Has your organization been hoping to utilize Power Pivot and Power View for your self-service BI needs but you haven’t been able to justify a deployment of SharePoint and SQL Server to support proper collaboration and management? If so, I have some good news for you!
As Microsoft continues to drive new and innovative technologies through their cloud offerings in Office 365 and the Azure, they have recently made Power BI Sites generally available through O365.
Power BI Sites essentially provides us with similar capabilities as an on premise deployment of Power Pivot/Power View for SharePoint allowing us to host our Power Pivot data models and Power View reports for easy sharing, data exploration, and management. Power BI Sites gives us the capabilities to automatically refresh Power Pivot data models, administer role-based security, as well as view and interact with Power View reports through a simple web browser.
But what about our data sources? Do those need to live in the cloud as well?
Microsoft does offer easy to use templates for provisioning SQL Server instances in Azure or you can upload your own template with specific SQL Server configurations for your deployments. Oracle is now supported for running in Azure as well and both can be used as sources for a Power Pivot data model.
On top of that we can bridge our on premise data that is stored in SQL Server or Oracle databases through the Data Management Gateway. A simple lightweight client is all that needs to be installed on the server hosting our on premise data which then gives us the ability to refresh of our Power Pivot data models as well as make those data sources available as OData feeds.
I can never find the data I need in my organization. Is there a way I can easily search for data?
There are actually two ways to search for and explore data through Power BI Sites.
First, when using the Power Query add-in for Excel we can utilize the Online Search feature to find public data available from the web and organization data that we make available as OData feeds through the Data Management Gateway. We can even build complex queries and share them with users so they can easily access the data they need for data analysis.
Second, Power BI Sites delivers a terrific new capability called Q&A which allows a user to search the available data models on our Power BI Site through a native language search. Just like a user can search the web through a search engine such as Bing or Google, Q&A gives us the same type experience for searching our data models and renders a Power View visualization of the search results on the fly. Q&A is definitely a unique solution in the BI space that makes data discovery and exploration easier than ever.
How about when I’m on the go? Can I view and interact with Power View reports through my phone or tablet?
Power BI Sites supports rendering Power View reports through Silverlight as well as HTML5. Originally Silverlight the only supported option when Power View was first released back with SQL Server 2012, but as Microsoft looks to provide access through a variety of mobile devices, HTML5 has taken over as the future direction. I’ve experimented with accessing Power View reports through my Windows 8 phone and through an IPad with both devices providing a great experience through HTML5 rendering.
Sounds like a great BI solution. Are there any limitations?
While Power BI Sites can be a great fit for several solutions there are a few limitations, currently. Microsoft is continually delivering updates to their cloud offerings to improve and expand capabilities so things are constantly changing.
We are limited today in scale and flexibility with our data modeling capabilities. Power BI Sites currently only supports Power Pivot data models and the maximum size is 250MB. So that means we can’t currently leverage SQL Server Analysis Services Multi-dimensional or Tabular with Power BI Sites.
As I mentioned earlier, Power View reports can be rendered by Silverlight or HTML5. There are a few Power View report visualizations that are still only supported on Silverlight but I’m expecting everything to be supported on HTML5 soon.
Lastly, the Data Management Gateway only supports SQL Server and Oracle databases as sources. This can definitely be a limiting factor for environments with a variety of databases but I expect this list to expand as well.
Check out the below video to get a better feel for the capabilities of Power BI Sites!