Consuming Live Data Sources vs On-Premise Data via gateways

So I got this question today, on what seemed to be a little confusing for the questioner, about two features of Power BI Pro.

Power BI Pro - Two Features

The question: “Why does it say ‘Consume live data sources with full interactivity’ as one feature while the other feature says ‘Access on-premise data using the Data Connectivity Gateways’, while it is obvious that if you need to connect to an on-premise data source to consume live data it has to be through a gateway?”

Okay, this is how I would explain this:

‘Consume live data sources with full interactivity’ means that you can directly access live data sources, such as transactional databases or a data mart without having to load the data into Power BI first. Power BI has two ways of presenting the data to the user to build reports: “Import” and “Direct Query”. The former allows you to connect to the data source, pull in the required data into Power BI and build a model off that, and then let the consumer build reports off this data model. Here the user hits Power BI for the data. The latter allows you to directly connect to the data source via Power BI and build reports off the data structure that already exists at the source.

The other feature, ‘Access on-premises data using the Data Connectivity Gateways’ just mean that in order for you to get data from an on-premise source you need to use a Data Connectivity Gateway. The gateway is but a security mechanism that allows Power BI (which is a cloud service) to access a client’s secure environment (which is on-premise) to access data, regardless of it using the “Import” or the “Direct Query” modes.

Of course, if you were accessing a cloud based data source such as an Azure SQL Database, an Azure SQL Data Warehouse or Excel files on a SharePoint Online folder, you would not need a gateway; and you can access them using “Import” or consume live data with full interactivity using the “Direct Query” mode.

Theming in Power BI

Finally, we have theming in Power BI. A much requested and required feature, especially for organizations where using their corporate color themes in everything they do, is a way of life. And even when showcasing the capabilities of Power BI to potential clients, the questions sometimes boils down to something simple things like the customization of the color theme. This question can now be attempted with a confident ‘yes’, rather than the thoughtful ‘yes’ that we blurt out while mentally going through the steps of applying a colors from widget to widget.

The March 2017 update of Power BI Desktop comes with a preview of Themes. Right now it is in its simplest of forms: You manually create a JSON file that has a very few attributes that can set basic color themes to your reports. So all you have to do is create file that looks like this:

“name”: “rainbow”,
“dataColors”: [ “#FF0000”, “#FF7F00”, “#FFFF00”, “#00FF00”, “#0000FF”, “#4B0082”, “#9400D3” ],
“foreground”: “#9400D3”,
“tableAccent”: “#FFFF00”

And then do this in Power BI Desktop; here:

Theme Import

And lo and behold my rainbow theme is applied:

To revert, you just re-select the Default Theme.

Yes, it is old-school, but this is preview, and only a few attributes are designed to get affected by the theme settings. However, it works, it gives us an idea as to what’s coming, and also let’s us pour in our suggestions as well.

What I really like about this is that you can have any number of colors listed out, usually it is around 8, with Power BI adding the default white and black. And what I really like about it is the list of accent colors based on the main colors:

Theme Colors

All in all these are exciting times. Things on the aesthetic customization aspect can only get better. To read more, check out the Power BI blog.

Keeping up with Power BI

Power BI, or even other self-service business intelligence tools have very short release cycles. A set of features that you see wished for, magically appears the next month. You deem yourself a Power BI expert, a few months of working on another project, you come back, you see the changes that Power BI has gone through; it is enough to make you feel incompetent a grown man cry. For example, just last month, when I was speaking at SQLSaturday in Nepal, a question was posed as to how one could implement row-level security in Power BI. I answered that it was only possible via Analysis Services live connection. And guess what, perusing through some articles a few days later I come across that Microsoft had in fact announced role based security for Power BI (to secure rows).

To keep up with all these madness, there needs to be a method; and Microsoft provides means for the methods, and here’s a list of them that you could use to keep yourself sane with the changes going on with Power BI:

The Power BI blog: an invaluable site that publishes announcements in detail as to what is coming, what has been released in the latest update, and innovations etc. A bi-weekly read (at the beginning and the end of the week) to keep your mind afresh of what’s being going on.

The Power BI twitter handle: Keeps you up to date as to what’s new with links to the blog, things you can learn about, what Power BI enthusiasts are up to, tips and tricks and juicy tidbits. A daily read in the morning and in the evening is recommended.

The Power BI community: A wonderful way of getting to know what issues people like yourself are coping with, what solutions are out there, or you could even jump in and help. A weekly glance through is recommended, with additional time spent on something tht interests you.

So the next time you feel overwhelmed by what Power BI has become, I’m sure you wouldn’t really feel it.

Learning Power BI

Two questions that was repeated several times after my presentation at SQLSaturday Nepal this year were “How do I get started with Power BI?” and “Do I need prior knowledge on BI concepts to learn Power BI?”. I’ve had these questions directed at me at other times too.

I’ll answer the second question first. No, you need not know all sorts of BI concepts to learn Power BI. Power BI is BI for the masses. Which means you have a whole bunch of non-technical people in there, and it would not be fair to make them all learn every intricate business intelligence principle and theory. Self-service business intelligence is all about putting data in the hands of the user; the business analysts, power users and end users. Self-service business intelligence follows the principle of data discovery, where the user pulls in data of interest from various sources, mashes them up and then interactively visually analyzing the data to come to a conclusion. To do this the user must not be overwhelmed by principles and theories.

To answer the second question, learning Power BI is made easy, and I will tell you how:

Guided Learning: This is a series of tutorials including video lessons. Each lesson being only a few minutes, it is an ideal way to learn Power BI at your own pace.

Power BI Documentation: With more information on the various aspects of Power BI, the documentation section makes it an easy stop to get more sense into why something may not be working and what you can do to get something working.

Power BI Community: The ever present community around Microsoft products can be found for Power BI too. When you are really stuck, this is where you go to get solutions to your problems solved. And vice versa, you too could help out others with their problems.

Submit Ideas: Looking for a feature that you really need, and Power BI does not have it? You can submit your own idea, and based on the votes you get, there is a chance that you might have that feature incorporated in a future release. In fact a lot of new features do come from ideas submitted as feedback; making Power BI truly the mass’s tool.

Use these resources for your Power BI learning needs, and I think you should be golden.

The BI and Analytics Magic Quadrant in 2016 – Power BI rules!

The Magic Quadrant for Business Intelligence and Analytics Platforms was released a few days ago by Gartner. This report, released on an annual basis analyses the vendors of business intelligence and analytics, and places them on a quadrant to indicate their capabilities. This year, well, things are different. Many of the key players from previous years have fallen away from the Leaders quadrant with only 3 remaining — Oracle is not seen anywhere in the four quadrants (they did not qualify to be included based on criteria)

Source: Gartner (February 2016)

The criteria for this latest assessment is based on 5 use cases and 14 critical capabilities of a BI and analytics platform, which mostly focuses on agility and self-service.  Gartner explains that the trend of BI and analytics switching from an enterprise reporting model to a self-service model has now reached a tipping point, and now for the first time Microsoft is seen as a visionary leader in this space. And for Gartner to base Microsoft’s assessment solely on Power BI goes to show the potential of the product. The second iteration of Power BI with it’s desktop module and the online portal, offers an intuitive and simple to use interface for users to build data discovery and visualization solutions. With support for a plethora of cloud-based and on-premise data sources, along with up-coming features such as Cortana-integration, I think Microsoft is on a good path towards what Gartner predicts how the BI and analytics landscape will look like by 2018. Polish up a few cautions indicated by Gartner such as low advanced analytics capabilities on Power BI, and they’d look even better.

Microsoft also had been in the Leaders quadrant for the last 9 years, during the time when enterprise BI was at it’s peak. Couple that with the latest assessment and you could safely say that the collective Microsoft BI stack is a force to reckon.

For reference:

Gartner2015 Gartner2014