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Power BI breathes new life into Microsoft SQL Server 2016 functions

Power BI, the analytics tool, is bringing new functionality to Microsoft SQL Server 2016 with beneficial developments including new mobile dashboards and advanced algorithms.

Over the past year or so, Microsoft has gained momentum with Power BI, its visualization platform.

Part of the reason for that is Microsoft's effort to make analytics more accessible with Power BI. The analytics application enables companies to bring data sets from various applications, including SQL Server, SharePoint, Dynamics CRM, or third-party applications and render the data visually for better decision making by making salient factors stand out. And in the case of Microsoft SQL Server 2016, Power BI is bringing key enhancements to the platform.

Power BI is part of Microsoft's cloud analytics services in the Cortana Intelligence Suite. Today, these services are largely cloud-based, but for companies, going to the cloud can pose challenges given regulatory constraints or sensitive data. In response, Microsoft has indicated that its analytics capabilities will be offered on premises as well.

The appeal of Microsoft's Power BI visualization platform is fast setup and cost-effective data visualization that offers ease of implementation. Companies can get roll-out dashboards easily, with no major software installation or hardware requirements. The hosted model also means that content sits on Microsoft's Power BI servers, so IT doesn't have to manage remote access or bandwidth.

But for companies with sensitive data or that must meet restrictive compliance requirements for information storage, Power BI does hold its server's client's data. While the content is protected and secure, it can still pose obstacles for companies with compliance requirements.

Microsoft is bringing Power BI on premises to address this fact. The enhancement comes with the Microsoft SQL Server 2016 platform. As a result of Microsoft's previous acquisition of Datazen, a popular data visualization platform, offering that solution as part of the SQL stack means that companies can now build key performance indicators (KPIs) and different dashboards that are mobile-friendly and publish them to their servers from the SQL 2016 platform.

The appeal of Microsoft's Power BI visualization platform is fast setup and cost-effective data visualization that offers ease of implementation.

Since the release of Microsoft SQL Server 2016, several enhancements have benefited companies substantially:

Enhanced Reporting Services. Reporting Services has been popular in the enterprise, but in 2016 it received welcome changes. The new version allows business analysts to use custom themes and exploit a new set of styles available. This helps them create modern-looking reports that are mobile-friendly and compatible with modern browsers. Several new chart types have been included to improve data visualization.

New mobile dashboards with a mobile app. When installing Microsoft SQL Server 2016, Mobile Report Publisher is available to create custom dashboards. While the data source is not limited to just SQL, end users can use the designer tool (historically called Datazen Publisher) to build their custom dashboards and KPIs. Companies can then access any dashboards via reporting services webpages, SharePoint or even the Power BI mobile app that can connect to those dashboards. This tool is the equivalent of Power BI Desktop, which enables the creation of dashboards that live within the Power BI servers.

Advanced algorithms for predictive analytics and more. Microsoft also wants to give enterprises advanced capabilities within on-premises environments through the addition of R Server. While some may consider Microsoft's Azure Machine Learning (ML) for some advanced analytics needs, those who are required to maintain their data on premises can use R Server without going to the cloud. The new addition enables data scientists to build or import existing ML algorithms into servers and build powerful algorithms.

Nonrelational data support. In the real world, there is quite a bit of data being reported on that is nonrelational data. To address that, Microsoft SQL Server 2016 comes with the functionality necessary to query these types of data that may live in Hadoop, flat files and blobs. PolyBase is the component available on premises.

Organizations have two effective options to choose from when it comes to where data resides and where analytics capabilities are; whether they require a complete on-premises analytics platform due to compliance reasons or are leveraging the cloud to eliminate infrastructure requirements, Microsoft has made it clear that either path that's taken will, in fact, offer robust analytics capabilities for its customers.

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This was last published in August 2016

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