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Entries in Power View (9)

Thursday
Nov072013

How Often are Thumbnail Images Refreshed in the Power Pivot Gallery?

Overview:  A brief discussion of how and when the thumbnail preview images in a Power Pivot Gallery in SharePoint get refreshed.

The Power Pivot Gallery is a specialized document library in SharePoint which utilizes Silverlight to render preview images of the report.  These previews are very helpful for users to quickly see if they have the correct report selected before executing it.

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Ways to Refresh Thumbnail Images

Originally I had thought there would be a timer job which refreshes the thumbnails at a regular interval.  However, that is not the case.  There are 3 ways I’ve found to get thumbnails refreshed:

1.  Upload a new workbook.  The act of uploading a new workbook causes an event handler which will populate the thumbnail image for that workbook.

2.  Modify a workbook. The act of saving an existing workbook causes an event handler which will update the thumbnail image for that workbook.  Even if all you do is Edit Properties and then Save, that’s enough.

3.  Manually execute GallerySnapshot.exe.  This is a Windows service that runs on the app server where Excel Services is installed.  This exe gets called automatically when a file in the Power Pivot Gallery has been added or changed (an itemAdded or itemUpdated event, respectively, as mentioned in #1 and #2 above).  To run it manually, refer to this information:  http://blogs.msdn.com/b/mtn/archive/2010/10/15/how-to-manually-refresh-powerpivot-gallery-thumbnails.aspx.  Note that this service was called GetSnapshot.exe in SharePoint 2010, and has been renamed to GallerySnapshot.exe in SharePoint 2013.  The SharePoint 2013 GallerySnapshot.exe can be found at:  C:\Program Files\Common Files\Microsoft Shared\Web Server Extensions\15\BIN.

The takeaway:  Since the thumbnails only get regenerated in the above circumstances (and not at a regular interval), the preview images shouldn’t be thought of as something that is intended to coincide exactly with data updates.

Finding More Information

Technet – Refresh a Thumbnail Images

MSDN – Refreshing Power Pivot Gallery Thumbnails

Power Pivot Geek – General Problems with Gallery Snapshots Not Being Taken

 

Sunday
Jul212013

Why “Power BI” is a Big Deal

A preview of Power BI will be available later this summer.  Here’s a recap of what I’ve learned so far + why I think this is a very big deal for the world of Microsoft Business Intelligence.

Excel is Primary Tool for Self-Service BI

There are four components to Power BI, and all are delivered via Excel.  Microsoft is capitalizing on the fact that a huge percentage of business users are most comfortable in an Excel environment.  Historically a large portion of Microsoft BI was developed with SQL Server and SharePoint tools – i.e., software predominantly available to IT and BI professionals.

The newest Excel capabilities lower the entry point of BI to anyone who has Excel and an interest in working with data.  SQL Server and SharePoint will continue to be my professional-level tools of choice for creating and delivering Corporate BI solutions.  Meanwhile Excel has emerged as the primary mechanism for creation and delivery of Self-Service BI solutions.  This continues to build upon the Personal BI > Team BI > Corporate BI framework promoted by Microsoft using a combination of Microsoft Office that’s installed on the desktop, Office 365 in the cloud, SQL Server and SharePoint.

Four Components to Power BI

Two of the Power BI components are for data preparation:  Power Pivot and Power Query.  The other two are for data visualization:  Power View and Power Map. 

  • Power Pivot.  Imports and integrates data from various sources for the purpose of creating an in-memory data model.  This allows a functional user to combine various data sources which improves its value – classic examples here are the addition of weather data or demographics data to corporate sales data.  The Power Pivot data model also supports calculations, derived fields, aggregates, hierarchies and key performance indicators.  The ability to create a data model with a relatively low learning curve is a very big deal for data analysts, particularly for one-time analysis type of situations.  It can also be helpful to IT and BI folks for prototyping.
  • Power Query.  Formerly Codename Data Explorer, this tool will be able to search for data (just like a web search experience) online or within your corporate data sources.  The selected data set is immediately imported into an Excel table – this search feature alone is a game-changer.  Some of the native data connectivity it offers are truly distinctive and make data access far easier than it’s been in the past.  It also allows you to do things like merge data, rename columns, replace values and other data modifications in a step-by-step process.  A very big deal here is that the step-by-step data cleansing and shaping process is savable and therefore repeatable.  You can also view the state of the data before and after each step.  Optionally, you can bring the data into your Power Pivot model to continue working with the data even further.
  • Power View.  Power View is an interactive data visualization tool.  It does certain things like highlighting and cross-filtering really well with very little learning curve.  Working with data in Power View bears similarities to working with Excel Pivot Tables as well as to PowerPoint.  In addition to charts, graphs, and table data, Power View also supports maps which pan and zoom via integration with Bing Maps.  The naturally interactive behavior of Power View is what makes it a very big deal.
  • Power Map.  Formerly Codename GeoFlow, Power Map is a 3D mapping tool.  What makes it unique is the ability to save scenes and play them over time in a tour.

Cloud-Based Self-Service BI

Power BI will be delivered in Office 365 (which actually uses SharePoint Online).  Although the preview that starts later this summer will use Office 365, all 4 Power BI tools are available to use as Excel add-ins now (some functionality is not fully supported within on-premises SharePoint).  Considering Microsoft has a cloud-first strategy, it’s not a big surprise that the initial preview will be with Office 365.  It’s unclear currently if all Power BI functionality will be available to on-premises SharePoint sites following the initial cloud-based rollout.  I hope so.

This focus on the cloud is a big deal, especially for small and medium-sized businesses.  It can also be a good thing for business units that need self-service capabilities but don’t have IT support or resources to fire up the required infrastructure.  Even large corporate environments can find some benefits to augmenting their on-premises BI environment with the cloud – especially if they want to upgrade to newer versions in the cloud faster than they can upgrade on-premise versions (i.e., a company-wide upgrade to Office 2013 can be a big task).  Creating the SharePoint and SQL Server server infrastructure to support Excel Services, PowerPivot for SharePoint, Reporting Services, and Analysis Services is not an easy task.  Not having to invest so much time, effort, and cost into setting up this infrastructure will be welcomed by many organizations.  However, there are certainly some obstacles which prevent some companies from using Excel in Office 365 even if they wanted to.  It will be interesting to see to what extent companies embrace the cloud, or utilize a hybrid approach to on-premise and cloud BI.

Mobile Support

Quite obviously mobile support is a big deal … Microsoft has announced native mobile applications for Windows 8, Windows RT, and the iPad.  HTML5 will be used for browser-based mobile delivery on other types of devices.  The way I understand it, to see a report on a mobile device it’ll need to be published to a Power BI workspace in O365, and in the properties of the report you’d set it as a “Mobile Favorite.”  Translation:  companies with Excel and Power View in SharePoint now won’t get to take advantage of this mobile functionality right away.

     

     Source for Image:  Power BI Demo by Amir Netz available here:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jsa-5LGx_IY

My understanding is Silverlight won’t be immediately removed from the stand-alone Power View application in or the SharePoint PowerPivot Gallery, but I’m guessing that’ll come in time.

Data Search and Refresh

Office 365 will utilize collaborative BI workspaces optimized for BI functionality.  Users will be able to publish Excel workbooks to workspaces and securely share them with coworkers.  Reusable data connections can be published, and data refreshes can be handled on-demand or on a schedule.  Data refreshes can access corporate data on-premises as well as data online (with proper security credentials of course).  Being able to search and access your enterprise data is a very big deal (this sounds like something the IT folks will need to facilitate for self-service users to take advantage of).

Queries created from Power Query will be able to be searched and shared among users.  This sharing of queries is a big deal – anything that promotes reusability & consistency gets a big thumbs-up from me.

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     Source for Both Images:  Power BI Demo by Amir Netz available here:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jsa-5LGx_IY

Tracking of Data Usage

A new feature I’m particularly excited about is the tracking of data usage.  Stats re: how often data sources & reports are accessed will be readily accessible to those who build models and reports.  This is currently a feature of Central Administration in SharePoint, or by querying the Power Pivot Management Data tabular model if you don’t want to grant Central Admin access to a non-SharePoint administrator.  I look forward to seeing how easily this information can be reviewed for one report, one data source, or for many reports and data sources.

Easy access to these stats is a big deal because if you see usage going way up, then there’s an awareness that this particular report or data source has become critical.  This might mean a data refresh failure is of greater urgency, or data quality is of even greater concern.  Let’s say it’s a Power Pivot model that’s become critical and it continues to grow larger and more complex – that might be a perfect scenario to upgrade the self-service Power Pivot model to a corporate Tabular model in Analysis Services.

Data Stewardship

Lastly, a big component of Power BI is the concept of data stewardship.  There’s not a lot of public information about this available yet.  This will include management of security, data refresh permissions, tracking data usage, as well as a few other things that we’ll learn more about when the preview is available.  I’ve typically thought of data stewardship with the mindset of data quality and/or master data management, so I’m extremely interested in seeing the direction Microsoft will take with this.  Regardless of how you define it, data stewardship is the kind of thing that can really make a self-service BI initiative more successful and/or less problematic – so I think this concept of data stewardship will end up being a very big deal.

Finding More Information

Register for the “Microsoft Power BI for Office 365” preview – Office Site

Chris Webb’s Blog – Some Thoughts About Power BI

Jen Underwood’s Blog – Microsoft Office 365 Cloud Power BI

Jason Thomas’ Blog – Power BI for Office 365

Jamie Thomson’s Blog – Thoughts on Power BI for Office 365

John White’s Blog – Power BI-What Is It?

 

Monday
Jun032013

Displaying a Power View Report on a SharePoint Page

Overview: How to structure the URL for displaying a Power View report on a SharePoint 2013 page, including what parameters to pass in the URL.  This entry presumes the reader is familiar with SharePoint basics, including how to create a site page.

Ways to Render Power View Reports Within SharePoint

Because of its support for previewing the report via thumbnail images, the PowerPivot Gallery is a very common way of storing & accessing Power View reports:

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However, perhaps you really would like to display a Power View report on a SharePoint page, possibly as part of a dashboard that combines various types of reports. 

Ways of rendering Power View reports in SharePoint 2013 include:

  • Via the PowerPivot Gallery (as shown above)
  • Via a regular document library (note: it won’t have the thumbnail previews like the PowerPivot Gallery does due to its integration with Silverlight)
  • Within a Page Viewer Web Part
  • Within a Silverlight Web Part (note: since word on the street is that Silverlight has a finite lifespan, this might not be your first choice)
  • Embedded within a PerformancePoint Dashboard (via the web page report type)
  • Within an Excel Web Access Web Part (applicable to Power View reports created with Excel 2013)

Note that even though Power View is part of the Reporting Services family, you cannot use the SQL Server Reporting Services Report Viewer web part – it can only display RDL files (generated from Reporting Services or Report Builder).  It cannot currently display RDLX files (generated from Power View for SharePoint).

The remainder if this blog entry focuses on the Page Viewer Web Part.

Steps to Use the Page Viewer Web Part

First, you’ll want to create a Site Page in SharePoint if you don’t have one already.  Once you are in Edit mode for your page, go to the Insert ribbon.  From there, choose Web Part on the ribbon.  Browse through the Media and Content category to find the Page Viewer.  Make sure you’ve clicked within the section you want the Power View report to be in, then click Add.

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Then you’ll want to click the “open the tool pane” hyperlink to access its properties.

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There are four sections of properties – only the first two sections are really important for displaying our Power View report.

Page Viewer Properties

  • Web Page radio button – Leave this selected.
  • Link – Specify the URL which will look something like this (below is more detail about constructing the URL):

    /_layouts/15/ReportServer/AdHocReportDesigner.aspx?RelativeReportUrl=%2fPowerPivot%20Gallery%2fMC%20Garden%20Center%20Analysis.rdlx&ViewMode=Presentation&ReportSection=ReportSection2&Fit=True&PreviewBar=False

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Hint:  the only piece that is absolutely positively required is the URL as shown in the above Page Viewer section…but if you skip the rest of the settings, you’ll end up with awfully ugly output that isn’t readable at all:

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Since we want it to be pretty, we’ll carry on with the rest of the properties…

Appearance Properties

  • Title – Change this from Page Viewer if you intend for the title to be shown (often the report itself will have a title, so often you can omit titling the web part itself too).
  • Height – Here’s where you are going to need to experiment somewhat.  The “Adjust height to fit zone” default doesn’t really do the trick from what I have seen.
  • Width – Chances are you can leave this as-is so it adjusts to fit the zone.
  • Chrome State – You’ll want to leave this as normal to ensure the report itself displays.
  • Chrome Type – Set this based on how you want to see the page.  If you are skipping the Title (i.e., if the report itself has a title), you might set the Chrome Type to have a border only, or perhaps none. 

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Layout Properties

Nothing required to be changed here.

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Advanced Properties

Nothing required to be changed here unless you’d like.

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Constructing the URL for Display of the Power View Report

Now let’s take a step back and look at how the URL is constructed.  It uses the AdHocReportDesigner.aspx page, as well as several parameters, including:

  • RelativeReportURL – Points to the RDLX file
  • ViewMode – Presentation or Edit
  • ReportSection – Reference to which view will be displayed initially
  • Fit – True/False setting which allows for resizing
  • PreviewBar – True/False setting which controls if the menu across the top is shown or not

Here’s how the URL can be broken down into its components:

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How the Power View Report Looks In the Page Viewer Web Part

How it ends up looking in SharePoint depends a lot on the parameter values you pass in via the URL, as well as the Height property you set in the properties.  Note that the pagination controls at the bottom left & bottom right are still active which is nice.  This means that even if you set the URL to jump to view 6, for instance, the end user can still paginate through and see all the views (i.e., pages) contained within the single Power View report.

Here’s an example where the Report Section is set to launch page 2 immediately, the View Mode is set to Presentation, and the Preview Bar is set to False within the URL string:

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Here’s another example of the same report, except the Preview Bar is set to True within the URL string:

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And here’s one more example of the same report, this time with the View Mode set to Edit:

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Prerequisites

SharePoint needs to be on-premises (as opposed to SharePoint Online) and configured in “SharePoint View Mode” rather than “Office Web Apps Server Mode.”  I’m guessing this is a temporary limitation around OWA support.

The Power View report needs to be created in SharePoint, as opposed to within an Excel 2013 file.  This requires the Reporting Services Add-In for SharePoint.

The browser must support the <iframe> element, which basically nests browsing context separately from the entire page.  All major modern browsers support iframes.

Finding More Information

Dan English Blog – Presenting Power View Reports to Users

Dan English Blog – URL Actions within Reporting Services Power View (RTM)

Himanshu Gupta Blog – Integrate Power View with SharePoint Using Web Parts

Office - Power View in Excel  in SharePoint Server or SharePoint Online in Office 365

 

Saturday
May252013

Behavior of Power View in Excel 2013 within SharePoint 2013

Overview:  A quick post about what to expect when integrating Power View worksheets embedded in Excel 2013 into a SharePoint 2013 site.  Note that this behavior is a temporary situation…I’m guessing the SharePoint team at Microsoft is planning to getting full integration with Power View working.  Should just be a matter of time. 

Versions Applicable:  This behavior I’ve observed is applicable to Excel 2013 (i.e., the only version of Excel that supports embedding Power View worksheets) with SharePoint 2013.

First, let’s take a peek at the original Excel file.  This first screen shot is from the Excel application, before it’s been uploaded to SharePoint.  Note that there are 5 worksheets, 2 of which are Power View.

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Next, let’s look at how the Excel file appears in SharePoint.  This next screen shot is from a PowerPivot Gallery in SharePoint 2013.  Note the display of an icon at the bottom right of each thumbnail preview – the tooltip for these reads “The document contains more items than can be displayed by the PowerPivot Gallery.” 

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Next we’ll click on the Excel file to render it interactively using Excel Services.  Note that the Power View worksheets do appear along the bottom.  Note also that the interactivity functionality is present.  That’s the good news!  (Keep reading for the bad news…)

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Next let’s download the workbook from SharePoint by doing a File > Save As > Download.  We are then presented with a dialog box stating “Features that we can’t show in the browser and interactive reports will be removed from the downloaded copy.  Continue with the download?”   Say Yes.

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After selecting a location for the downloaded file, open it in Excel.  Guess what we see in the downloaded version of the file?  You got it…only 3 worksheets.  The 2 Power View worksheets were not retained because they’re not yet fully supported.

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The moral of the story here?  Until we have a release that fully supports Power View embedded within Excel, hang onto your original Excel file!

 

Sunday
Apr072013

Connectivity Requirements of Power View in Excel 2013

Overview:  Quick tip about using Power View in Excel 2013 re: how data refreshes are handled, as well as requirements for data connectivity and Internet connectivity.

Power View Refresh Behavior Upon Opening the Excel File

Recently I had an “aha” moment when I realized Power View acts differently than a PivotTable when you open a previously saved Excel 2013 file.  When you open an Excel file that has previously been saved, a PivotTable will render its last saved state (if the external data connection is *not* set to “Refresh data when opening the file”).  I usually explain to new self-service users that this behavior of a PivotTable can be a bit of a security hole if an Excel file is emailed to someone who doesn’t have formal security to see the data – the recipient can see the data last saved in the PivotTable but they couldn’t refresh it unless they have permission to do so (if the external data connection is *not* set to “Refresh data when opening the file”).

However…Power View does not behave the same way.  When you open a previously saved Excel file, it immediately wants to refresh the Power View sheet when you click on it.  As far as I’m aware, Power View cannot render its last saved state, nor can it render a snapshot as of a point in time.

For example, the following screen shot displays a Power View sheet where the external Tabular model data source is unavailable.  The Power View message says “Sorry, something went wrong while loading the model for the item or data source ‘DataSourceName’. Verify that the connection information is correct and that you have permissions to access the data source.”

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This behavior tells us we need to have connectivity to our external data source in order to view the Power View report.

Online Connectivity Requirements for using Power View

From what I’ve learned so far, there are the following online requirements for Power View reporting in Excel:

  1. Access to External Data Sources (i.e., if accessing an external Tabular model instead of an embedded PowerPivot model).  This might mean a worker has to VPN into their office if using an Excel file while at home, for instance.
  2. Internet Connectivity if using Maps (Power View integrates with with Bing Maps).
  3. Internet Connectivity if using Image URLs (as opposed to binary images embedded in the data model).

Noticed anything else along these lines?  Please leave me a comment and I’d be happy to add it.

 

Saturday
Mar302013

Creating a Power View Report in Excel 2013 Which Uses an External Data Connection

Overview:  Quick tip about how to insert a Power View worksheet in Excel 2013 that points to an external data connection (as opposed to an internal PowerPivot model).  Also includes a tidbit at the end about why the behavior of data connections makes Power View unable to be used for snapshot reporting.

What Doesn’t Work With an External Data Connection

You’ve probably noticed on Excel’s Insert menu a choice for Power View.

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The Insert menu works beautifully when a PowerPivot model is embedded within the same Excel workbook that is open.  However, if an embedded PowerPivot model is not available, instead you get a message:  “Power View needs data to work with.”

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So, let’s investigate a different technique in order to make an external connection to an Analysis Services Tabular model.

Connecting to an External Data Source

If your connection already exists, choose it in Existing Connections and skip to Step 4.

1.  On the Data menu, choose From Other Sources > From Analysis Services.

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2.  Select the Tabular Model you want, then Next.

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3.  Modify the File Name and Friendly Name if you’d like, then Finish.

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4.  Change the radio button to Power View Report (instead of the default PivotTable Report).

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You probably also want to visit the Properties pane.  By default, the checkbox to “Refresh data when opening the file” is not selected. 

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If you leave the “Refresh data when opening the file” option unchecked (which is the default), when the file is reopened Power View will render a message “Please refresh to see the data for this Power View sheet.” Doing a Refresh fixes it, but it’s one extra click every single time you open the file.

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Inherently what this means is that Power View cannot be used as a tool for snapshot reporting.  With an Excel PivotTable, unless you choose to refresh the data you see the last saved state.  Power View, however, does not behave the same way – it won’t render the last saved state.  It must be refreshed.  Therefore, this means to save a snapshot at a point in time the report would have to be exported.

To change the setting after it’s been set up, go to Connections on the Data menu, then choose Properties.

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