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Power BI updates drive Microsoft's latest hybrid cloud efforts

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At PASS Summit 2017, Microsoft Azure's strides were measured in steps. These include Power BI updates that bring cloud reporting services down to earth.

SEATTLE -- At PASS Summit 2017, Microsoft highlighted recent steps that are part of a larger drive to enhance data-oriented hybrid cloud services. These ranged from new data migration services for those ready for the cloud journey to Azure Data Factory, and enhancements that help existing SQL Server Integration Services users make the cloud leap.

Also on tap are Power BI updates that improve the on-premises versions of key reporting services, according this edition of the Talking Data podcast recorded at PASS Summit 2017.

Updating report operations

At the conference, Microsoft said Power BI Report Server, an on-premises version of the cloud-based Power BI service, is adding features to put on-premises reporting operations on par with cloud-based Power BI equivalents.

Overall, the cadence of feature additions to subscription-based Microsoft Power BI updates will be more frequent, according to the company, and Power BI Report Server seems to be one example.

Power BI Report Server was updated in June, with additional features introduced in August. The release outlined at PASS Summit includes data refresh and direct query features, as well as a REST API that represents a significant shift from the SOAP API support in ReportingService2010 software.

Updates like these show Microsoft availing users of more modern programming methods. They also show that Microsoft, which fashioned early Azure forays around very cloud-specific offerings, is now intent on filling in the blanks with hybrid product features that help span cloud and on-premises deployment scenarios.

A growth path for Excel jockeys

Power BI, first released in 2013, has emerged as Microsoft's growth path for Excel spreadsheet jockeys entering a world of ever-more diverse data sources and increasing data volumes. In some quarters, it is seen as Microsoft's answer to well-received Tableau analytics tools for business users. The Power BI tool set is an important asset among several ways Microsoft is supporting advanced big data analytics.

Power BI updates in terms of data source integration were of interest to one PASS Summit attendee who works with teams that analyze travel and other types of data. "Grabbing and melding data" is a lot of what Nathan Linden does. But he'd like to do less of that.

Linden, a transport analyst at Egencia, an Expedia travel services company based in Seattle, is versed in both Tableau and Visual Studio. In an interview before this Talking Data podcast was recorded, he said he was at the PASS Summit to gain a better understanding of the tools available for data integration.

If I can reduce a data transformation process from two hours to 30 minutes, that frees me up to do other data projects.
Nathan Lindentransport analyst, Egencia

"If I can reduce a data transformation process from two hours to 30 minutes, that frees me up to do other data projects," he said, adding that he sees coexistence ahead for Tableau and Power BI.

"Tableau has its niche, but it is not about ETL [extract, transform and load]. It is very specific in what it handles," he said. "Microsoft is broader."

Azure Analysis Services improved

Improvements to Azure Analysis Services demonstrated at PASS Summit focused on integration with Power BI, Excel and Reporting Services, as well as third-party and custom apps.

Dragging and dropping large data sets for use in dashboards and report generation was a highlight of the day one summit keynote, as described in this Talking Data podcast. Listen to the podcast to find out more about Microsoft's moves in analytics and its other data undertakings. 

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