Monthly Archives

November 2019

Power BI: Dashboard In A Day

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Power BI: Dashboard In A Day

Over the past few weeks, FTS Data & AI have had the privilege of hosting multiple Microsoft-sponsored Power BI: Dashboard In A Day (DIAD) events across Sydney. As a Microsoft Gold Partner for Data Analytics, the team presented over 3 days’ worth of content to a combined audience of over 100 business analysts, report developers and data professionals. Handpicked to present at Microsoft’s headquarters in North Ryde, we were able to deliver events that were both informative and beneficial for all those in attendance. For those who are curious and could not attend, this blog post covers what a DIAD event is, and why you should register to attend the next one.

L-R: Alex Gorbunov, Matthew Oen, Swetha Pakki, Sahan Vaz Goonawardhane, Ajit Ananthram

What Is It?

DIAD is a free one-day course designed by Microsoft to help analysts explore the full capabilities of Power BI. Attendees learn about Power BI in detail, follow a step-by-step lab manual, attempt 2 real-world practical examples and receive expert guidance from a team of experienced instructors. Through self-paced learning, attendees can properly develop their skills in Power BI and create a business-ready dashboard in a matter of hours.

Most importantly though, a large section of the day is devoted to providing attendees with the opportunity to develop Power BI reporting from their own datasets. This is where attendees get the most value, as they can ask questions and get assistance from experienced consultants regarding their own business’s reporting projects. The FTS Data & AI team were able to lend a hand and provide tailored advice to a vast number of businesses at various stages of their Power BI reporting journey.

Presenting to a large audience at Microsoft HQ

When Is It?

DIAD events occur throughout the year. Depending on your location, you can find dates for upcoming events by contacting us.

Attendees work on real-world practical examples

Where Is It?

DIAD events are held across the country. The Sydney events this year were held at the Microsoft head office in North Ryde. Here at the Microsoft HQ, attendees were able to fully engage with the technology, and see first-hand what Power BI and other Microsoft products are capable of, and how they could be used in their business.

See the full and latest capabilities of Power BI

How Much Will It Cost?

DIAD events run for 8 hours and are FREE. Make sure you register your interest early to ensure that you reserve a seat, as spots are limited at each event. Lunch and refreshments are also complimentary and provided throughout the day.

Learn how Power BI can be implemented at your organisation

Each attendee receives expert advice

Why Should I Go?

DIAD is an event like no other. Designed by Microsoft and delivered by professionals, DIAD empowers attendees with the skills and best practices needed to develop successful Power BI reporting solutions. Based on the overwhelming positive feedback from attendees, these events have been instrumental in getting Power BI quickly adopted in several organisations.

The opportunity to receive tailored advice from professional Power BI consultants means that you can accelerate the implementation of Power BI at your business, and be confident that you have the capability to develop powerful reporting solutions at your organisation well into the future.

See how other organisations have successfully adopted Power BI

 

If you want to know more about Dashboard In A Day events, please contact us for more information.

SSAS Tabular Optimisation In 5 Easy Steps

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SSAS Tabular Optimisation

A well-designed SSAS tabular model is often the key ingredient in a successful analytics solution. It aids the business in delivering the type of ad-hoc analysis and on-the-fly insights that drives performance improvement and economic benefit.  However, not all models are well-designed. Indeed, a poor performing cube can quickly become a burden for any organisation, negatively impacting quality of analysis and becoming a drain on valuable business resources. That’s why SSAS Tabular optimisation is so crucial for businesses wanting to get the most value out of their analytics solution.

Recently, I consulted for a large electrical merchandising business who were having some trouble with their SSAS tabular models. With national operations, it was imperative that their cubes could rapidly and reliably deliver the analysis needed for the business to confidently make strategic decisions around sales, purchasing and inventory. Memory issues and ambiguous design principles were proving to be a challenge in getting the tabular model to behave, and it was clear that I needed to tune the existing cubes with some simple optimisation techniques.

When attempting SSAS Tabular optimisation, I employ a straight-forward 5-step strategy:

  1. Examine the model and remove unnecessary tables
  2. Examine the tables, remove unnecessary columns and edit table structure/content
  3. Examine the columns and change data types
  4. Examine the DAX measures and edit expressions
  5. Examine server properties and edit memory settings

This 5-step performance tuning approach guarantees that tabular model issues can be precisely identified and appropriately addressed.

1.      Examine the Model

A concise tabular model is one that performs best. Therefore, the first step is to review the model itself. Very often a poor-performing cube contains unnecessary tables or relationships that provide no real value. A thorough review of what tables are present in the model and what value they bring will uncover what is necessary and what is redundant. Talking to stakeholders about what they need will also help determine what tables should go and what needs to stay. In my example, I was able to reduce the cube size by removing unnecessary dimension tables that I discovered the business was no longer interested in. This redesign process typically yields ‘quick-and-easy’ wins in terms of cube performance, as it is the easiest to implement.

Figure 1. Removing unnecessary tables reduces SSAS tabular model complexity

 

2.      Examine the Tables

What data actually goes into the tables will ultimately determine the quality of the tabular model. Similar to the first step, a review of the tables will often uncover unnecessary columns that do not need to be loaded into the model. For example, columns that are never filtered on or contain largely null values. Table structure is also important to tabular model performance, as it can affect how much data needs to be loaded. For example, you could reduce the row count of the sales fact table by aggregating it to be at the invoice level, instead of invoice line level. Such a reduction in size will mean that less memory is required by the cube.

Figure 2. Tidy up tables by removing columns, and reducing rows

 

3.      Examine the columns

A crucial aspect of cube performance is compression. Columns with certain data types, or have unique values for all rows will compress badly, and will require more memory. An effective optimisation technique is to correct the data type or value in a column, such that it is able to compress better. Casting values as integers instead of strings or defining decimal points are fundamental practices that are often overlooked in tabular model design, and ultimately come at the expense of performance. In my example, I was able to create a new unique invoice ID that could be used by the business and compressed as an integer. Previously the varchar invoice key was unique at almost every row of the sales table, and was compressing very poorly. The storage engine (Vertipaq) wants to compress columns, and having similar values in the same column greatly aids this. A great tool for this kind of analysis is the Vertipaq Analyzer. This tool can highlight potential areas of interest in compression activities and help track results in terms of cube optimisation techniques.

Figure 3. The VertiPaq Analyzer reveals compression pain points

 

4.      Examine the DAX

For cube users, it is critical that the OLAP queries they run return accurate results rapidly. If a user cannot get the information they need from a model in a reliable or timely manner, the cube is failing to provide the benefits expected of it. Therefore, an important part of tabular model optimisation revolves around the measures, and ensuring that the DAX expressions used are performance optimised for the formula engine. Keeping the measures simple by using basic expressions, and removing complicated filtering clauses means that the measures should perform better. In my example, I was able to change some of the expressions of sales measures at different period intervals (such as month-to-date and year-to-date), such that they could run across different filtering contexts, thus reducing calculation time.

Figure 4. Simple DAX equals better performance

 

5.      Examine the Server

Finally, the biggest factor in tabular model processing performance is the actual memory properties. Depending on the edition of the Analysis Services, there are various levels of memory limits. For the Standard Edition, the 16Gb limit imposed on a single instance of Analysis Services can often be the ‘killer of cubes’. If a reasonable business case exists, then moving to the Enterprise Edition or cloud-based solution can be the right answer to memory woes. However, there are steps that can be taken to get the best out of a SSAS tabular model without abandoning Standard Edition altogether. Increasing the amount of RAM on the server and modifying the server instance memory properties allows you to fine tune processing and reduce the likelihood of memory exception errors. In my example, the cube was failing to process as it would run out of memory during a Full Process. I increased the RAM from 32Gb to 40Gb, and reduced the Total Memory Limits in the server instance properties. With more memory and lower thresholds to which memory cleaner processes were initiated, the cube was able to process in full each time without error.

Figure 5. Fine tune the memory limits to find the optimal level of performance

 

Summary

Like any business asset, a SSAS tabular model loses value when it is not properly configured or utilised. However, with the proper approach methodology, any model can be transformed from an underperforming asset into a valuable resource for a business.

 

If you’re having trouble with SSAS tabular optimisation, we want to hear about it! Please contact us to find out about how we can help you optimise your cubes.