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On-Premises BI Gets a Boost in SQL Server 2016

At their recent Ignite conference in Chicago, Microsoft unleashed a flood of new information about their products and services across a wide variety of functions.   Business Intelligence was not left out, by any means, with announcements of exciting new cloud-based offerings such as Azure Data Warehouse and Azure Data Lake.  But given all the focus on Azure and cloud lately, one has to wonder: what about good ol’ SQL Server?  Well, wonder no more.
SQL Server 2016 will include a host of new features related to BI.  In fact, Microsoft claims that SQL Server 2016 will be one of the largest releases in the history of the product.  From hybrid architecture support to advanced analytics, the new capabilities being introduced are wide-ranging and genuinely exciting!
Providing an exhaustive list of new features and enhancements would be, well, exhausting.  And the information is currently covered in good detail on the SQL Server product website.   But here’s a few items that caught my eye from a BI perspective….
For classic SQL Server BI components:

  • SSDT/BIDS will now (finally) be unified in Visual Studio.  After the last few years of trying to get VS and SQL set up for development across various versions, this is a welcome change
  • SSAS Multidimensional is getting some attention (finally), with Netezza and Power Query being added as supported data sources.  Also expect some performance improvements, and support for DBCC.
  • SSAS Tabular is also getting some VERY welcome improvements: Power Query as a data source, support for Many-to-Many relationships (hallelujah!), additional new DAX functions, and some cool in-memory scalability enhancements
  • SSIS 2016 will also support Power Query, and will integrate with Azure in a number of very useful ways (an Azure Data Factory Data Flow task, for example), and will get some other helpful updates
  • SSRS, after being neglected for several releases, is getting a number of great improvements including additional chart types, cross-browser mobile support, improved parameter functionality, CSS support for custom report themes, and the ability to publish SSRS reports on Power BI sites!
  • Even Master Data Services (MDS) is getting some needed improvments, particularly around performance and security.

And on the Advanced Analytics front:

  • Revolution Analytics R is being integrated directly into the SQL Server relational database.  This will allow developers to access predictive analytics via T-SQL queries, and will support deploying R models as web services in the Azure Marketplace
  • PolyBase, the “secret sauce” in the PDW solution that allows T-SQL querying of both SQL Server and Hadoop data, will be available within SQL Server –WITHOUT needing an APS

So, clearly, lots of changes and enhancements are forthcoming in SQL Server 2016.  While Microsoft’s “cloud first, mobile first” initiative has left many on-premises SQL Server users feeling left out, SQL Server 2016 should bring a bright ray of hope.  We should expect to see Microsoft technology developed for cloud make its way into on-premises products going forward, and SQL Server is a perfect example of that trend.

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