Adding Excel Services Capabilities to a SharePoint 2016 Farm

Excel Services has been deprecated in SharePoint 2016, but the important features that it provided have been moved to Office Online Server 2016. This article describes the necessary steps.

It’s been fairly well documented that Excel Services will not be a part of SharePoint 2016, and that the bulk of its capabilities are being replaced by Office Online Server (OOS), which is the new name for the Office Web Apps server. The Excel Services features are not all available by default, and certainly not through the standard setup procedures of old. This post will walk through the process of restoring the bulk of the Excel Services capabilities to a SharePoint 2016 farm. SharePoint 2016 is currently in beta, and is scheduled to ship in Q2 2016, but the impact of these changes can be seen and tested now.

This is the first in a series of “how-to” articles that will outline how to get all of the SharePoint-based BI components up and running. The white paper, Deploying SQL Server 2016 PowerPivot and PowerView in SharePoint 2016, published by Microsoft in December 2015, goes into great detail on these topics, and my articles are meant to be a sort of “quick start” guide. In addition, these articles are based on pre-release versions of SharePoint 2016, OOS, and SQL Server 2016, so some of these steps may change, or will become unnecessary by final release time.

Configure the Office Online Server Farm

Starting with SharePoint 2013, it became necessary to run the Office Web Apps server independently from SharePoint. In fact, multiple Office Web Apps servers could be joined together to form a farm. This is also the case with OOS. Given that OOS is the only way for SharePoint to render Excel content in a browser, our first step is to set up a (single server) OOS farm.

The procedure for setting up OOS is fairly straightforward, and is outlined in the following TechNet article, so I won’t repeat it here:

https://technet.microsoft.com/en-ca/library/mt170644%28v=exchg.160%29.aspx?f=255&MSPPError=-2147217396

This article correctly lays out all of the prerequisites, and how to install them, but it’s not as complete as the Office Web Apps version of the same article for SharePoint 2013. In particular, it doesn’t discuss how to create a farm that uses http instead of https, which is important, and simpler for testing purposes. Luckily, you can use the same procedure for OOS 2016 as was used with Office Web Apps 2013, using the –AllowHTTP switch in the PowerShell creation commandlet.

Once completed, you can navigate to ServerAddress/hosting/discovery to determine if the procedure worked. In my case, the address was http://oos2016test/hosting/discovery.

Configure the SharePoint Farm

Once the OOS farm is in place, the SharePoint farm needs to be configured in order to use it. The procedure is well outlined in the aforementioned white paper, and is also identical to the procedure used for SharePoint 2013, so it is not worth repeating those steps here. Once connected, and an IISReset has been performed on the SharePoint front end server(s), all Office files should render successfully in a browser. The ability to work with Office files in a browser should now be the same as it was in SharePoint 2013 through Office Web Apps server. At this point, it will be necessary to enable or configure features previously available through Excel Services, and some additional setup is required.

The Excel web part in SharePoint is the most visible Excel Services feature, and is one of the most common ways that people interact with Excel Services in SharePoint. While Excel Services is gone from SharePoint 2016, the web part remains, and it will work with OOS, but using it does involve some configuration. It uses the SOAP-based Excel Services web services, and the new OOS server also exposes these web services. You’ll need to add the web services capability if you want to use the web part, or if you have any solutions that depend on Excel Services web services.

Again, you’ll need to use PowerShell to do the configuration, only this time, on a SharePoint server. In the following PowerShell script, you should replace OOSServer with the Fully Qualified Domain Name of the OOS farm or server.

$Farm = Get-SPFarm
$Farm.Properties.Add("WopiLegacySoapSupport", "http://OOSServer/x/_vti_bin/ExcelServiceInternal.asmx");
$Farm.Update()

within earlier setups of Excel Services, I advised my customers to immediately go to the Excel Services configuration in Central Admin and change some of the defaults because they weren’t terribly practical. Microsoft carried some of these defaults over to OOS, but there is no longer a user interface to configure them – so again, you need to do all of this with PowerShell. You can find all of the configurable settings by opening up a PowerShell prompt on the OOS server, and entering “Get-OfficeWebAppsFarm”. Figure 1 shows all of the Excel configuration parameters begin with “Excel”.

Figure 1: Excel Online configuration options

I think a few of these parameters are impractical, so I recommend changing them. The PowerShell to do this follows the same pattern in every case:

Set-OfficeWebAppsFarm –ParameterName ParameterValue

Here is a table with some of my recommended changes to OOS:

Increase the Maximum Workbook Size

By default, the maximum size of a workbook that can be opened in a browser is 10 MB. It’s pretty common to find larger workbooks, so I recommend increasing this limit. This increase will impact performance so keep that in mind, but by default, I like to set it to 250 MB.

Set-OfficeWebAppsFarm -ExcelWorkbookSizeMax 250

Turn Off Warning on Data Refresh

As with Excel Services, by default OOS will warn the user through a dialog box whenever it accesses external data. This gets to be particularly excessive because OOS considers PowerPivot content to be an external data source, and there is no way for users to say “stop warning me”. I recommend turning this option off.

Set-OfficeWebAppsFarm -ExcelWarnOnDataRefresh:$false

If You Aren’t Using Kerberos, Turn On EffectiveUserName

When the EffectiveUserName option is used, the server is able to pass the user’s identity to an Analysis Services server, allowing all queries to run under the permission of that user. It’s a way to delegate permissions without using Kerberos. If you’re not using Kerberos, you’ll likely want to turn this on.

Set-OfficeWebAppsFarm -ExcelUseEffectiveUserName:$true

Getting EffectiveUserName working properly requires another step. The EffectiveUserName feature requires the connecting service
(the one doing the impersonation) to have server admin-level access. In prior versions of SharePoint, this would be the service account that the Excel Services application used. With the move to OOS, there is no Excel Services, and the Excel Online service uses the Network Service account. The solution to this is to add the OOS server(s) to SSAS as administrators. To do this:

  1. Open SQL Server Management Studio 2016 (SSMS).
  2. Connect to the SSAS server.
  3. Right-click on the server node and select properties.
  4. In the resulting dialog box, select Security, and then press the add button (see figure 2).
  5. Make sure that “Entire Directory” is selected in “From this location” – if it is not, select the Locations button and select it (see figure 2).

Figure 2: Selecting SSAS Administrators from Active Directory

Next, we need to add the name of the OOS server(s) to which we want to grant admin access. However, if we just enter the name in the object name box, it will fail, because the computer objects are not scanned by default. We must first select the “Object Types” button (figure 3) and select Computers and then click OK.

Figure 3: Adding Computer Accounts to the SSAS Administrator List

Now we can add our OOS server names to the administrators list, and the EffectiveUserName feature will work. Note that you must use SSMS 2016 to do this – prior versions do not allow computer accounts to be used.

Enabling Data Connections

The EffectiveUserName feature described above allows OOS to impersonate users to an SSAS server, but this isn’t available for other data sources. In past versions of SharePoint, Windows authentication could be provided through unattended access accounts, Secure Storage Service accounts, or Kerberos. The first two allow for proxy accounts, while Kerberos provides full identity delegation. With the move from Excel Services to OOS, the proxy account options are both gone, and we are left with Kerberos alone for Windows authentication. Therefore, in order to connect to SQL server data sources from a web-enabled workbook, it is necessary to either enable Kerberos Constrained Delegation (KCD), or switch connections to use SQL Server authentication. KCD is also required in order to use a SharePoint workbook as a data source in OOS (see below).

If you plan to use KCD, there is an additional step required. SharePoint uses Claims authentication, but Kerberos implies Windows authentication. In prior versions of SharePoint, the Claims to Windows
Token Service (C2WTS) on the Excel Services server(s) would be used to translate the Claims based identity into a Windows token. Now that the Excel engine lives in OOS, it’s necessary to configure the C2WTS on the OOS server as this is not done by default. The C2WTS is a part of the Windows Identity Foundation, and if it has not been installed, it can be added as a feature from the Add Roles and Features wizard on the server (figure 4). Also, make sure you install Microsoft Identity Extensions if you require ADFS support.

Figure 4: Installing Windows Identity Foundation in order to add C2WTS to the OOS server.

Once installed, you must configure C2WTS
to allow the Network Service account to use it, and you must configure C2WTS to start automatically. To do so, edit the C:\Program Files\Windows Identity Foundation\v3.5\c2wtshost.exe.config file, and remove the comment tags (<!– and –>) from the NT AUTHORITY\Network Service line. Once you have done so and saved the file, run the following from a PowerShell prompt:

Set-Service -Name C2WTS -startuptype "automatic" 
Start-Service -Name C2WTS

Configuring KCD itself is outside the scope of this article, but once enabled, it should be possible to delegate user identities from the OOS server back to SQL Server.

If you decide to not use Excel embedded connections and instead use data connections (ODC files) from a data connection library, you will need to configure a server to server trust relationship between the SharePoint WFE server(s) and the OOS server(s). You must also establish this relationship if you want to use the PowerPivot for SharePoint IT Management Dashboard.

You can find the procedure for establishing S2S trust in this TechNet article. Note that you also need to set up a User Profile service in the SharePoint farm before you perform this procedure.

Wrapping Up

The move to Office Online Server brings a consolidation of technology and a few new features, but it’s significantly more involved to set up. The good news is that you don’t have to enable anything that you don’t need. If you are an established SharePoint shop that currently leverages Excel Services to any degree, you will want to carefully plan and test any new environment before making the leap. Here there be dragons.

If your customers use PowerPivot enabled Excel workbooks, setting up OOS will allow them to open these workbooks in a browser, but not interact with them. For that, you need to introduce an Analysis Services PowerPivot mode server into the environment. I will discuss that topic in my next article.

Rethinking Business Intelligence in SharePoint and SQL Server 2016

SharePoint 2016 and SQL Server 2016 will both be released in 2016, adding to the changing Business Intelligence landscape already being disrupted by Power BI. Many of them will be incremental, but some are significant architectural changes that require a rethink of how we will approach on premises and cloud based Business Intelligence.

All of the bits to deploy the SharePoint based BI components are now available. With the December 8, 2015 publication of the white paper “Deploying SQL Server 2016 PowerPivot and Power View in SharePoint 2016” white paper, it’s possible to kick the tires and to come to a few conclusions. I will be posting a number of “how to” posts in the coming weeks, but I felt that it was important to set the context for them first. The Business Intelligence ground has shifted significantly, and this greatly affects the way that we think of, design and use Business Intelligence tools with SharePoint. For the record, there is quite a bit of opinion in here, and I want to make it crystal clear that the opinion is mine, and not stated by Microsoft.

Excel and Excel Services

In August 2015, Microsoft announced that Excel Services would not be a part of SharePoint in 2016, which came as a big shock to the community. Excel has always been one of the main pillars of BI in SharePoint, the other two being SQL Server Reporting Services (SSRS) in SharePoint integrated mode, which we’ll get to below, and PerformancePoint. As I’ve argued before, PerformancePoint, while still included in SharePoint 2016, has been dormant for several versions, and likely doesn’t have much of a future. It’s been exposed to the elements, and has gotten quite rusty. I wouldn’t put much weight on that particular pillar. In this context, Microsoft’s decision to remove Excel Services, (the only BI component delivered by the Office team) seems like a big deal.

In reality, it’s not such a big deal in itself. Microsoft has, for the most part, shifted the functionality of Excel Services to Office Online Server (OOS). I explained in another post that despite its name, OOS is NOT a cloud service, but in reality is the new name for the Office Web Apps server – the server that allows for browser-based editing and viewing of Excel documents. The difference between Excel Services and Office Web Apps Server has always been confusing to users and a configuration headache for administrators using both. I believe that Microsoft’s consolidation of Excel Services and OOS makes a great deal of sense.

BI professionals need to understand the change to options and components with this new model, and they need to understand that the change Microsoft has made does not represent a net loss in functionality. In fact, I think you will see a net gain because users can make changes to workbooks with data connections and embedded data models directly from a browser.

PowerPivot for SharePoint

Microsoft will continue to deliver PowerPivot for SharePoint as a SharePoint Service application, and a special instance of Analysis Service. However, Microsoft has significantly changed the installation process. Previously to install PowerPivot for SharePoint you had a separate installation mode for SQL Server, which would install either SSAS in SharePoint mode alone or SSAS in SharePoint mode along with the PowerPivot for SharePoint bits if you wanted to install it on a SharePoint server. With SQL Server 2016, it’s simply one of the modes for the SSAS install (called PowerPivot mode), and the PP4SP bits are installed separately (always). You’ll also need to perform separate configuration steps to connect the OOS server to the PowerPivot mode instance.

Installing SSAS in PowerPivot mode in SQL Server 2016 CTP 3.1

Installing PowerPivot for SharePoint SQL Server 2014

Microsoft did not make very many changes to PowerPivot for SharePoint 2016. Users will note one big improvement—they can refresh Power Query-based connections. While this improvement is not currently in the preview s, Microsoft has promised this feature for the final release. Until now, PowerPivot for SharePoint could update workbooks with new data, but only if those workbooks contained standard Excel-based or PowerPivot-based connections. If you had used Power Query to import data, you were out of luck. This contrasts sharply with Microsoft’s cloud based Power BI service , which can only use Power Query to import and refresh many data sources. It was impossible to answer the question “which tool should I use for data import” without being aware of the destination platform. Now, it is simple. Use Power Query, and your workbooks will work on all platforms.

When I mention that there aren’t many changes, this includes the PowerPivot Gallery. The Gallery is a specialized SharePoint document library template that allows you to see thumbnails of your Excel and Power View reports, and gives easy access to refresh options and self-service reporting options. As with prior versions of the Gallery, it is delivered as a Silverlight application on a SharePoint view page. As I will discuss later, the Silverlight dependency could be construed as a problem, but it is not necessary to use the Gallery in order to interact with Power Pivot workbooks. You can switch to a more standard library view and still have access to workbook refresh options.

The fact that Power Query refreshes PowerPivot-based and Excel-based connections may be reason alone to update existing PowerPivot for SharePoint installations to the 2016 versions. If you navigate to the Feature pack page for SQL Server 2016 CTP 3.1, you’ll see add-ins for both SharePoint 2016 and 2013, so this will be possible, for SharePoint 2013 at least (and no, you will not need your database server to be SQL 2016 as well). Correspondingly, the SSRS Integrated mode from SQL Server 2016 will work on all SharePoint from 2013 and up (but will need the new 2016 add-in).

Power View

Power View first debuted with SSRS in SQL Server 2012. Microsoft developed Power View to become the future self-service BI reporting tool that SSRS itself never really was. Initially, Power View has very specific requirements to use it, so specific that very few people did. You needed to be running SSRS in SharePoint integrated mode (it wasn’t available in native mode), and it needed to connect to a SQL Server 2012 SSAS tabular mode instance. Once that was set up, you would create a BISM connection file and then use it to launch Power View from a SharePoint Library. When Excel 2013 debuted, it contained a version of Power View that could work with embedded data models, which greatly increased its adoption. In all cases, Power View interaction required Silverlight in order to access it using a browser.

The Silverlight dependency was a clear problem, as it prevented mobile users from working with it, and Silverlight’s “retirement” meant that realistically, no new features would be added. Microsoft addressed this problem fairly quickly in Office 365 with the addition of an HTML5-based rendering engine that would be invoked if the browser machine did not have Silverlight. These HTML 5 enhancements never made it into the on-premises version of SharePoint. While Microsoft initially put a lot of energy into the HTML5 rendering engine, but Microsoft appeared to stop adding new features at about the same time that it achieved feature parity with Silverlight.

This stoppage, combined with recent moves, indicate to me that Power View has no future. I can think of three major developments that lead me to this conclusion, and you can find these developments in Power BI, Excel 2016, and the Office Online Server.

The original Power BI Service, originally introduced in 2012 and retired on Dec 31, 2015, was based on Office 365 and Excel, and leveraged Power View for self-service reporting. Microsoft introduced a new version of the Power BI Service in July 2015; it is a standalone service that connects to Excel among many other sources. The visuals in the new Power BI service are similar to, but not the same as Power View. Realistically, they are the logical evolution of what Power View started, and are based on the D3 JavaScript engine. I think Microsoft could have made it less confusing had they just called these visuals Power View V2, but it is what it is. The open architecture allows Power BI to quickly implement new visualizations, whether they come from Microsoft or from the community. You can see the many new visuals in the Power BI Visuals gallery, most of which have been submitted by the community. When you import models and Power View from a workbook into Power BI, any Power View reports are converted to the new version, and it’s a one-way street. In this environment, Power View is clearly considered a legacy technology.

Microsoft first included Power View in Excel as a ribbon item in 2013. During the test phase of Excel 2016, it disappeared from the ribbon. Power View still exists in the product, and you can add it back to the ribbon as I describe in this article. However, I wonder why Microsoft removed it. In my opinion, the reason is simple. Microsoft wants people to stop using embedded Power View in Excel, and to start using Power BI for self-service reporting. This just makes sense from where I’m standing. Excel has a rich set of native visuals that can connect to embedded data models, and most of the Power View visuals aren’t as mature as these are. Having Power View in Excel never made much sense, except possibly from a usability standpoint. If an analyst wants to live within Excel, they can use Excel Visuals and expose them as an Excel report in Power BI. For self-service reporting, we can connect to an Excel file and use Power BI visuals. There’s simply no longer any need for Power View as an Excel embedded tool.

Finally, let’s look at the new Office Online Server 2016. When OOS renders an Excel workbook that has an embedded Power View report, it will use Silverlight to do so. That’s right… OOS 2016 will require Silverlight for Power View rendering. We know that Microsoft has already updated the Power View rendering engine for HTML5 with some of the visuals for Office 365, so we know that it was possible to do so. The only reason that I can think of that Microsoft didn’t do this entirely through Power View is to discourage people from using it, or the effort was too great for a technology that was being replaced. In addition, now in order to user Power View with OOS, you’ll need to use Kerberos constrained delegation. Microsoft did not require this in the past because Excel Services was running on the same server as SharePoint itself and could pass the User Principal Name through to the backing SSAS server that used EffectiveUserName. Now Kerberos is required for this.

So why doesn’t Microsoft just state that Power View is at end of life? Microsoft didn’t say that, but that was the message I heard at the October 2015 PASS summit. I think that the reason is that so far, Power BI is a cloud service only. In order to replace Power View fully with Power BI, customers need to embrace cloud services to some level, and there are organizations that are still not ready to do this. Very soon, after Microsoft releases SQL Server 2016, SSRS will support direct rendering of PBIX reports. (The file format for Power BI Designer and the new visuals.) At that point, the new visuals, and the new self-service reporting tools will be available on premises, but for now Power View is the only tool that can function in an on-premises only environment. It doesn’t really have a future, but it’s still necessary. It’s certainly not the only technology to exist in this state – both InfoPath and PerformancePoint serve similar roles. Microsoft still supports them and PerformancePoint, while dormant, could come back any time should Microsoft choose to do so.

SQL Server Reporting Services

Microsoft has included SSRS as a core part of the Business Intelligence workload in SharePoint since SharePoint 2003. SQL Server 2005 SP1 introduced SSRS in SharePoint integrated mode, which allowed administrators to replace the web server and storage functions of the SSRS server with that of SharePoint’s, making it easier to administer. With SQL Server 2012, you had the option to deploy SSRS as a SharePoint service application, further simplifying administration and scaling. During this period, the native mode SSRS server was always still available for those that didn’t use SharePoint, but over time, it lagged behind its sibling from a features standpoint. Many people wondered aloud if native mode SSRS had a future at all, and if SharePoint would become a required component. They needn’t have worried.

At the same time, in the past few years we’ve seen a marked shift in the way that Microsoft has positioned SharePoint, from being at the center of everything to being more a set of services. The first hint of this was the new app (now add-in) model for SharePoint, and more recently with the wholesale shifting of services, of which the Excel Services change is a prime example. This shift, combined with a renewal of emphasis on SSRS for structured reporting is cause for re-evaluation.

At the PASS summit, Microsoft rolled out its reporting roadmap. It’s comprehensive, well thought out, and exciting. I’ve pointed out before that it doesn’t include the name “PerformancePoint”, but you know what else doesn’t feature prominently? SharePoint. Microsoft committed to SharePoint integration but they offered few details.

With SQL Server 2016, customers will still deploy SSRS through both native and SharePoint integrated modes. However, for the first time, the feature set will be significantly greater in native mode at least on initial release. With the roadmap, Microsoft defined four report types:

  1. Paginated Reports – I call these operational, or structured reports. These are “classic” SSRS reports.
  2. Interactive Reports – These reports are built with Power BI Desktop, and will run in SSRS and Power BI Web. I call these “Analytical reports” and this role would previously been performed by Power View.
  3. Mobile Reports – These reports are aimed at mobile devices, and are what was previously known as Datazen.
  4. Analytical Reports and Charts – Excel workbooks.

SSRS 2016 will be the delivery mechanism for 3 of these 4 report types, but only in native mode initially. Integrated mode will support these report types one way or another down the road, but we just don’t know when. Microsoft is investing in quite a few new areas in SSRS, and it’s worthwhile to break down exactly which of the new features will be available in the two different Reporting Services modes at release. For a definition of these features, please refer to Microsoft’s roadmap announcement.

Feature Native Mode SharePoint Integrated Mode
Paginated Reports

X

X

Interactive Reports

X*

Mobile Reports

X

New Reporting Portal

X

New visuals

X

X

HTML5 rendering

X

X

Pin and link SSRS visuals to Power BI dashboards

X

*Shortly after initial release

It’s pretty clear that the tables have turned. Power View reports are now the only thing that is uniquely offered in SharePoint integrated mode. If you have SharePoint and you decide to use native mode SSRS, no functionality is lost – you can still use the SSRS web part in SharePoint for report rendering and dashboards. Reports will be stored in the SSRS server, and you’ll need to set up security separately. On the plus side, you can leave these tasks to a Reporting admin, who will not need to know how the SharePoint security model works. The biggest issue that I can see is that while integrated mode allows you to work with a single authentication provider, the SSRS native mode server requires its own, making a direct connection with it necessary, at design time at least.

These downsides aside, this shift to a focus on native mode fits with what is happening with Excel on the Office side. The two become peers that work together, as opposed to being dependent on one another. The increased functionality makes native mode compelling, even if you are running a SharePoint farm. If you are creating a new BI environment and you want to take advantage of the new SSRS features, and/or you are looking to the future for your BI investments, my recommendation is now to provision a native mode SSRS server whether or not you have SharePoint in most cases. If you already have an investment in integrated mode Reporting Services, don’t panic. Patience will be a virtue here. You will gain all of the new visuals and appearances immediately, and the other pieces will come in over time. Microsoft has not yet clearly stated the roadmap for integrated mode beyond the release of 2016.

Summary

So, to summarize, all of this represents a shift away from SharePoint as a dependency and to it as an interface option. Instead of these tools working “on” SharePoint, moving forward they will work “with” it. Overall:

  1. Power View can now be considered a legacy product.

    Power View was the future of the past. The future is now Power BI. If it helps, think of the visual elements in Power BI as being Power View V2, which in effect they are. If you’re thinking about using Power View to build a report, please consider Power BI Desktop. If it’s not possible, the good news is that if you use Excel to build it, you will be able to easily import it into Power BI Desktop – it has a migration path forward, and on premises PBIX support is also on the way.

  2. SQL Server Reporting Services should be deployed in Native mode

    Whether or not you have a SharePoint farm, native mode SSRS is the way to go for a new deployment, even if you’re not yet ready for SQL Server 2016 SSRS. The reason for this is that migrating reports between the two modes is not simple.

  3. Excel Reporting is alive and well

    Excel is still well supported and Microsoft is investing in it. It is the tool for analysts and model builders and is easily portable to Power BI and to SSAS. The removal of Excel services in SharePoint is simply and architectural shift, not a functional one, and Excel reports are very well supported in Power BI.

  4. Power BI and Power BI Desktop are the preferred tools for self-service reporting

    Self-service reporting is clearly the domain of Power BI. The legacy options are still available for current on-premises customers, but if you want to future-proof your investments, look to Power BI.

How to Enable Cortana and Quick Insights with Power BI

This post will be quick. On December 1, 2015, the Power BI team announced that the Quick Insights feature and Cortana integration were now included on Power BI. They are not, however, turned on by default. Since the announcement didn’t have much “how to” in it, I thought that I’d post this. Both are very simple to do. Both features are tied to the data source, so if you’re working with a shared data set, you’ll need to get the owner of the data set to do this.

Cortana Integration

To start with, Cortana integration requires that you be running Windows 10, with the November 2015 update (1511). Of course, you also need to have Cortana enabled. If you do, open up Power BI in a browser, and navigate to your data source. Click on the ellipsis (…) and select “Schedule Refresh”. No, we won’t be scheduling a refresh, but this is a bit of a shortcut. You can also select the settings gear in the upper right, select settings, select the Datasets tab, and then select your dataset.

Once open, you’ll see a new section titled “Cortana” open it up, select the “Enable Cortana to access this dataset” checkbox, apply the changes, and you’re done.

If Cortana has already been connected to Office 365, you may not see any results right away – I know that I didn’t on two different machines. Thanks to David Eldersveld of Blue Granite, I found the solution in a big hurry. All that is necessary to get Cortana to wake up and start using Q&A in Power BI is to disconnect from your Office 365 account and then reconnect. If you’re having trouble, try that.

You should now be able to ask questions of your data directly from Cortana. Very, very cool.

Quick Insights

Using Quick Insights is even easier. From the Power BI service, locate your dataset, click on the dataset, and select “Quick Insights”.

Once selected, the service will display a dialog “Searching for Insights” while it scans the data and builds interesting visualizations. Once done, you can select “View Insights” from the dialog, or, you can select it from the data source ellipsis later on. This is important to know as that dialog box disappears pretty quickly. Clicking “View Insight” will show you a page with all of the visualizations that the service thought were important or interesting. Here is an example using our tyGraph product, which analyzes Yammer data.

It’s pretty slick really. I’ll be playing with this a fair bit in the coming days.

OneDrive, TwoDrive, ThreeDrive

I’m calling it ThreeDrive now.

The much ballyhooed “Next Generation Sync Client for OneDrive for Business rolled out with the Windows 10 November update. You’d be excused for not noticing, because it looks pretty much the same as the old OneDrive consumer client. In fact, it IS the new OneDrive consumer client as well but it supports OneDrive for Business too. It’s not obvious that it supports OneDrive for Business because as of this writing, it requires a registry key entry. If you sign up for the OneDrive for Business preview, you’ll get the new sync client and the instructions, but for convenience, the key is:

[HKEY_CURRENT_USER\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\OneDrive] – “EnableAddAccounts”=dword:00000001

Presumably, at some point that registry key will be switched on for everyone by an update. Once it has been added, when you open the OneDrive settings, you will now see an option to add a business account.

Once added, your Office 365 OneDrive will be synchronized using the same (more robust) engine as the consumer client, you’ll be able to do selective sync of folders, etc. Once you add your business account, you’ll see two sync “clouds” in your system tray, one blue, and one white. White is your consumer OneDrive, and blue your OneDrive for Business.

I’m pretty sure that this brings us to TwoDrive. You’ll also get (at least) two entries in your Windows File explorer, one for Personal, and one for your corporate OneDrive. If you connect multiple Office 365 accounts, you’ll get multiple blue cloud icons, and multiple explorer entries.

I don’t know why the consumer client icon is blue, but it is what it is. To me, white would help with understanding. We do however have a single sync client! Well, not so fast. If I need to sync SharePoint libraries from either on-prem or Office 365, I will still need the older OneDrive for Business sync client, with all of the same limitations. This is also true for the OneDrives contained in an Office 365 group.

Once that’s installed, by syncing a library, you’ll get another blue cloud icon that is indistinguishable from the icons created by the new sync client, and you’ll get an entry in File Explorer for SharePoint.

Everything should be working at this point. However, although I have gotten my head around this, I find it pretty confusing, and I work in this environment for a living. I know that I’m not alone, I recently spent about an hour with my friend and fellow MVP Marc Anderson helping him get his head around it, so it’s certainly not simple.

I am quite happy to see the new sync client, and the harmonization that it brings. I also know that the need for the old OneDrive for Business sync client will go away as the new client gains the ability to sync with SharePoint libraries and Group based OneDrives. I personally use cloud based storage solutions from a number of vendors, and they all have strengths and weaknesses. OneDrive is still the best deal out there, and it’s also the best solution for corporate sharing. I am however concerned about the complexity. I can imagine the following future conversation with a customer.

Me: You should really look at OneDrive for Business for offline access to your content

Customer: Oh, I have OneDrive already. Didn’t Microsoft just limit its storage capacity?

M: No – they had only turned on unlimited storage for a small test group. They just decided not to move forward with it as earlier announced. Besides, that’s only for the consumer OneDrive, not OneDrive for Business.

C: So they’re not the same thing?

M: No – OneDrive is a consumer product, and you log into it with a Microsoft account. OneDrive for Business is a business product, and you get it with an Office 365 business account. You need a corporate account to use it. It gives each person that uses it 1 TB of storage.

C: So if it’s they’re different things, why are they both called OneDrive?

M: I know. Never mind.

C: OK, so how do I get them both working?

M: Well, you have the November update for Windows 10, right? All that you need to do is to go into your OneDrive settings, and add your business account.

C: Oh, so they use the same sync client?

M: Yes. That’s fairly new. There used to be an exclusive OneDrive for Business client, but you don’t need it now.

C: OK. (adds the business account) So how do I work with it?

M: You see those two cloud icons in your tray? The white one is your consumer account, and the blue one is your business account.

C: I thought that it was one sync client. Why are there two icons?

M: That’s so you can see the two different repositories. They are both driven by the same sync engine. It makes sense.

C: OK, cool. And how do I access my files?

M: Just open up File Explorer. The one that says OneDrive – Personal is your consumer account. The one that says OneDrive – your company name is your business OneDrive.

C: So the business one is my personal OneDrive in Office 365?

M: Yes. I know… the term “Personal” is a bit confusing, but it is what it is.

C: That’s fine. Why is personal cloud icon blue in File Explorer but not in the tray?

M: I have no idea

C: OK – so how do I sync my Office 365 Group OneDrives?

M: Oh. Remember when I mentioned the old sync client? You’ll need that to sync those. The new client doesn’t support them yet, but it will.

C: I thought the old one doesn’t work very well?

M: It’s not as good, but it’ll do for this purpose.

C: OK, how do I install that?

M: You have Office installed, so you already have it. Just open up the OneDrive in your browser, and click on the sync icon.

C: OK (does it). So how do I know it’s working?

M: Open up your tray. See that you have another blue cloud icon? That’s the older sync client.

C: How do I tell the difference between this and the other one?

M: Just hover over the icon. The one that’s just called OneDrive for Business is the older engine. The one that contains your company name is the new one.

C: Am I going to get another icon for every OneDrive that I sync?

M: No – in this case, they all use the same icon. If you hover over and select open the folder, you’ll see what’s syncing.

C: OK. So where do I find my files?

M: Open up File Explorer. Under your two OneDrives, you’ll see a new entry for SharePoint. Click on that, and you’ll see your content.

C: What’s SharePoint?

M: *sigh*

I really quite like OneDrive, and what it can do. It’s even more valuable to me when the people that I interact with use it too, and after walking through this explanation over the past few days, I can see a few barriers to entry. I’d love to see this whole thing simplified.

Diving with Sway (or What I Did on my Autumn Vacation)

Although I threaten to do so in the description of this blog, I rarely talk about diving. I think that the last time that I did so was about 3 years ago. However, I recently encountered an intersection of my vocation and my avocation that I thought was worth sharing.

In September/October this year, my wife and I went on a liveaboard dive trip down the entire Sea of Cortez (or the Gulf of California to you folks in the USA). A liveaboard is a cruise of sorts where you live on the boat and go diving multiple times per day. You get to see some amazing things that would otherwise be unavailable.

I like to document my dives using mostly photos and simetimes video.  The GoPro given to the Office MVPs last year (thanks, Microsoft!!!) at the MVP Summit has increased my use of video. Ultimately I return from these dive trips with a large collection of pictures and video, which I share out via Flickr, Facebook, OneDrive and YouTube. The problem is, these collections are disconnected, and while i try to tag and title the items, none of these collections really tell the story.

Thats where Sway comes in.

I’ve had access to Sway for a while, and while I did dabbble in it a bit originally, I didn’t really “get it”. I had a lot of video this time, and the trip warranted more “narration” than a simple collection of pictures could provide. I decided to give Sway another shot, with (I think) good results. You can see for yourself below. Click on the “Made with Sway” icon at the bottom left to open in full screen.

I found the Sway was exactly the right tool for this task. I was able to bring together diverse media elements from the trip, and organize them in ways that suited the narrative (not always chronologically). Adding the narrative itself completes the picture, and the presentation can stand on its own. I think, to sum it up, that Sway adds context to content.

Sway is an online tool. There are native clients available for Android, iOS ans Windows 10, but you are always working with online content – there are no files stored locally. Creation is simple. There are a number of preconfigured layouts which can be tweaked to some degree, and content addition is a simple matter of dragging and dropping from a set of cloud based repositories. You can share (and collaborate) at any time, and when ready, you can publish it on docs.com, where it will be available in galleries, search engines, etc.

In addition to travelogs, I can see this having great usefulness in the education space. I don’t think it will be replacing PowerPoint anytime soon – they serve different purposes. I would say though that in the absence of a presenter, I would likely rather have access to a sway than a PowerPoint deck – the Sway can do so much more on its own for explanations.

Finally, Sway is free. You’ll need a Microsoft account (either consumer or organizational) to use it, but you can simply point your browser at sway.com and get going on it. Give it a shot! I think you’ll like it. I do, and I think I’m going to dip into my back catalog to create more. WHen I do, I’ll be posting them in my diving collection on docs.com.