In an unusual but warmly welcomed move, Microsoft SQL Server Technical Marketing released the SQL Server 2014 CTP 1 Product Guide before the CTP was released to the public.  The first CTP for SQL Server 2014 CTP is expected to be released later this month.  If you have not looked through SQL Server product guides before, they contain fantastic technical overviews, white papers, and presentations.  I used to be on the Microsoft SQL Server Technical Marketing team that put this type of material together and I can share that these resources are excellent for keeping up to date on what is coming next with SQL Server and  getting a feel for the key investment themes for future-proofing your technology roadmaps.

After downloading the latest product guide, I found the general decks and the BI 300 deck and took a quick peek through them hoping to see some exciting news on mobile BI, predictive, and other areas that I am dying to get an update on.  Here are some notes on the overall BI investment themes that I did see in the CTP 1 product guide decks for the next release of SQL Server: In-Memory Across Workloads,  Performance & Scale, Hybrid Cloud, HDInsight, and Cloud BI.   Note that “Cloud BI” a.k.a. Office365 Excel and desktop Excel for the BI presentation layer seems to be the BI message in this next release. This “SQL Server 2014 BI = Excel for presentation layer” message does align to the “Basic Intelligence” Excel BI theme from the PASS BA Conference a few months ago. There was notably NO mention of Reporting Services that I could see in the BI decks or whitepapers….hmmmm, interesting.

SQL Server 2014 CTP 1 Product Guide BI themes:

  • HDInsight Big Data (most of the emphasis and focus in this release)
  • PDW Polybase (Remember Dr. DeWitt’s keynotes, PASS 2011, NoSQL + SQL = SQL Server 2014)
  • Excel,  Data Explorer, Power Pivot, Power View and GeoFlow (heavy emphasis on Excel)
  • BI Semantic Model, Analysis Service Tabular, and Multidimensional flavors (lightly covered)
  • Reporting Services (notably missing?, no Reporting Services or Azure Reporting Services mentioned)
  • Data Quality Services and Master Data Services (mentioned but no coverage)
  • SharePoint and Office365 (lightly covered)

If something is not covered or is covered lightly, it does not necessarily mean that there are no investments. I know there are investments in Analysis Services Tabular and other areas that were only glossed over lightly from different Microsoft product team public blogs. However, I was truly surprised not to see any classic Reporting Services covered in any of the decks since Reporting Services is the #1 most popular Microsoft BI application by far used today across the globe (aside from Excel of course).  Excel is not really an operational reporting tool, operational reporting is needed everywhere, comes up in most BI conversations, etc. In the last 2012 release of SQL Server, there was not a lot of classic Reporting Services enhancement aside from SharePoint integration. Power View was truly the main focus of the Reporting Services team at that time.  Power View does not really replace operational reporting, especially as it stands today with no parameters, scheduling, or bursting… I’d love to know the future vision of classic Reporting Services as would a bazillion other people. I get asked about that each time I do a Wave 15/ What is New in 2013 BI overview. I also saw one mention of the old Excel Data Mining Add-Ins that I totally love by the way. It was very nice to see them shown in here and I do hope that means those great Excel predictive analytic add-ins will still be around in v2014.

It was quite clear to me that HDInsight and PDW are getting most of the love in 2014 from the sheer amount and depth of coverage in the product guide content.  The above image of the Microsoft big data technical architecture components and how they all tie together is also key.  I would like to see an updated technical architecture diagram like the one SAP uses (see picture below) so customers can clearly understand Microsoft’s comparable offerings. Here is my hack of what I saw in SQL Server 2014 and how it relates to SAP’s big data framework that has the exact same types of technical functionality.

In the SQL Server 2014 BI 300 level deck, I noticed highlights on big data programming in HDInsight with Hive, Pig, Mahout, Cascading, Scalding, Scoobi, Pegasus, C#, F# Map/Reduce, LINQ to Hive, Microsoft .NET management clients, JavaScript Map/Reduce, browser hosted console, Node.js management clients and                PowerShell, and cross-platform CLI tools. MapReduce included conceptual overviews and code examples. I imagine this area will be the one with the most significant learning curve for most of us and does seem to look more like traditional application development versus database development skills. If you haven’t started learning about big data yet, you really, really, really, should…it is still early adoption but it is gaining serious market traction, will be mainstream soon, and thus soon a need to know.

MSCompareSAPBigData

Ah, PDW Polybase! Finally Dr. DeWitt’s keynotes from PASS 2011 of combining the NoSQL world with the relational database SQL world come to life in SQL Server 2014. PDW Polybase allows native querying across PDW and Hadoop using regular SQL queries, integrating structured and unstructured data.

  • SQL query access to data stored in HDFS seen as ‘external tables’ in PDW
  • Basic statistics support for data coming from HDFS
  • Distributed join querying across PDW and Hadoop tables
  • Fully parallelized, high performance import of data from HDFS files into PDW tables
  • Fully parallelized, high performance export of data in PDW tables into HDFS files
  • Integration with various Hadoop distributions: Hadoop on Windows Server, Hortonworks, and Cloudera.
  • Supporting Hadoop1.0 and 2.0

Polybase will be a powerful and totally fantastic feature – if only I could get my hands on a PDW to play with it! I am seeing PDW demand pick up this year.  For those of you that don’t know PDW, it is Microsoft’s Parallel Data Warehouse appliance. Although it is not covered in the BI section but it is BI related – update capable column store index is in 2014 – that will be a very nice enhancement to the existing column store index in 2012.

In the SQL Server 2014 release, we do see a lot of Excel where we used to see Reporting Services or PerformancePoint. I noted only one mention of PerformancePoint in a recycled slide. The message is loud and clear = Excel with Add-Ins and Office365 Excel is the future for Microsoft BI. The 300 deck opened with   Excel Data Explorer and reviewing all the data source types that can be searched and explored.  I have a nice overview of Excel Data Explorer, an easy self-service ETL tool,  from a previous blog if you are interested in it. Also in Excel slides, there was basic coverage of  Excel Web Apps, Power Pivot, Power View, and GeoFlow. No specific enhancements were really mentioned in these decks yet. I am guessing that future CTP deck iterations would add deeper dive technical content for  these areas – possibly even contain a deck for each one of these areas like there used to be in past SQL Server release product guides.

Lastly, there was light coverage of the BI Semantic Model, Analysis Service Tabular and Multidimensional flavors,  Data Quality Services, and Master Data Services. Again, no specific enhancements were mentioned in any of the decks yet. My wish list for the next iteration of SQL Server 2014 Product Guide BI content includes:

  • Expand upon classic Reporting Services or cover what will be the future for operational reporting
  • Add more Predictive Analytics, Mobile BI, and Cloud BI content
  • Expand Data Explorer and include things like powerful M scripting
  • Add deeper Power Pivot,  Analysis Services, DQS and MDS material for what is new, wild, and exciting

That wraps up what I saw in the current SQL Server 2014 material from the latest product guide release. I highly advise keeping a pulse on these docs as they evolve throughout the next year