PASS Summit, the world’s largest conference for Microsoft SQL Server and BI professionals, kicked-off today with keynotes by Microsoft’s T.K. “Ranga” Rengarajan, James Phillips, and Joseph Sirosh. This year the event attracted over 5,900 attendees from over 50 countries. If you want to review the social media streams, check out hashtags: #SQLPASS, #sqlserver, and #powerbi. There will also be posts from @SQLServer, @MicrosoftBI, and @sqlpass. Related official Microsoft blogs are located at http://blogs.msdn.com/b/data-platform/ and http://blogs.msdn.com/b/powerbi/.

The opening keynote theme was around Hybrid, cloud and on-premise, solutions. Executives talked about SQL Server 2014 momentum, in-memory capabilities, hybrid computing with Azure Infrastructure and Platform as a Service offerings, SQL DB elastic scale, and search. A major update for database-as-a-service and Azure SQL Database was announced including in-memory column-store index support for reporting, data mart/data warehousing use cases. Recent releases were also revisited – Azure Stream Analytics, Azure Data Factory, Azure DocumentDB, Azure Search and Azure HDInsight.

Moving on to Microsoft’s big data story, HD Insight (Hadoop on Windows) with Polybase (heterogenous query across big data and traditional data warehouse data sources) and recently released Azure Machine Learning was showcased. An announcement regarding new FREE development test accounts for Microsoft Azure Machine Learning was made – -those FREE accounts are available starting today. Notably free accounts do not require an Azure subscription or even a credit card.

New HTML5 Power BI

Next Generation Power BI

An exciting reveal of next generation Power BI dashboards and data visualizations was demonstrated by James Phillips. Microsoft announced that the shown Power BI innovations are already in private preview today. A highly anticipated, public preview is coming soon. You can sign up for the public preview at http://solutions.powerbi.com.

Phillips emphasized the game-changing capability to deliver WEEKLY releases in the next generation of Power BI. The BI crowd cheered with delight as direct connectivity to SQL Server Analysis Services and SQL Server – with no data copying – was announced.

What was shown was an enhanced version of the earlier Power BI sneak peek demos from Microsoft WPC and PASS BA Conference. The evolved Power BI solution is notably browser-based and device-friendly HTML5…no more Silverlight. The attendees saw direct connections from cloud, on-premise, OneDrive and a variety of partner data sources (OneDrive, Bing, Salesforce, Hootsuite, Marketo, Zendesk and GitHub). During the session, there was illustration and mention of no longer needing a pre-built, data model inferring automatic model creation or another underlying technology.

New Power Bi Data Sources

Phillips demo showcased fast, easy and beautiful data exploration, visualization and a truly streamlined dashboard creation user experience. Simplified data connections to immediate data visualizations, one-click pinning of a visualization to a dashboard, drill-downs and editing a report was all done right within the web browser – no software to install. A sleeker natural language query, Q&A, user interface also debuted with suggested queries and automated data visualizations of typed in, free text queries.

For data visualization enthusiasts, Phillips jokingly swapped out a pie chart into a treemap. (Yay! Best practice data visualization at Microsoft.) In doing so, the crowd saw a myriad of new data visualization types including combination charts, sunburst, treemaps and improved geospatial maps. These new visualization types were also shown and highlighted in previous event Power BI reveal demos.

Key Take-Aways

The bottom line message today from Microsoft was hybrid solutions and fully leveraging existing on-premise investments.  You also can’t help but be shocked by how fast innovative solutions are now being delivered from an industry mega-vendor.  The Power BI weekly releases mentioned today is huuuuge.  Weekly release news alone will undoubtedly be a fantastic change for Microsoft business intelligence customers and developers alike.  It is also relevant that the Power BI demo shown today included quite a few top customer requests.  Thus Microsoft has been listening, learning and acting.

So when can you get your hands on next generation Power BI? I promise that I will let you know the moment that I am allowed to do so!  In the meantime, you can sign up for the preview at http://solutions.powerbi.com.

Stay tuned for more news in the upcoming months from Microsoft and the Power BI teams. In the meantime, you can watch a recording of the PASS Summit 2014 keynote on PASStv or try solutions that are already available today.