SQL Server 2005 Reporting Services--Worth the Upgrade

More than a year ago, Microsoft released SQL Server 2000 Reporting Services as an add-on to SQL Server 2000. Today, Microsoft announced the newest features in Reporting Services Service Pack 2 (SP2), so I thought now would be a good time to clear up a few misconceptions about Reporting Services 2005. Half the people I talk to think that the next Reporting Services release will be a whole new product with dramatic core changes. The rest of the people I talk to think that because we've seen so much added functionality in Reporting Services 2000 SP1 and SP2, Reporting Services 2005 will be the same as Reporting Services 2000. Although Reporting Services' core architecture isn't changing, the next release has plenty to get excited about. Recently, I talked to Microsoft Group Program Manager for Reporting Services Brian Welcker, who confirmed that the company is adding lots of functionality to Reporting Services 2005; it's worth the upgrade.

You can consider Reporting Services 2005 an entirely new product because it's finally fully integrated with SQL Server 2005--the platform it was originally paired with. Welcker talked about how Reporting Services integrates deeply with the Analysis Services Unified Dimensional Model (UDM) to offer true enterprise reporting from OLAP. (I covered this integration last month in "Analysis Services Integrates with Reporting" at http://lists.sqlmag.com/t?ctl=8469:7B3DB .) Some other new Reporting Services 2005 bells and whistles include a date-picker, multivalue support for parameter selection, in-report resorting of data, a new XML data provider that permits data access from a URL or Web service, and full 64-bit support. Reporting Services can run natively on an Itanium-based server and natively (or in the Windows-on-Windows or "WOW" virtual machine) on Opteron and Xeon-extended machines.

Another great new feature in Reporting Services 2005 is the Report Builder, an ad hoc reporting tool that lets end users intuitively navigate data sources to build and share reports--reports that let them drill down from summary data into granular details. Note that Report Builder will be available only in the Enterprise Edition. Welcker walked me though the process of using the Report Builder Semantic Modeler to generate a semantic data model on top of a SQL Server or Analysis Services data source. Once you have the data model, end users can perform ad hoc data exploration using a lightweight browser-deployed .NET smart client interface against a semantic query engine that generates T-SQL or MDX queries against the underlying database.

Welcker also talked about Visual Studio 2005's embedded reporting capabilities. Visual Studio 2005, which Microsoft is developing and releasing with SQL Server 2005, will offer Reporting Services Report Controls that let applications process and render reports with or without access to a Reporting Services Report Server. This opens many doors for developers to use Reporting Services with OEM applications in unique high-security environments and deploy reporting for SQL Server Express. Interestingly, Microsoft has switched the Report Manager application to use the Visual Studio Report Controls, helping the development team test and optimize the Report Controls.

Many folks have asked me about what it will take to upgrade their Reporting Services environment to 2005. According to Welcker, "Everything will be upgrade-in-place for Report Server. Reporting Services 2000 reports can be run on 2005 though there won't be support for any features that are new in 2005. Reports will be automatically upgraded if opened in the 2005 Report Designer." I think there's a lot to get excited about in the new Reporting Services. Get the April Community Technology Preview (CTP) and be on the lookout for SQL Server 2005 Beta 3 to get started with Reporting Services and Report Builder.

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