reemerged with small beads of sweat on his forehead--unsure that Brian would be able to finish on time--for the final surprise of the session. Regardless of whether you were successful in fielding one of the miscellaneous shirts, balls, or other flying objects thrown throughout the session, everyone was going to leave with an exclusive "First Annual BI Power Hour" t-shirt!

Between my rigorous schedule as a Microsoft Certified Trainer (MCT) Ambassador and fielding BI questions in the SQL Server Cabana area, I didn't catch too many sessions at Tech Ed. I'm glad I made a point to grab the front row for "The First Annual BI Power Hour." I might have attended more technical or useful sessions during my conference circuit, but the BI Power Hour was a breath of fresh air amidst everything else on my busy agenda. All in all, I left the session even more pumped-up about SQL Server 2005 BI and the exciting work coming in the months ahead. My only question is, will it still be the first annual if they do it again at Tech Ed Europe in July?

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