4/04/2016

The Microsoft Data Platform has come a long way

In the mid 1990's I was a Microsoft Visual Basic developer against Oracle databases.

At that time, the reporting solution was to use Crystal Reports, which either bundled with VB or to use Microsoft Access.

Access was great back then, because it allowed you to store data, pull in data from flat files through ODBC, write custom queries or use the WYSWYG editor and finally write reports.

Better yet, you could access Microsoft Access through OLE, as in call from Visual Basic, where the developer had access to just about every piece of functionality.


Likewise, it also had the ability to write complex custom VBA coded within Access.  We had some cool logic, that was reused, similar to real object oriented languages.  As you may or  not know, back then Visual Basic was not a true Object Oriented language, it's major downfall, and in fact VBA was a subset of VB, so it really was not Object Oriented.  That made Java an attractive language back then, as it was OO and worked on Microsoft Windows and Unix and embedded.  We actually had Javascript as well, which we used for client side validation in classic ASP apps.

I worked on one app written in Visual Basic, that seamlessly called MS Access and the user was unaware there were two apps running.

Granted, you had to compress the database periodically, as the size grew, sort of like a 'defrag' to reduce the size.

I worked at one company, where they implemented in early form of Instant Messenger using MS Access.  With 150 people on the phones, they could issue a broadcast message to the group, and it would appear on everyone's PC, as they also build an Active X control to ping the Access database every 5 seconds.

Unfortunately for me, I was tasked with porting the MS Access database to Oracle 8i on a Unix box.  When the app went live and all 150 people pinged the Oracle server every 5 seconds, it brought down the Unix server.  I was given the label, Unix killer and spent time in management's office explaining what just happened after reverting everything.  They eventually purchased an off the shelf instant messenger app.

Also back then, I developer classic ASP websites and placed a copy of Access on the hosted server which served up ASP pages to users for my websites.  Was a cost effective approach to storing data remotely with easy backups, as I'd copy the db periodically.  I think the Access got hacked at one point though.

The security wasn't row level back then, in fact the security wasn't that robust.

Enter stage left, PowerBI.  If you look closely, you can see similarities between MS Access and MS PowerBI.

Store data
Pull in data via ODBC or native drivers
Write queries through WYSIWYG editors or M Language
Write Reports
Call from remote apps using OLE
What does PowerBI have that Access didn't?

  • It has PowerBI.com to host files.
  • It can call other data sources in the Cloud.
  • It can call data sources back on-premise.
  • You can schedule those data refreshes.
  • Built in security, integrates with Active Directory.
  • Maps.
  • Natural Query Languages.
  • Stand alone IDE for Power BI Desktop.
  • Same functionality works in Excel.
  • Branding.
  • Works with Tabular Model SSAS cube data.
  • Great for Pivot tables.
  • Great Dashboards.
  • Drill down capabilities.
  • Linked reports/dashboards.
  • R language integration.

PowerBI has come along way in a short time, with organic growth from within the community.  I think there was a hiccup at first by moving PowerBI into Office365, but the move to independent uncoupled web PowerBI was a smart move.

And the changes occur weekly, so you have to keep up all the time, although the backwards compatibility still works in Excel.  I'm not sure there are any competing vendors that have Natural Query Language out of the box.  And the Mapping is really a great feature.

So to summarize, Microsoft was late to the party in the Reporting world back in the mid 1990s.  However, they caught up fast recently and now has a tentacle in every facet of Business Intelligence and Analytics.  

This blog post didn't mention other tools on the Azure platform like HDInsight Hadoop, Streaming Analytics, Elastic Azure Data Warehousing, AzureML Machine Learning, putting the ability to create Models using WYSIWYG cloud based editors into the hands of mere mortals and the tight integration with Visual Studio in the Cloud and On Premise, DocumentDB.  And of course, SQL Server has caught up in a big way regarding Relational Databases and is now considered a top notch enterprise ready product which incorporates the R language in the next version.  Each product is an industry leader in their domain.

So to summarize, not only has MS caught up, they are definite leaders in just about every category of data and analytics.  They've leveraged a lot of functionality from it's predecessor MS Access along with new technologies such that they have many products with great features covering all aspects of data.

I wonder at some point, if they'll collapse some more features into PowerBI like Machine Learning, DocumentDB, built in HDFS system to store flat files as well as work on Linux.

The Microsoft Data Platform has come a long way.

Read my blog from February 2015: http://www.bloomconsultingbi.com/2015/02/microsoft-innovation-full-court-press.html

And Microsoft Transformed Over Time http://www.bloomconsultingbi.com/2015/05/microsoft-transformed-over-time.html 

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