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Powerpivot Gallery – Snapshot Creation Error – IE9 culprit!

When uploading a PowerPivot model into an existing SharePoint 2010 Powerpivot Gallery, I received the infamous “an error occured while capturing snapshots” error, where the hourglass changes into a disturbing red cross.

Quite odd seeing as I had used this exact library in the past and successfully created snapshots.

Now, there were errors that were quite prevalent in the CTP builds of SharePoint and related to security and underlying services. So, I used this thinking according to Dave Wickert’s blog, http://bit.ly/eQGCWD. And my server passed all of the checkpoints, i.e. everything was setup correctly. I did check the ULS logs, and only found the generic Timeout Expired error.

So, in a move of desperation, I uninstalled Internet Explorer 9 Beta.

Rebooted.

And the snapshots started working again!

Another reason not to experiment with IE9 just yet… g

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New Adventure Beginning in 2011

I am excited to announce that I have accepted a position with Avanade Australia, as Group Manager for Business Intelligence, as of January 2011. Meaning that I currently have 46 nights left under African skies before my family and I jet off to the great Down-Under.

I will be based in Sydney, and will be looking after customers in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.

I’m really looking forward to the opportunity to see more of our beautiful planet, meet new people, and have a hand in growing the Microsoft BI business in a new part of the world. (and to enjoy the New Year’s fireworks over the harbour bridge!!)

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PowerPivot DAX + Financial Time?

So, I had a fantastic time at TechEd Africa last week. I had the privilege of presenting two sessions, one of them being a session on DAX, the expression language for PowerPivot. In that session, I made the following statement:

“DAX time calculation functions; such as YTD, QTD, MTD; only understand Calendar time, with no support for custom Financial Time hierarchies”

In this blog post, I’d like to correct myself. Because, I wasn’t entirely correct 🙂

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In fact, DAX does provide some support for custom Financial Time Hierarchies; as it allows for the last day of the financial year to be specified in a number of the time calculation functions.

e.g. let’s look at the typical Year to Date calculation for Sales Amount in Contoso.

The DAX version of this would look something like:

=TOTALYTD(SUM(FactSales[SalesAmount]), DimDate[DateKey])

However, TOTALYTD also provides support for two optional parameters, namely Filter and Year_End_Date.

So, if we wanted to calculate the YTD for a financial year which is April – March, the DAX would look something like:

=TOTALYTD(SUM(FactSales[SalesAmount]), DimDate[DateKey], ALL(FactSales), “31 Mar”)

(so, the Filter basically does nothing, and the Year_End_Date is simply the date and month – yes I specify the month name as text to avoid regional setting issues! Also, including the year in the parameter is not required and won’t really make sense as we would want the expression to evaluate for any year)

The result of these statements looks as follows:

DAX Financial Time Calcs in action

DAX Financial Time Calcs in action

You’ll notice that the Financial YTD resets itself in April as required.

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So, yes, there is support for Financial time.

However, I wasn’t entirely incorrect in my statement earlier, as this logic doesn’t strictly go down to the day level. So, retail environments which have custom trading months, such as 26th – 25th, are not currently supported by the time calculation functions.

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SAP + Microsoft BI: 6 Scenarios to set that data free!

The Microsoft BI front end tools provide a fantastic mechanism to create reports, dashboards and free form analytics. So, how do we use these tools when the underlying data is provided by SAP, either R3 or BW?

Well, I’m in a session at the Microsoft BI Conference this year with Scott Cameron, and he’s discussing some scenarios on how to get data into PowerPivot. These techniques are quite generic, and can allow data to be exposed and consumed by a number of front ends, namely…

  1. Excel 2007 / 2010
  2. Reporting Services 2008 / 2008 R2
  3. Data Dumps
  4. Third Party Providers
    1. Theobald Xtract PPV
    2. ERP-Link iNet.BI
    3. Simplement Data Liberator

Interestingly, only 2 of the techniques involve Microsoft-provided drivers and techniques. The others are either custom data exports and imports, or third-party providers. Let’s discuss them a little further.

Scenario 1: SAP BW à Excel 2010

Excel 2007 / 2010 natively supports browsing and reporting on SAP BW infocubes. No need for additional add-ins, or 3rd party software. Only requirement is the install and configuration of the SAP GUI front end.

This SAP GUI front end provides two things:

  1. SAP BW OLE DB Provider
    1. limitation here is that only supports 32 bit Excel.
  2. SAP Login (Description and Client Number)

Once the driver has been installed, and we’ve used SAP GUI to create a SAP Login; we can then use the Get External Data wizard in Excel to connect to SAP BW, in a very similar manner to connecting to Analysis Services cubes. Some differences though:

  1. When connecting to external data, select Other Data Sources
  2. Select the SAP BW OLE DB Provider
    1. Again, if it’s not there, it’s probably a 64 bit machine ;(
  3. Data Source = Description of the SAP Login created in SAP GUI
  4. User Name and Password are the SAP credentials
  5. Under the All tab, add an Extended Property for the Client Number, SCF_CLIENT = <Client Number>

And you’re done!

Check http://bit.ly/cLrN7t for further details.

I like this approach personally because I am quite a fan of Excel to analyse data. It also allows re-use of the existing BW cubes, and no data needs to be physically moved between systems.

Scenario II: SAP BW à Reporting Services

SQL Server 2008 and SQL Server 2008 R2 allows reports to be written directly against SAP BW data sources.

These reports use the Microsoft .Net Provider 1.1 for SAP NetWeaver Business Intelligence. This driver is installed as a part of the Client Tools install on the SQL Server install media.

To enable these queries on the BW Server, you need to enable the QueryCube for external access. (This is done through the SAP BEX Query Designer)

The connection string is the XML/A connection URL. This URL allows for the passing of parameters (as the dataset itself doesn’t support parameters) Once connected, the report design experience is again similar to reporting off of Analysis Services.

Again, a neat method to create reports, as tools like Report Builder 3.0 do allow more people to create and consume these reports. And the data is not physically moved into a staging environment.

Check http://bit.ly/cWTfaE for further details.

Scenario III: SAP Open Hub à CSV File

SAP provides an Open Hub license. This allows data to be exported. These data exports are natively written to CSV file, however it is also possible to export directly to SQL Server (which would be preferred!)

Clearly, this is the most manual method to get to the data. The biggest negatives here are

  • the security is lost in translation
  • the Open Hub license is not a trivial purchase from my understanding

Scenario IV: Third Party Providers

  1. Theobald Xtract PPV
    1. Very neat software. Basically creates a data feed that PowerPivot can consume to directly import data. (Without having to use the “traditional” reporting services middle tier.
    2. Check http://bit.ly/9oO59D for further details
  2. ERP-Link iNet.BI
    1. Provides a host of tool that use a .Net Data Provider to extract data from SAP.
    2. Interesting one is the Data Source View Creator, as it creates an Analysis Services cube. (which I’m a massive fan of)
    3. Check http://bit.ly/bWZNEx for further details
  3. Simplement Data Liberator
    1. A replicator to move data from SAP to SQL in real-time
      1. (Most SAP administrators are nervous to do this, as you need to enable replication in SAP)
    2. Neat solution to create a fully-fledged SQL Server data warehouse
    3. Check http://bit.ly/b5D8Cn for further details

 

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Thoughts when Installing PowerPivot – Client

So, I’m in a session at MS BI Conference 2010 with Dave Wickert, and he’s doing a great job of working us through things to look out for when installing the PowerPivot client.

This is an Add-In that runs in the context of Microsoft Excel 2010. Any version of Excel that supports add-ins will support the PowerPivot add-in (which is almost any version!)

The download is available from http://www.powerpivot.com/download.aspx

Make sure you download and install the version that correlates to the version of Excel (not your Operating System). So, basically 32-bit Excel = 32-bit Add-in (regardless of 64 bit OS) And yes, you want to use the 64-bit version if at all possible. It allows you to create and manage larger datasets, any size that fits in RAM will work.

However, please note that only 4G files can be saved to disk, and only 2G files can be uploaded to Sharepoint. Yes, only J

Preconditions for the Add-in to work include:

  1. VSTO installed and running
    1. The Complete install of Office manages this by default
    2. If installing only Excel, be sure to select “Shared Components” as well to include VSTO
  2. The PowerPivot add-in is enabled. (once installed)
    1. Check under File – Options – Addins
    2. Ensure that the add-in is not in the Disabled State
  3. If the add-in is still gone, even if both are ok, it is possible to expose the VSTO exceptions on Excel start up
    1. Create an environment variable, VSTO_SuppressDisplayAlerts, and set to 0
    2. Check www.powerpivotgeek.com for full details

Debugging options for the client add-in can be set through PowerPivot à Settings. It’s possible to log events off to a log file, which can be opened and analysed in SQL Server Profiler. Also possible to create a snapshot of the current memory usage, by clicking “Snapshot”.

The settings window is also the equivalent of HelpàAbout in most apps. The RTM current version of the add-in is 10.50.1600.1

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BI Conf 2010 – PowerPivot Management Dashboard

PowerPivot provides a feature in SharePoint Central Admin, where administrators can see the usage history of published PowerPivot workbooks. This PowerPivot Management Dashboard is essentially a custom web part web page that shows a number of views on the current state of the system, including:

  • Infrastructure – Server Health
    • Query Response Times
    • Average CPU Usage
    • Average Memory Usage
    • Activity
    • Performance
  • Workbook Activity – Chart and List
    • This is the killer time based chart showing animated history of workbook activity
  • Data Refresh – Activity and Failures
  • Miscellaneous Reports
    • Essentially a document library that has been exposed through a web part

Generally, this dashboard is quite fixed, both in terms of layout and content.

Elements that cannot currently be updated:

  1. Overall Layout. The “dashboard itself is not written in something like Performance Point, so the layout and content can’t be changed.
  2. The Silverlight Control. Sigh. There are no plans to produce a separate reusable bubble chart control. Bit of a pity, would be great to embed in other dashboards. Maybe next release J

Elements that we can update:

  1. Any of the Excel based workbooks, including the Workbook activity book
    1. These workbooks are in themselves PowerPivot workbooks, which feeds data from the PowerPivot Shared Services Database. (The Usage schema tables)
  2. The Reports document library (bottom right section of the dashboard.)
  3. This is simply a reference to a document library in All Site Content à PowerPivot Management à Instance ID à 1033

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New Orleans – Post I

So I’m in New Orleans, Louisiana; attending the Microsoft Business Intelligence conference 2010. It starts officially tomorrow.

This is night #2 that we’ve been in this party city, and I figured that it’s about time I put down some of my initial thoughts about this place.

Firstly, this is definitely the city that you want to attend with some mates. There are simply too many parties going on in the evenings, and you really want to be there (and let’s be honest, no one likes to party alone.) It’s also a good thing to have a wing man to save you when offered things on Bourbon street that you would rather avoid! (Thanks Mark, you legend you!)

 

Secondly, It’s a city where history and the present are joined at the hip. It’s great to see how the French Quarter has been preserved while the rest of the city has grown into palm lined streets and mega hotels. Oh yeah, loving the palm lined streets, Canal street being a great example (and yes, we walked most of it in a desperate attempt to find a megamall for Mark)

 

Talking Mega malls takes me to thought number three… New Orleans is not the city you come through too to visit the mega Best Buy / Walmart type stores. (unless you have a car of course, which we don’t for this trip) New Orleans itself is really driven by the French Quarter, and the river attractions. These involve more artie-type shops, where you can get a great massage, tarot card reading, or a nice fridge magnet; but not an ipod… sadly.

So, the first two days have been great so far. We’ve done all sorts of things including:

  1. Eating at the Crescent City Brew House. Hands down the best rib place on planet earth.
  2. Chilling up the Mississippi (did I spell that right??) on the Steamboat Natchez. Seriously like going back in time. Old school thick carpets in the lunch hall, honky jazz band, big steam wheel at the back. Definitely recommended!
  3. Eaten waffles for breakfast. Who says they only need to be pudding!
  4. Watched 12 sports at once. Yip, one of the sports bars here at 12 massive screens going at once. A little ADD, but at least we got to see the French Open Final. (nice one Nadal!)
  5. Drinking a Hurricane at Pat O’Briens. Legendary.
  6. Oh, and registering at the BI Conference, which is why we’re here J

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Excel 2007 / 2010 + Pivot Table Column Width

Well, I’m going to write this particular blog post at the risk of looking incredibly silly, however it may help someone…

I’m in the process of creating some internal reports using Excel 2010 Beta on top of an Analysis Services back end. This requires the creation of a number of Pivot Tables, and some super slinky Slicers, and the report is looking really nice.

One small glitch in the process is that whenever I change Slicer values, the Pivot Table columns automatically resize, leaving me with a number of cells with the inevitable “###” values. This requires me to auto expand the column to see the values again. Not an ideal solution to present to my Financial Director J

To overcome this small issue, simply go to the Pivot Table options, and unselect the “Autofit column widths on update” check box. Set the column widths to what you need, and you’re in the game.

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Sharepoint 2010 Beta – Configuration Failed

When installing and configuring Sharepoint 2010 Beta yesterday, I ran into a small bug. No big surprise seeing as it is Beta software after all J

I installed the Sharepoint software successfully on a single server, on Windows Server 2008 R2 and SQL Server 2008 R2. However, when running the Sharepoint 2010 Products Configuration Wizard, an error occurred when running step 8.

The error reads as follows:

Configuration Failed

One or more configuration settings failed. Completed configuration settings will not be rolled back. Resolve the problem and run this configuration wizard again. The following contains detailed information about the failure:

Failed to create sample data.

An exception of type Microsoft.Office.Server.UserProfiles.UserProfileException was thrown. Additional exception information: Unrecognized attribute ‘allowInsecureTransport’. Note that attribute names are case-sensitive. (C:Program FilesMicrosoft SharedWeb Server Extensions14WebClientsProfileclient.config line 56)


The root cause seems to be some conflict with the WCF which requires a hotfix, and Ian Campbell has written a nice blog entry about the error here

However, I was unable to download the hotfix yesterday, so to resolve the problem, I simply removed the following XML lines from the config file mentioned above…

<security

authenticationMode="IssuedTokenOverTransport"

allowInsecureTransport="true" />

I then reran the Sharepoint 2010 Products Configuration Wizard, and configured successfully. Probably not the recommended route, as I’m sure something will be looking for this tag in future, but it seems to be a stable short term fix so far.

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Business Intelligence – ala Microsoft 2010 – Part I

For those that haven’t heard all the news yet … this year is going to see some of the most exciting product launches from Microsoft; particularly in the Business Intelligence space.

Now, Business Intelligence is a far bigger
concept than simply a sexy front end tool, or a super quick ETL tool. Rather it is that sum of the parts that creates a magic whole, and hopefully helps business people grow their businesses.

To support this, the Microsoft Business Intelligence picture includes three main products, all of which are getting new versions in 2010; namely

  • Office 2010
  • Sharepoint 2010
  • SQL Server 2008 R2

I’ve had the opportunity of playing with all of these products in pre-Beta and now in Beta releases, and have seen them improve with each new release. The key new features in each of these products that have got me the most interested include:

  1. Excel Slicers for Pivot Tables
    1. No more horrible unrelated drop down lists in Excel. Slicers really open up your data in an intuitive and ‘touch-ready’ way.
  2. Reporting Services Map Control
    1. Wonderful method to display geographical information, within the context of Reporting Services. No custom code. No messy data connections. Flexible, and very useful.
  3. Master Data Services
    1. One of the features that gets very little attention in the SQL space; but has great potential to help businesses manage their critical business data. No more messy Excel spread sheets, or phone calls to IT to update that mapping table.
  4. Decomposition Tree
    1. Still one of the most powerful visualisations for performing root cause analysis. Available within PerformancePoint Services. (Would love to see it introduced into Excel as well…)
  5. Powerpivot
    1. No Microsoft Business Intelligence blog would be complete without a reference to this wonderful in-memory tool. A plug-in into Excel 2010 as a fully-fledged modelling tool, as well as a Sharepoint feature allowing for online access and sharing. A must have for every financial manager J

These are just a handful of the vast array of features that are coming from Microsoft this year. I would encourage you to download the public betas and start becoming familiar with these products.

Sharepoint 2010 – download

Office 2010 – download

SQL 2008 R2 – download

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