Sql Web Server Business Intelligence Advancement Workshop 2012 – For several years, Visual Studio has been my go-to tool for designing semantic data models used for Business Intelligent reporting. Back in 2005, I used the Business Intelligence Development Studio (BIDS) Visual Studio add-in for SSIS, SSRS and SSAS projects to develop BI solutions with various cubes. In 2012 when Microsoft started the transition from on-disk cubes to SSAS in-memory Tabular models, I used SQL Server Data Tools (SSDT) to create tabular models. It was a rocky road at first. The Tabular Designer was fragile to put it mildly.
Enter Power BI… Originally intended for self-help data modeling and report design, Power BI Desktop has quickly grown into a robust and full-featured BI design tool. Not only does Power BI Desktop include many great features, it is stable and organized. It’s a pleasure to use it compared to my first experience using SSDT in tabular model design. I prefer to use Desktop to do model design. It’s faster, more convenient and easier than SSDT. However, at some point in the life of the project it makes more sense to transform the data model into a business measurement effort.
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“Paul, what the #$@! do you think Visual Studio is an essential tool and there are some things you can’t do without it!”
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, I agree and will continue to use SSDT for a few key features. So, yes, I’m not completely done with using Visual Studio to manage projects without SSAS, and maybe even coding…I’ll finish this part of the story in a bit.
I want to be clear – I love Visual Studio. It is a great product for software development and various business and data solutions. However, history has shown that the idea of combining several different products and expecting them all to work together seamlessly is unacceptable. Without going into all the reasons why it was difficult for Microsoft to develop and maintain a rock solid table model add-in for Visual Studio, compare that effort to the evolution of the Power BI product. The Power BI product team is completely focused on developing a single product development team under unified leadership, with a focused set of goals. Negotiating the collaborative development of any product by several different teams is difficult for any organization, especially one as large as Microsoft. The reason new features can be added weekly to the Power BI service and monthly to Power BI Desktop is that one product team manages all those features.
Some of you will remember the time when the Business Intelligence message from Microsoft said that we should build solutions that depend on integrated components of many products such as SQL Server (related, SSIS, SSAS and SSRS), Windows Server, SharePoint and Office – everything is planned. working together seamlessly. It was a good idea – and still in moderation – but this approach produced a soft and complex beast that was difficult to handle and had many possible points of failure.
One of the reasons Power BI Desktop is such an incredibly simplified product is that the feature set is designed for data analysts and not IT developers. In order to maintain a simplified product, we will never see enterprise capabilities (such as version control, multi-developer code integration and scripting) added to this product. These capabilities exist, however, in Analysis Services projects and community-supported tools such as Tabular Editor and DAX Studio. But now (drum-roll, please) Power BI datasets can be developed and deployed in the workplace using enterprise tools through the magic of the XMLA endpoint.
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Call it a learning disability, but I’ve tried several times to use Visual Studio’s table designer to manage SSAS projects with the same result. Small demo and POC projects go well but not-so-much when faced with the complexities of a product-scale design. I guess it’s just my natural optimism to hope that things will go better than in the past, but the laws of the universe dictate that if you do the same thing, history will repeat itself.
Here’s how it goes… I start building the data model in SSDT by importing some tables and queries, and adding relationships and dimensions. Everything is good, right?
At this point in the timeline, I tend to convince myself that the development environment is stable and that everything will be fine so I move forward, believing that everything will be fine.
Then I add some tables and a bunch of new DAX figures – and soon everything goes to hell. The model designer stops responding or behaves at times, Visual Studio crashes, the model definition file gets corrupted and I remember I’ve been down this dark road before.
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When I recount a past pain, it’s frustrating to open a support ticket and explain to a developer that “sometimes when I do that, this happens but not always” and “in all the confusion, I don’t remember exactly how I did this situation.”
I greatly appreciate the efforts of Kasper DeJonge from the SSAS product team back in 2012 as we spent hours in remote meetings trying to reproduce various unusual behaviors in the table designer with a big data model. The biggest problem was that the Model.bim file, which defined all the data model objects, was a huge XML document (ours was approaching 100,000 lines.) Every change in the designer required the entire file to be rewritten. to disk and loaded back into memory. Things improved significantly in 2016 and 2017 when the model description was simplified using JSON rather than XML, and the file structure was simplified to reduce file size. Similar meetings with several other product leaders proved that the product team is very committed to improving the knowledge of the business table model.
I’m talking about solutions and not just talking about problems. So what is the answer? How should we manage the business BI data model and Power BI solutions from now on? Using the Tabular Editor alongside Visual Studio is a world-class experience. You can open the Model.bim file stored in the Visual Studio SSAS project folder.
Tabular Editor is an excellent tool for developing and managing tabular data models for SQL Server Analysis Services (SSAS), Azure Analysis Services (AAS) and Power BI. It is a community-supported tool developed by Daniel Otykier, Microsoft MVP and Senior Business Intelligence Architect with Kapacity.dk in Denmark. The most comprehensive resource for finding this and other community-supported BI tools on the Microsoft platform is on the Italian site at SqlBi.com/Tools
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If the project is under source code control, changes made with the Tabular Editor will be detected and can be synchronized with the remote source repository from Team Explorer in Visual Studio.
Do not try to do this – it will turn out badly. Starting the model creation in Power BI Desktop will save you time but once you switch to the Model.bim file format, use the Tableau Editor.
A monolithic PBIX file created with Power BI Desktop that contains reports, data models and queries is simple and easy to manage until you need to overcome a few limitations imposed by this.
Power BI reports and datasets (data models) should be managed separately for all significant projects. Time. …whether you need to convert the data model to Model.bim or not.
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Separating Power BI reports from the model/dataset has many benefits including allowing report and data model development to be done in parallel with different team members. This is absolutely necessary to create a validated dataset for users to connect and do their own reporting and analysis.
This is a good thing. Keep doing this but use the Tabular Editor as your primary model design tool.
A data model saved as a Model.bim file can be modified when compared, split and merged between data model version files, a default AS database or Power BI datasets. Manage integrated source control with Azure DevOps or GitHub. Log changes, branch, merge, push and pull changes made by other developers but not using Visual Studio.
The Tabular Editor is a more advanced design experience than Visual Studio. It’s intuitive, easy to use and won’t blow you away when you’re writing math calculations. You can switch back and forth between tools as each tool has features that the other does not. Just be sure to save and close the model file in one tool before opening it in another …AND MAKE BACKUPS! The more I do this, the more I prefer to use the Tabular Editor.
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Table Editor doesn’t have a graphical model designer so I prefer to use Visual Studio to model tables and relationships. Set table and column properties, create calculated and dimensioned columns, manage partitions and other table model features in the Table Editor.
From Power BI Desktop, save the file as a .PBIT (template) to be opened in the Tabular Editor. Once you have saved the file in .BIM format, this is a one-way trip as the Enterprise model cannot be saved back to a PBIT or PBIX file. Of course, when you start designing a data model in Visual Studio, it’s there
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