The Future of Datazen – SSRS

There were a number of presentations where the next versions of software were discussed at PASS Summit. Among the more interesting was the conversions about the Future of DataZen. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the product, Microsoft bought Datazen on April 14, 2015, as their on-premise Mobile Solution. For more information on Datazen, please check out my previous posts on it here. In July of this year when I talked to someone from Microsoft about how Datazen fit into the product offering, he told me that it was going to be the non-cloud application to provide visualizations to mobile phones. Now with the latest series of product announcements, I fully understand what he meant. Datazen is going to be merged into SQL Server Reporting Services [SSRS]. The Datazen server is going to be combined into SSRS. SSRS is the new Datazen.

SSRS Updates Include Adding Datazen

For anyone who has looked at the product releases notes of the last three versions of SQL Server, you won’t find much about SSRS. The picture perfect reporting system was left alone. I was not surprised to hear from one of the Microsoft Employee’s at their booth at PASS Summit that they were told not even to mention SSRS as a reporting solution a few years ago. Everything was all about Power BI. Power BI is a neat visualization tool, but it doesn’t fit the needs of all users, primarily because it is a cloud based application, and let’s face it. Some people are just not going to go to the cloud.

On Premise Solutions Are No Longer Forgotten

Anyone who has perused by Microsoft’s product offerings in the past few years saw lots of things about the cloud.

Microsoft shows support for cloud and on premise software

Microsoft shows support for cloud and on premise software

Applications like Power BI and Azure ML are only available there. It seemed like Microsoft was abandoning people who wanted to maintain their own servers. They are looking to change this impression. I have included the graphic that Microsoft included in a number of their presentations. They are trying to show love for the box, which is the representation of on premises software.

Datazen SSRS Integration

Datazen is going to maintain the client features that people like, including designing using the grid view and picking the form factor. The server which manages Datazen is no longer going to be a separate server but will be included in the SSRS Server in SQL Server 2016. The idea is that Datazen will inherit some of the features people like about SSRS, such as the subscription model. The details regarding exactly how all of this will work were not made exactly clear, but I imagine that in the very near future more details of the Datazen/SSRS integration will be available soon. One of the things that I wondered is if the name Datazen was going to go away entirely and the application was going to be called SSRS mobile? I heard differing answers to this question, so I am not sure it has been determined yet. What I was assured of is the features that made Datazen a very good mobile solution are not going away. Microsoft hopes that having the ability to publish from SSRS to the phone may be a big reasons people decide to upgrade to SQL Server 2016 next year when this functionality is released.

Yours Always

Ginger Grant

Data aficionado et SQL Raconteur


Datazen – The On-site BI Option

I have talked to a number of people who looked at Power BI Preview and read that it will be replacing Power BI Office 365 as a cloud solution for mobile self-service Business Intelligence [BI] and thought what are we going to do? Some people are not going to go to the cloud. Since they have made that business decision, they were wondering what Microsoft was planning on offering in the non-cloud space? I was curious too, so I asked my local Microsoft Technical Sales Representative about what was the plan for people who wanted on-premises BI. The answer to that question is, use Datazen. Datazen is positioned to be the application for people who don’t want cloud but do want to create a rich self-service environment for doing self-service BI, which of course means that you can send the reports to tablets and phones.

Datazen vs Power BI Preview

When comparing the two products Datazen and Power BI Preview, there are a number of features which will sway people one direction or another.DataZenVisualizations  For example, Datazen doesn’t integrate with PowerPivot models, you have to flatten the model to connect. On the plus side, Datazen has a very robust security and distribution model which Power BI Preview does not. There are more visualization types in Datazen and the snap to grid makes using them a breeze. Power BI has the ability to connect with QuickBooks and other data sources such as Salesforce, which Datazen cannot do. Datazen is included with a current SQL Server maintenance agreement. Power BI will have an on-going per user monthly fee. Both have the ability to allow users to pick their own colors, rather than limit the selection to a series of color pallets, and both deploy to tablets and phones in addition to a web page. All of these factors, plus a whole lot more than I have space for here, weigh into the decision of which product you may select. If the foremost criteria for mobile Self-Service BI is No cloud, Microsoft’s solution in the self-service BI space is, use Datazen.

Future is Cloudy

Recently most of Microsoft’s new products have been very cloud based. Azure Machine Learning, is a great example of this, as no where can you find any document on Microsoft’s site about any plans to move that out of the cloud. The purchase of Datazen shows Microsoft is still accommodating people who just want to stay in house, which I missed in their announcement. I’ll be reading the upcoming releases a little more carefully from now on, as I am sure there will be many more.

Yours Always

Ginger Grant

Data aficionado et SQL Raconteur


Designing Dashboards with Datazen

CreateNewDataZenDashboard creation in Datazen uses the Publisher application which you can find here. My previous post walks through installing it in detail. When you open the Datazen Publisher Application, you will notice that it has a mobile interface, not a Windows interface, which means using it can be different from what you may expect. To create a dashboard, you will need to click the menu on the bottom on the screen. If there is no menu bar on the screen, right click anywhere and the menu bar will appear. There are two options available for you when you get started, either and empty dashboard or an existing dashboard, which provides a design template as shown on the picture of the screen.

Setting Up Excel as Data Source in DataZen

Your data can come locally from Excel or from the Datazen server. I picked Excel. The navigation is not the Windows-like navigation I am used to, as I had to click on the libraries to get a drop down menu to get to my data. The first spreadsheet I selected contained a Power Pivot Data Model. Datazen doesn’t appear to read Power Pivot Data Models, as it was unable to access the data. First I needed to modify my excel spreadsheet to create a flat pivot, and then Datazen can use that as a source. After I modified my Excel spreadsheet, then I was able to use that spreadsheet as a source in DataZen. Then I tried to create some KPIs. I found out that Excel cannot be used as a data source for KPIs in Datazen, unless you configure Datazen Server to use excel like a SQL Server Data source. Good to know, and hopefully you will read this before you decide to use Excel as a data source, which will save time.

About Datazen Visualizations

After all of your data sources are defined, it’s pretty easy to set up visualizations from the selections on the left. One thing that I really like about the Designer is the snap-to grid function, which makes laying out content much more organized. I wish other dashboard design tools I use had a grid. When visualization are selected, the settings for configuring it are on the bottom of the screen. The output can be designed for a phone or a tablet from the master view. This feature makes a lot of sense as the screen size changes the way the display looks and your ability to click on it. The maps are pretty nice out of the box. Here’s a time saving tip when creating maps in Datazen. Make sure that you spell out the state names when you want to use them. The visualizations you create will allow you to drill into other reports, similar to other reporting applications. It’s not really meant to be self-service BI, but a tool to present dashboards to business users and provide them the level of detail desired by creating deeper dive other reports. As it was designed for a mobile environment, touching the screen to interact with the visualizations means needing to think about finger size when creating phone applications so that interaction is possible by all users.

Try Datazen Yourself

I hope you found this post useful and take the time to explore the product yourself. I am sure Microsoft has a lot of plans for Datazen, one of which is backwards compatibility. Datazen now has a preview of the Publisher in Windows 7, along with the released product in Windows 8, which will allow more people to use it.  If you are exploring dashboarding tools, especially for a mobile deployment, this could be the tool you end up selecting.

Yours Always

Ginger Grant

Data aficionado et SQL Raconteur


Getting Started with Datazen

Since Microsoft announced they were buying Datazen, I wanted to check out the application. I am interested to know about Datazen’s feature set, and how it compares to functionality in Excel with the Power tools and Power BI Preview. Datazen is comprised of two applications, the Publisher and the Viewer. To create reports, one must install Datazen Publisher and that application will need to use the Datazen Server to make data connections and provide security. I have included a diagram from DataZen’s Website to describe how it is meant to be configured.DataZenArchitecture

The publisher is meant to use the Datazen Server, which is where the connection to your data is made. All of the client communication with the server is performed using a Web App which uses IIS. If you have an Enterprise copy of SQL Server with active Software Assurance coverage, you are in luck. You automatically have the ability to install Datazen Server for no additional cost, which you can do here. What if you just want Microsoft to host the Datazen Server for you, do you have to install a server? The answer to that question is yes, because the Datazen Hosted Service is listed as Coming Soon (scroll down to the bottom of the page if you click the link). You can of course install Datazen to Azure, which will make it cloud based.

Quick Tips for Installing Datazen

To design a dashboard, you will need to install the Datazen Publisher application. While Datazen visualizations can be viewed on Apple and Android devices, to design those visualizations, you will need to use the Windows only client. And by Windows, they mean Windows 8. While I have a machine with Windows 8.1, it’s not my favorite OS, and I work a lot on my Windows 7 PC. I won’t be using that PC to create Datazen reports. Datazen now offers a preview version of the Datazen Publisher, so I assume that the market demand pushed them to support Windows 7.  This version is not a released version, but a preview, so you may have some issues with it. Datazen is designed to be an application to run on Phones and tablets. The software is installed in the same manner phone apps are, you need to go to the Windows Store to download it, rather than click on a link to the site and download it, which is why you need Windows 8. If you can’t find the store, just go to the start screen and search for Store, which is what I had to do. Once in the store, search for Datazen Publisher, which is free.

Running Datazen

After Datazen Publisher has been installed, when you run it you will be prompted to connect to a server. If you don’t have a server, no worries, Datazen provides a demo server for you. The data which is entered by default the first time you run Datazen, as shown below, provides a connection to this server. DataZenClientScreenTo connect, just click on the Connect button on the screen. You will be asked if you want to let publisher run in the background. Generally speaking, click on the Allow button. If you do, you will get updates which have been made to the data sources. I received 31 updates after I installed it.

Datazen Visualizations

Initially you will see KPIS, Top Dashboards and other sample dashboards which have been sorted by sector provided to show the breadth of things available. Datazen has two basic categories of visualizations, KPIs and Dashboards.

KPIs are designed to provide tiles of a single metric, optionally compared to a target or range. You have the ability to comment on the results too, which is a novel ability that I have not seen in other products. Dashboards provide a typical visualization which allow for contextual selecting interactivity to see different detail on the same screen.

Creating Datazen Dashboards

To create your own, right click anywhere on the screen and a toolbar will appear at the bottom of the screen. Click on the create button and you can start either creating from an empty dashboard or starting from the existing dashboard. I will be exploring both of these options in an upcoming post to my blog. If you are interested knowing exactly when that will occur, I recommend subscribing to my blog so that you can be notified when exactly that is going to happen.

Yours Always

Ginger Grant

Data aficionado et SQL Raconteur



Musing about Microsoft’s Acquisition of Datazen and Power BI

DataZenMicrosoft just announced that they have bought Datazen, a mobile data visualization product. While I have no idea what Microsoft is actually going to do with the Datazen product, I couldn’t resist the chance to speculate about it. In earlier posts, I’ve talked about the conversion of what Power BI was before Power BI Designer was released and what Power BI is now. Since then I have been working on creating new Power BI dashboards. The process left me, shall we say underwhelmed? The tools in Excel allow for much greater flexibility and options than new Power BI. Now to be fair, new Power BI was released December 18th, 2014, so it’s not possible for it to contain all of the rich feature and functionality that the Excel tools do. That’s all well and good, but what it won’t do led to some frustration. If the new Power BI was the way that Microsoft was going to climb up to the top of the Gartner BI visualization charts, I didn’t think it was going to do the trick.

Anyone Still Using Lotus 123?

The one thing that I kept on thinking about when looking at the new Power BI is, there has to be a part of the plan I’m not getting. I didn’t see how this product would have the feature and functionality needed by the time the reviews came around again next February. In looking back in time, I couldn’t help of thinking of a time when Microsoft was battling it out in another space, spreadsheets. When Excel first came out, the big leader in the space was Lotus 123, which has since disappeared. (If you are running it where you work, please post comment to let me know, because I think Lotus 123 is gone.) The reason for Microsoft’s dominance in spreadsheets was Excel got a lot better at providing spreadsheets the way people wanted to use them.

Datazen, Hopefully Not the Next ProClarity

Microsoft’s purchase of Datazen looks to be a way to leverage a product with some really cool features to enhance the capabilities of Power BI. Datazen is a mobile application, but they have some good looking visualizations which hopefully could be incorporated into Power BI. There’s only one thing that may be a reason for pause. In 2006, Microsoft made another acquisition. They bought a company called ProClarity. ProClarity had some really neat features, some of which were included in Performance Point, but for the most part, the application was killed. I hope that history is not a guide in the purchase of Datazen, because Datazen has some great visualizations which could really help the new Power BI, and it would be good if Microsoft could figure out how to merge the features into the new Power BI to help improve the their position in the data visualization marketplace. I look forward to seeing how the two companies merge the Datazen features into Microsoft’s data visualization components.

Yours Always

Ginger Grant

Data aficionado et SQL Raconteur