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Monthly Archives: May 2011

Video: Automating SSAS OLAP Cube documentation

Automating OLAP cube documentation – SQLBits presentation

For anyone that missed my presentation at SQLBits 8 in April, the video is now available here.

In this 1 hour session I present a method of automating the creation of documentation for SSAS OLAP cubes by using DMVs (dynamic management views) and spatial data, querying the metadata of the cube in realtime.

The results include the BUS matrix, star schemas, attribute lists, hierarchies etc. and are all presented in SSRS.

The blog posts to go with this are here:

You can view the slide deck here

The Business Intelligence Semantic Model (BISM)

I’m a happy chap. Why? Because I read a blog post yesterday by T.K. Anand (SSAS Principal Group Program Manager) about the vision and roadmap of Analysis Services.

There were slightly concerning questions last November (following the PASS conference) surounding the future of Analysis Services, or more specifically the UDM, the dimensional model that we all know and love in SSAS 2005 & 2008. The arrival of PowerPivot into the Microsoft BI arsenal has without a doubt moved the goalposts and added significant power, flexibility and usability to the BI stack. My concern, along with others (most notibly Chris Webb, who sparked somewhat of a stampede on the issue), was for the future of the UDM and the multitude of existing dimensional systems out in the field. Is the dimensional approach being phased out? Will it be supported in future editions? Will it be enhanced? Will the future BISM support the complexity and power we currently have with the UDM?

There’s no doubt that the overall approach to business intelligence is evolving. And this isn’t just in the cube space, it obviously has a direct effect on all other aspects of the BI strategy; the data warehouse, reporting layer, ETL etc.

From a BI consultant’s point of view, I don’t want to be recommending tools to my clients which have a restricted life span and don’t provide them a future proof upgrade path.

From a technology perspective, I’m a hardened supporter of the dimensional model. I recently designed a complex cube system for a banking client which had over 150 dimensions and facts, with thousands of lines of MDX to create a very sophisticated calculation framework for their liquidity modelling and loan profiling. I wouldn’t dream of doing that in a tabular approach like PowerPivot (in their current form).

From a personal point of view, where do I focus my attention in terms of training, research, blogging, user groups, conference sessions etc. etc.

I should point out that I’m very excited by, and fully committed to the tabular/PowerPivot route (along with VertiPaq, Crescent, DAX, etc.) for systems that it is suited to. In fact I’m using it right now to prototype a global BI solution for a very large client. There are however some solutions that do not fit well with the tabular approach and are best suited to a dimensional approach. I’m in favour of a hybrid framework which allows the right tool to be used for the right system. And it looks like that’s what we’re going to get.

The guys at Microsoft have now evolved and clarified the roadmap, and have confirmed that the BISM (business intelligence semantic model, i.e. The core of Analysis Services in SQL Server Denali) will contain two parallel approaches that can both be used for whichever situations they are best suited to. More importantly, they are both here to stay, will both be developed further, and there will be a cross-availability of functionality and tools between them.

Multi Dimensional Model

Essentially the same as the existing UDM, the multi-dimensional data model will support MDX and ROLAP/MOLAP data access. Existing OLAP cubes in SQL 2008 will easily upgrade to this.

Tabular Model

Think of this as hosted PowerPivot. A tabular approach with a column based data store, DAX as the expression language and either VertiPaq or Direct Query for data access.

The two will co-exist side by side within a singluar BISM, albeit initially with a degree of seperation. In the upcoming CTP2 release (July 2011?) there will not be any cross-availability of functionality, i.e. VertiPaq, Crescent and DAX will not be available to the dimensional model. However TK makes it clear that this is a short term restriction in the CTP, and that Microsoft are commited to getting this cross availability in place in the finished product.

If you’re involed in BI in any way, I really do encourage you to go and read TK’s post in detail. The Business Intelligence world is changing. I now have total confidence that it’s for the better.


SQL Server Art using Spatial Data

This post follows on from an earlier post on drawing with SQL Server, and explains how to create much more complex drawings using a couple of neat tricks and SQL Server spatial data.

Firstly, apologies to those at my session at SQL Bits to whom I promised this blog post, I did say I’d try and get it posted in a week, and it’s been a month – but it’s here now!

So, what are we trying to do? In my earlier post I demonstrated how to recreate a block drawing by tracing around the points on the edges and converting the results to SQL spatial data coordinates. This is ok if the image is a simple logo, but what if it’s too complex like a photo or sketch? It would take an age to trace so we need a more automated approach.

At this point I’ll make my second apology, to Simon Sabin, who must by now think that Alastair Aitchison and I are stalking him. This post (and my associated lightning talk at SQLBits) derived from finding that Alastair had drawn the SQLBits logo over a month before I did mine. Feeling a little dejected I needed a new project. Simon set us a challenge of improving on it. One thing led to another and both Alastair and I started drawing portraits of Simon, and here we are.

So, lets start with the picture. I chose Simon’s twitter profile pic.

The first step is to convert the bitmap image into a vector image. A bitmap image is a collection of dots whereas a vector image is a collection of lines, better suited to drawing in SQL Server. There’s a great website that takes care of this for you, vectormagic.com and you get two free conversions to try it out. Upload the image, and then download the converted file in EPS format. EPS is ideal for our purposes as it’s a simple text file containing one instruction per line. We can then convert each line into a SQL spatial line.

I found the easiest way of converting the EPS lines into SQL spatial queries is with an Excel spreadsheet (download here). Paste the full contents of the EPS file into column A of the first sheet, the expressions in columns B to N strip out the coordinates and build them into SQL “geometry::STGeomFromText” commands.

You may notice that we’re converting the ‘curveto’ commands in the EPS file into ‘linestring’ commands in SQL. This does result in an approximation of the curves, but this is barely noticeable in drawings like this. Worth noting that SQL Denali is planned to support curves, so we will be able to make it more accurate.

Filter column O to remove the blanks (using the filter in cell O1), then copy the whole column to the clipboard. Then paste it into SQL Server Management Studio.

Then we have to do a little tweaking to make it work.

First we need to define a table variable at the very top of the query window. The first few lines of the query should look like this.

DECLARE @drawing TABLE (geom geometry);

INSERT INTO @drawing (geom) VALUES

(geometry::STGeomFromText(‘LINESTRING (0.00 960.00, 640.00 960.00)’,0))
,(geometry::STGeomFromText(‘LINESTRING (640.00 960.00, 640.00 800.00)’,0))

We can only insert 1000 rows at a time into a table variable, so we need to break up the insert statement up. Every 900 rows or so add a new INSERT statement such as

,(geometry::STGeomFromText(‘LINESTRING (199.39 416.98, 199.07 422.49)’,0))
,(geometry::STGeomFromText(‘LINESTRING (252.58 421.98, 252.87 424.99)’,0))

INSERT INTO @drawing (geom) VALUES

(geometry::STGeomFromText(‘LINESTRING (256.22 430.24, 257.03 426.03)’,0))
,(geometry::STGeomFromText(‘LINESTRING (256.19 417.52, 258.07 416.85)’,0))

Then at the end, we just need to select all rows from the table variable

SELECT * FROM @drawing

If all goes well, you should end up with something like this

You can download the finished SQL script here

SQL Server art at work!

The Frog Blog

I'm Alex Whittles.

I specialise in designing and implementing SQL Server business intelligence solutions, and this is my blog! Just a collection of thoughts, techniques and ramblings on SQL Server, Cubes, Data Warehouses, MDX, DAX and whatever else comes to mind.

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