Articles for the Month of May 2017

Incorporating Cognitive Services

There has been a lot of very advanced research on developing algorithms which can analyze facial expressions, voice authentication and language understanding. Microsoft has decided to make this research available by creating a series of products which allow people to incorporate advanced research into their applications.  The cognitive service that I investigated first was the Language Understanding Intelligent Service [LUIS].

Teaching the Computer to Understand Text with Cognitive Services

There is a very good example of how to make LUIS understand text here.  In the sample, you can click on a button containing text or enter text free form. What LUIS does with the text is shown on the grey box on the right, JSON script is returned displaysLUISScreenthe score LUIS gave to the intent “TurnOn”. LUIS does not turn on lights for you, but there is a really good example of some code where people are using LUIS to control their home automation.

Before you can implement a solution with LUIS you need to define the intents which are listed in the JSON script.  An intent is an action you have defined. Some example intents might be to Find a Hotel in Seattle or Tell me Amazon’s Stock Price or a lot of the other things people have Alexa do for them. The scope of what you would have LUIS do for you is a lot more focused, as the number of Intents allowed is limited, and you will have to write the code to perform the Intent.

Steps to Understand LUIS Text

As right now LUIS is in preview mode, and therefore free, this is a great time to start learning the new technology. To get started, you will need to create an account at www.luis.ai, and once that is complete, create a New App. When creating an app, on of the number of different supported languages must be selected. No key is required, as a free key will be generated later. An app requires Intents, LUIS evaluates the text to see if it indicates the Intent is likely. The text that is evaluated is compared to an Utterance, which you also need to create. For example, if you have an Intent for “SearchHotels” an Utterance would be Find me a Hotel. While this is a perfectly good Utterance, there is no reference to a location, which is something pretty important when looking for hotels.  Entities are the descriptive parts of the Utterance. If I said show me hotels in [$geography] and replaced what was in the brackets with a city, then I would have a better idea of what hotels to return.  If I add the pre-built entity geography, then LUIS will be able to describe a location, which of course can be added to my utterances if I put square brackets[] around the entity name and a dollar sign $ in front of the name. I can add words people may use to describe a location with Features. If I add the word “near”, I can add the synonym catty-corner so that LUIS will understand that that word means “near”.  Once I have a complete list of Intents, Utterances, and Features, I can train the application for it to be tested and used in a component.

Applying Cognitive Services in Real World ApplicationsHotelBot2

Once I have a customized App created for LUIS to understand text, I used that to create a BOT to explore how I could use the rules I implemented in the website. I used the Microsoft Bot Framework to create an application which calls the LUIS component I created.  To reference the code created in LUIS, the application contains a reference key which provides the ability to call LUIS  from within my application.  As I don’t write much about C# code here, I didn’t include the code here, but I would be happy to share it if you would like.  Just drop me a line and I will post it.

 

Yours Always

Ginger Grant

Data aficionado et SQL Raconteur

 

 

 

 

 

Power BI Premium: Power BI for the Enterprise

When talking to clients who are implementing large implementations with Power BI, I have heard a lot of complaints. There is no good way to create a report which you just want to give to a client once. If you created the report with a workgroup, a pro feature, you cannot share with other users unless they also have a Pro License. The data size limits are too low for large users. The licensing model is really expensive for large users. Microsoft sought to resolve these problems with Power BI Premium, which allows companies to essentially buy their own Power BI Server.

Power BI Premium Pricing

The pricing model for Power BI Premium is a lot different than Power BI has been in the past as they are moving away from the per user model and moving more towards a company license model, with three PowerBIPremiertiers.  You will need to spend more money than listed in the three premium tiers. Pricing has become complicated and you might want to review the calculator site to figure it out. Premium Pricing covers the cost of the server, and unlimited read-only licenses. Everyone who creates reports will still need a Power BI Pro License.  If you have an Office 365 E5 subscription, you will have a license already.  If not, Power BI report creation requires a license. There is talk that Microsoft will develop additional tiers, for example something for education, development and for embedded only, but none of these have been Officially announced.  Currently there are the three tiers only.

Power BI Embedding Premium Only Feature

If you currently run Power BI Embedded, in the future you will need a Power BI Premium License as this feature will not be available for Pro.  Embedded is going to have one API, and that API is going to need to run on Power BI Premium. There has been a lot of discussion around this as there are a number of users who do not spend that much money on Power BI licenses, and they do not know what they are going to do going forward.  While there have been distinct cutoff dates published for the free features of Power BI, I have not found any hard cutoff dates when Power BI Embedded applications must be migrated to Premium or they start working. I have read rumors about a license of less than $1,000 a month for Power BI Embedded, but this has not been published, so is only speculation at this point.

More details will be coming out closer to the release date, which is targeted for sometime before July 1, 2017.  I anticipate that Microsoft will be releasing more information at the Data Insights Summit on June 12-13 and I will be there to find out what the latest information will be and will post it here.

Yours Always

Ginger Grant

Data aficionado et SQL Raconteur

 

Changes to the Power BI Free Version Include No Sharing

NoSharingIncluded in the recent list of announcements Microsoft made about Power BI Local and Power BI Premium are a series of changes to the Power BI Free version which will go into effect on June 1. The free edition of Power BI will no longer be able to share reports. Currently free users could create reports and share them with others, which will be discontinued.  Only Power BI Pro Editions will be able to share reports.  Currently Power BI Pro users can create reports which can be shared with Free versions as long as no Pro features are used.  This means that if a Power BI report is set to automatically refresh the data, that report cannot be shared as Free versions do not have the ability to create reports which have data refreshed automatically. If the report was recreated to remove the automatic updates and instead refreshed manually, then the report could be shared with Free versions.  Starting June 1, the sharing feature will be removed. No longer can Power BI Pro users share anything to Power BI Free users.  If you have a Power BI Free account, there is no way to share information in the service. The Power BI Desktop will continue to be free but since you cannot print the content within it and sharing a PBIX file means that you will always be sharing the entire data model, this is of limited value.

Future Releases of the Free Version

Microsoft does plan on continuing the free version and improving it.  In the future, it will include features previous included only in the Pro version.  While previously the data sets which the Free version was able to connect with were limited, they will soon match all of the data sets included in the Pro version. Data refresh will be supported, as will streaming and higher data storage rates. Other than sharing and workgroups, which are pretty big features, Pro and Free will have the same feature set.

How Power BI Free Accounts Can Share for One Year

If you have a Free Power BI account and have logged into the account prior to May 2, you have a year to use a Pro license. It does not matter if you have previously used a Power BI Pro Trial.  This trial is a new one, and is available to anyone with a free account. After that, shared reports will not be accessible, unless the account starts paying for the Pro license.

There are a lot of conversations regarding the changes to the free account, and the other recent Power BI announcements.  In my next post, I will be discussing the Power BI Premier option.  To be notified of my latest posts, please subscribe to this blog using the link on this page.

Yours Always

Ginger Grant

Data aficionado et SQL Raconteur

 

Running Power BI Locally with the Power BI Report Server

Power BI Now Available on your Local Server

Power BI: Now available without being on the cloud

Microsoft had an lot of announcements about Power BI this week, so many that it was easy to miss some of the finer details, including those which are going to be important in making decisions going forward.  Since the announcements are changes which will be effective soon, in the case of the free tier of Power BI on June 1, and released “… generally available late in the second quarter of 2017” this will give Power BI users time to adjust to the changes. In a nutshell, Microsoft has announced they are adding a cloud service called Power BI Premium which will allow people to create capacity instead of per-user licenses, the free edition will no longer to be able to share files, Power BI Embedded is going to be migrated to the Power BI Service from Azure, and finally, at long last, it will be possible to run Power BI reports locally and without needing anything in the cloud.

Running Power BI without a Cloud

It is not possible to run Power BI reports locally right now, but sometime before the 1st of July 2017,  users who have SQL Server 2016 Enterprise Edition per-core and active Software Assurance [SA] can deploy Power BI Report Server.  This means that no one is going to have to wait for SQL Server 2017 for Power BI on premise as it will be available sometime in June.  The functionality in SQL Server 2017 SQL Server Reporting Server [SSRS]. Community Technology Preview edition is going to be available in Power BI Report Server, with the addition of the ability to include custom visuals and many data sources, which the CTP version did not do. The Power BI Server includes all of the functionality of SSRS This means that users will not need an SSRS Server and a Power BI Server, as the Power BI Server will be able to do both.  If you want to migrate all of the reports created in SSRS from 2008 R2, and SSRS Mobile Reports, you can migrate these reports to the new Power BI Report Server. You can use Power BI Reporting Server for reports created on earlier versions, as long as you have a version of SQL Server 2016 Enterprise per-core edition with SA. The Power BI Report Server will be a separate install with separate release schedules, which currently are planned about once a quarter. Power BI Report Server will also be able to publish reports to mobile devices as well. If the reports uses data in the cloud, you can employ a Data Gateway as the Power BI Reporting Server can use the gateway to access cloud data. Of course if all of the data in the report is located on-premises, no gateway will be required.

Power BI Pro Licenses for On-Premise Reporting

While there is going to be no additional cost for running reports locally, or looking at them, creating and sharing reports for the Power BI Report will require a Power BI Pro License.  The Power BI Desktop is going to be free, and there is still going to be a free version of Power BI. There will also be a  new desktop version of Power BI for Reporting Services which will be on the same version as the Server, which will have fewer updates. This means if you support Power BI Service Reports and Power BI Report Server Reports you will have two versions of the Desktop, the Reporting Services Power BI Desktop and the Power BI Service Desktop.  Both are designed to run on the same machine. So far I have not had any problems having both other than remembering which is which as the icons are the same.  You have to load the software to see that the top line has (Report Server).

Starting June 1, free Power BI license holders will no longer be able to share reports.  Reports created with a free license can be viewed only by the person with the free account.

Power BI Desktop does not have Dashboards, and neither will Power BI

When it is released, Power BI Report Server will be displaying reports created from the Power BI Desktop.  Dashboards are not created in the Power BI Desktop application, meaning that there will be no Power BI Dashboards in the Power BI Report Server.  While this may change in a later release, it is not available in the first release, which also does not support R or custom visuals either.  To display and distribute dashboards, use the Power BI service.

I am sure there will be more announcements about this and other upcoming Power BI features. Many will most likely be announced at Microsoft’s Data Summit Conference in June, which I will fortunately have the opportunity to attend.  If you are going to be there as well, drop me a line or ping me on twitter at @desertislesql and perhaps we can meet in person.
 ***Update I have a post which covers the released version of Power BI Report Server.  Click here to find what was changed since this post was written.
Yours Always

Ginger Grant

Data aficionado et SQL Raconteur

 

 

IoT Security Concerns

When looking at IoT implementations, the topic of security always comes up.  Many people remember October 21, 2016 as the day IoT devices broke the internet. After the investigation event was complete, it turns out the that it the outtages were not exactly caused by IoT devices. A majority of the denial of service attacks came from things like home routers, which most people would not classify as an IoT devices. When looking at all of the different ways that IoT devices can be modified to do bad things a few different ideas come to mind in terms of risk.  How easy is it for a non-authorized user to gain access to a given device and what kind of device is it? If the device is a network router, that is a big problem. If the device is a water sensor and you need a lot of networking equipment to modify it, then the risk can be classified as a low risk. How an IoT device is modified is also a problem. If the IoT device is hacked in such a way that it becomes unusable, because the code ran out the the battery power that is a bigger deal than an IoT device which can be fixed by power cyling the device, which returns it to the factory configuration. Many times the code used to take over the device prevents any remote control access. This means a person needs to physically go power cycle the infected device. This can be a problem as some of these devices are inaccessible and are designed to be replaced not maintained. Power cycling stops the immediate problem but it does not prevent the same exploitation from happening again. New firmware or patches need to be applied to prevent the problem, requiring maintenance of the device again.

Knowing something about the people involved and the process used to gain access can help assessing risk. Unfortunately a number of devices have been released which have no security as they leave ports open which can be readily hacked, instead of say implementing SSL. Telnet, HTTP, DNS, Port 80, Port 22, and RDP all of these are ready targets for attack. There are also broadly speaking three classifications of users who work on accessing things which they don’t have access. Knowing about these three kinds of users and how they go about the process of gaining access.

Terminology changes over time, and to understand the risk, one needs to understand the language used by the people who access networks outside of the way the software was designed.  For starters, the word Hacker is not used much. The word is overused and has come to mean people who have ill-intent, instead of the original version of people who were looking for flaws, not exploiting them. The people who access networks are known as Penetration testers, which is commonly abbreviated as pen testers. They not only figure out how things are broken but more importantly how to fix problems which they have found before someone takes advantage of the flaw.

Nation State Attacks

Many governments employ legions of developers to access or destroy.   With nearly unlimited resources at their disposal, they are very successful when they want to target software for attack, as was seen when the Iranian centrifuges exploded.  They also have the ability to completely mask where the unauthorized code came from, as that is standard operating procedure.  If code is ascribed to be from the area near I-95 exit 41, you can pretty much guarantee that it came from somewhere else.  It is virtually impossible to trace the origins of Nation State attacks as they ensure nothing is ever what it seems. If there are clues as to the origins of the software, they are added as intentional misdirection to throw people off the trail or to affix blame someone else.  They have dedicated hardware designed to break access codes in a matter of seconds. There is no stopping this type of attack. They have little interest in most things so the risk is fortunately low.

White Hats

These penetration testers generally make their living hacking by permission. Firms hire them to see how vulnerable their networks or IoT Devices are.  The white hats contact the vendors and provide warnings about things like the ability to access all of the memory on a single VM server if one knows how to overload a specific buffer, which is getting to be more common as servers are virtualized both on site and in the cloud, which is after all someone else’s server.  These people are trying to help make the code better. Of course, all pen testers are not all white hats, there are grey and black hats too.  These people know enough to cause or prevent real damage.

scriptKiddieScript Kiddies

Like everything else there are varying levels of skills involved in pen testing.  The lowest skill level is known as a Script Kiddies. People who penetrate networks are not the evil geniuses portrayed in Hollywood, they just know where to download Kali Linux which comes with a tool called Metaspolit. This tool contains a database of libraries which can be run against networks. Knowing how to run a program is not a great skill but then again given how poorly so much of the software is written, you don’t have to be an evil genius to say spy on a TrendNet webcam, as they did not fix their software until the FTC made them do it. The IoT hack that broke the internet? That capability was readily available as a canned exploit. Fortunately these common types of unauthorized access are the easiest to defeat.  IoT systems need to be designed to avoid simple and well known intrusions, which is something that I will be talking about in my presentation for 24 Hours of Pass.  Hopefully you will get a chance to attend live or watch the upcoming recording.

Yours Always

Ginger Grant

Data aficionado et SQL Raconteur