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«August 2015»

Power BI and Big Data

If you’re worked in the wide and diverse field of information technology for almost any amount of time, it probably hasn’t taken you long to discover that the one thing constant about IT is that the technologies and strategies involved change faster than you can learn them. And if you work in business intelligence like I do, you don’t have to look very far at all to see change. The Microsoft Power BI team rolls out a software update every month! If I want to stay learned up on the technology, I have to really be on top of things.

About ten years ago when Hadoop was first being developed at Yahoo, I don’t think anyone could have anticipated the size of the ripples (more likes cannonball sized splashes) being able to access Big Data could and would have on the IT industry. Hadoop (and other advances in hardware and software technologies) gave us something we never had before: The ability to access and report on data in real time on a scale never previously imagined gives an organization to identify and understand trends and patterns in the data and gain previously unknown insights. The organizations that are able to leverage big data will be the organizations that leave their competition in the dust.

Set Up and Configure the Hortonworks Sandbox in Azure

Not only does Power BI Desktop give us the ability to connect to Hadoop Distributed File System (HDFS) for reporting we can also mash it up with other more traditional and structured data sources with minimal effort required. But that’s not what this blog post is all about. This post is about setting up a virtual machine in Azure running Hadoop and connecting to our Hortonworks Sandbox with Power BI Desktop :).

The first thing you do if you don’t have access to a Hadoop cluster is to set up the Hortonworks Sandbox on Azure. The good news is its free (for the duration of the trial) and its super easy. Just follow the instructions at this link to set up the Hortonworks Sandbox.

Hadoop in Azure

Once that’s set up, you’ll need to add mapping for the IP address and host name to your hosts file. Devin Knight has a blog on this that you’ll find helpful.

Connecting to Hadoop with Power BI Desktop

Once your Hortonworks Sandbox is set up, you’re ready to set up your connection to Hadoop with Power BI Query. Start up the Power BI Desktop and click Get Data. Scroll down and select Hadoop File (HDFS) and click Connect.

Get Data with Power BI

From there you can follow the rest of the wizard to load the data into the semantic model.

Load Data with Power BI

Once the data is loaded, you’ll need to modify the query to navigate to the data you wish to use in your model.

In Power BI Desktop, go to the Home ribbon and click Edit Queries.

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Three Best Practices for Power BI

Since the release of Power BI Desktop this past week, I’ve been really spending my extra time digging into the application focusing on learning and experimenting as much as I can. When my wife has been watching Law and Order: SVU reruns at night after the rug rats are in bed, I’ve been right there next to her designing Power BI dashboards like the total data nerd that I am. When my kids have been taking their naps during the weekend, I’ve been writing calculations in the model for my test dashboards. Or when I’ve been riding in the car back and forth to work I’ve been thinking of new things to do with Power BI Desktop.

Since I’ve been spending a decent amount of time with Power BI Desktop, I thought I’d take a moment to share three things to know and remember when designing your Power BI models and dashboards that I think will help you make the most of this tool and be effective at providing the data your business needs to succeed.

1. Optimize your Power BI Semantic Model

It probably hasn’t taken you long to figure this one out if you’ve built Power Pivot/Tabular models or at least it won’t when you do start developing Power BI dashboards. The visualizations in Power BI and Power View are heavily meta-data driven which means that column names, table or query names, formatting and more are surfaced to the user in the dashboard. So if you using a really whacky naming convention in your data warehouse for your tables like “dim_Product_scd2_v2” and the column names aren’t much better, these naming conventions are going to be shown to the users in the report visualizations and field list.

For example, take a look at the following report.

Power BI Dashboard without formatting

Notice anything wonky about it? Check the field names, report titles and number formatting. Not very pretty, is it? Now take a look at this report.

Power BI Dashboard with formatting

See the difference a little cleaned up metadata makes? All I did was spend a few minutes giving the fields user-friendly name and formatting the data types. This obviously makes a huge difference in the way the dashboard appears to the users. By the way, I should get into the movie production business. ;)

My point is that the names of columns, formatting, data types, data categories and relationships are all super important to creating clean, meaningful and user friendly dashboards. The importance of a well-defined semantic model cannot be understated in my opinion. A good rule of thumb is to spend 80% to 90% of your time on the data model (besides, designing the reports is the easy part).

I’d also like the mention the importance of the relationships between the objects in the semantic model. Chance are you will have a small group of power users that will want to design their own dashboards to meet their job’s requirements and that’s one of the beauties of Power BI. But when users began developing reports, they may query your model in unexpected ways that will generate unexpected behaviors and results. I only want to mention this because the relationships between the objects in the model will impact the results your users will see in their reports. Double check your relationships and ensure that they are correct, especially after you add new objects to the model since the

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Power BI Fantasy Football Player Stats Dashboards for Download

Every year at Pragmatic Works some coworkers, including consultants, marketing staff, support team members, software development staff and project management, partake in a company fantasy football league. And with the recent release of the new Power BI Desktop, I thought what better way is there to prepare to completely annihilate my coworkers and friends in an imaginary nonsensical game than by creating some nifty Power BI dashboards based on last years player stats as recorded by Yahoo! Sports. So I thought I’d walk you through some of the steps I followed to leverage the Yahoo! Sports NFL player stats page as a data source and some of the query transformations I applied to prepare the data for reporting.

Power BI dashboard with Power BI Desktop

Click here to download my Fantasy Football Dashboards Power BI .pbix file.

If you’re completed new to Power BI Desktop I highly suggest you watch my video walkthrough of Power BI Desktop or read my blog post which walks you through each step of creating your first Power BI dashboards with Power BI Desktop. Last Friday, I also blogged about my three best practices for designing a killer Power BI solution, so take a look at that.

To create these dashboards, I simply navigated to the Yahoo! Sports NFL stats page and found the page for each position I’m interested in for this fantasy football season. I copied the URL to my clipboard. In Power BI Desktop, click Get Data and then use the Web data source option. Then all you have to do is copy and paste the URL into the text box and click OK.

Get data from web with Power BI Desktop

Then select the HTML table that contains your data and click Edit. We need to edit our query because there are some issues with the data. By clicking Edit, we can apply transformations to our query which will allow us to do things like rename columns, remove unwanted columns, modify data types, create custom columns and much more.

Get data from web with Power BI Desktop

One thing you’ll notice in the above screen grab is that the column names are in the first row, so we need to fix that.

On the Home ribbon of the Query Editor, just click the Use First Row As Headers button. Pre

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Power BI Tip: Use the Treemap Chart as a Colorful Slicer

Power BI Desktop has been out for GA for over a week now and some of the pro’s out there have come up with some pretty cool tricks. For instance:

But if you’re looking for a way to spice up you report filtering with a little color, try using the Treemap chart as a Slicer for those fields that only contain a few unique values. At this point with Power BI, you don’t have any customization options for the Slicer visualization (although I’m sure that is coming down the pipe in a future release). This option won’t work terribly well if the field you would like to use as a slicer has more than a dozen or so unique members, but you can experiment with it and see what you can come up with. Here’s my Treemap Slicer in action.

tree map slice in action

To multi-select tiles in the Treemap slicer, just hold Cntrl as you click. To reselect

This little trick relies on the natural cross filtering between data regions in the Power BI dashboards. First I created a measure that calculates the distinct count of the field that I wish to use as my slicer. In this case the field is Genre.

Power BI Distinct Count DAX calculation

Then I added a Treemap chart to the report using the field Genre as the Group value and the measure Distinct Count Genre as the Values.


Then just resize the Treemap visualization so that the squares are about evenly sized. There’s a few ways you can arrange it, but just play around with it and see what you can come up with.

Power BI Dashboard with Treemap Slicer Power BI Dashboard with Treemap Slicer


What do you think? Leave me a comment below and let me know. Or if you’ve got a neat Power BI trick you’d like to share, let me know, as well. I love to hear new ideas! Thanks for reading!

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Choosing the Right Microsoft Reporting Technology Part 5: Power View

  • 2 May 2012
  • Author: DevinKnight
  • Number of views: 6128

In part five of this on going series about choosing the right reporting tool we will discuss the newest of tools called Power View.  While Power View is part of Reporting Services in SQL Server 2012 I’ve decided to split it as it’s own topic to help understand when you would use it over the traditional SSRS reports.  Now, because this is one of the newest reporting tools you can count on much of this post to get outdated over time.  In fact, a lot of the limitation you may see me describe are rumored to be fixed in future releases. 

I’ve mentioned in previous posts that there’s not one tool that can solve all reporting needs so you may find yourself using multiple tools to provide a well rounded complete reporting solution.  This will be the last part of this series that describes tools, but there will be a part 6 that will help guide you in making the appropriate decision on which tool to use for each report you design.

If you’re new to reading this blog series I encourage you to start from the beginning even if you think you have a strong understanding of the tools detailed because you may reconsidered using tools that previous you dismissed as an option. Here’s the complete list of tools I’ve reviewed:

So let’s now review the newest and final Microsoft reporting tool Power View.

Power View

What it is

Power View is Microsoft’s answer to some of the popular third party tools like Tableau.  In a nutshell Power View is a highly visual ad hoc reporting tool for end users.  It is designed with the end user in mind and because of that it is incredibly simple to create really impressive reports.  Within a half dozen clicks a user can create a report similar to what you see below. 

Power View is a tool that is now part of Reporting Services in SQL Server 2012 but you can only create or view the reports from SharePoint 2010. The tool used for designing the reports is actually dependent solely on Silverlight 5 (subject to change) being installed. So there’s no extra download like all of the other reporting tools on the market.


Power View is a highly metadata driven tool, which means it is important to to have a well defined data source.  With the current version of Power View you can only use data that is either sourced from a PowerPivot document that has been deployed to SharePoint or a BISM Tabular model.  BISM Multidimensional coming in the future according to several forum posts I’ve seen:



You can easily create multiple views on a report so that report consumers can view the data represented on multiple pages and in multiple ways.  Also, Power View reports can easily be exported into tools like PowerPoint so users no longer have to take screenshots of reports to embed in PowerPoint slide decks.  With Power View you will be able to look at live views of the report inside the slide deck and interactive with it like you would in SharePoint.image

The quickest way to get started with the tool is to use the SharePoint 2010 template site called a PowerPivot Site which has all the components needed to begin development. After deploying any PowerPivot workbooks or BISM Tabular models to the PowerPivot Gallery you will be able to begin creating Power View reports.

If you would like to get started with learning Power View there are several live demos available. If you go to http://tinyurl.com/PowerViewDemos you will find several examples of completed reports and datasets that you can create your own reports against.

What it isn’t

Since the release of Power View people have often asked me if I think that it means an end for PerformancePoint.  Personally I don’t believe PerformancePoint is going anywhere because they have different purposes and also it is used by different people.  I think many people think they’re similar because they both use SharePoint and are both very visual tools but when you look at the details they really have different purposes. 

PerformancePoint I consider more of an executive level dashboarding tool while Power View is for user created ad hoc reporting.  You probably don’t want end users developing executive level dashboard reports.  I prefer to have IT managing and controlling content that is exposed to executives and large scaled deployments to the entire company.  PerformancePoint also has the capability to do KPIs and Scorecards, which Power View does not have natively built-in. 

Who Uses it

Power View has been created for the purposes of end users designing their own reports.  With the first version of Power View that is made very clear because everything is drag and drop.  There is no place within the tool to actually write queries like most other reporting tools so it’s very dependent on a strong data source.  While this may be seen as a limitation by some if fulfills the requirement to be an end user tool.  Don’t be surprised if the ability to query inside Power View changes in the future though,

How is it consumed

Power View can be viewed through SharePoint 2010 Enterprise with the Reporting Services add in for SQL Server 2012.  With a PowerPivot Gallery inside SharePoint you can easily select to view existing Power View reports or create new ones off of PowerPivot workbooks and BISM Tabular models.


Power View has a very direct purpose so some of the limitations it holders are understandable.  Some of the other limitations are likely to change as the tool matures.  Keep in mind this is the first release for the tool  Here’s the limitations I’ve come up with:

  • Limited number of data sources that can be used.  Currently only BISM Tabular or PowerPivot that is deployed to SharePoint.  Should be expanded in the future.
  • All metadata driven, so no direct query option right now.
  • Can only view Power View reports through SharePoint

Despite these limitations I think you will find a place for this tool because of it’s impressive results.  Also, as Power View goes through some growing pains of being a new tool many of these limitations will be fixed.


As we go through this series remember these high level characteristics about Power View

  • Highly visual End User reporting tool
  • Current version must use either BISM Tabular or PowerPivot as a data source
  • Requires SharePoint 2010 and SQL Server 2012.  Enterprise for both
  • Metadata driven so things like images are actually a good thing

I hope you’ve found this helpful and stay tuned for the Part 6 in this series where we’ll wrap up and talk about how to make your decision. To read any of the other parts to this series follow the links below.

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