I received a notice from my main Power BI tenant last night that a new version of the Data Management Gateway was available. The previous (1.2) version contained some very significant changes so I was understandably eager to have a look. I installed it, observed a relatively attractive setup interface, then opened the release notes to find out what else was new. Only four items were listed (from the release notes).
- Unified binary that supports both Microsoft Azure Data Factory and Office 365 Power BI services
- Refine the Configuration UI and registration process
- Azure Data Factory – Azure Ingress and Egress support for SQL Server data source
- Office 365 Power BI – Bug fixes
I had already observed number two, the new setup experience. Bug fixes, while absolutely necessary, aren’t necessarily something to write about, but I think that the other two items are. While they may not have immediate impact, my bet is that they will in very short order.
The key point here is that the gateway now supports the Azure Data Factory. There are many, many things that the data factory enables (Hadoop anyone), but the one that I feel is most relevant to Power BI today is the ability to connect directly to on premises data sources. That’s not quite how it’s been done until now.
Power BI for Office 365
In the context of Power BI as we’ve come to know it today, on-prem data refreshes are handled by the Data Management Gateway. On a periodic basis (daily at most) the service contacts the gateway, which in turn reruns all relevant queries. The resultant data is then uploaded to the service.
The service in turn packages the data and updates the host Excel workbook, and the model is transferred into a back end analysis server. Every transaction goes through the host Excel workbook.
Power BI Dashboards
If you’ve had a chance to see the preview of Power BI Dashboards, you may have noticed that it is not dependent on Office 365 or Excel at all. When you add a data source, you take the date and add it to a cloud based data model directly (presumably backed by SQL Server Analysis Services). All visualization work against these models, with one very important exception. If you connect to a SQL Server Analysis Services Data source you are actually connecting directly to a model hosted on an on-prem SSAS server in real time.
How is this done? The connection is made through the “Analysis Services Connector”, which is a separate bit of software installed on prem to facilitate connection between the Power BI Dashboards service and the On-Prem SSAS server. It’s available directly from the dashboards portal.
After installing it, a process that establishes for dashboard and SSAS credentials, it can be reconfigured by running the “Power BI Analysis Services Connector” tool.
However, installation also adds another piece of software to the host machine. The Microsoft Data Management Gateway. This version of the DMG establishes the connection between the SSAS server and the Power BI service in real time. Up until now, the DMG didn’t work this way, so which version is it?
Until now, the most recent version of the DMG was 1.2, so this Dashboards preview contained a glimpse into the next generation Data Management Gateway that provided some intriguing new capabilities.
Checking into the latest version of the Data Management Gateway from Office 365, we see:
This version is newer that that included in the Dashboards Preview, and presumably includes everything from it. The key phrase in the release notes to me is therefore “Unified Binary”. One gateway to rule them all, if you will. Does this mean that we’ll be able to connect to on-prem data in real time from Office 365 as well as from the Power BI preview? I don’t know how, but I bet that the building blocks are now there.
The latest version may not include support for any new data sources, or any new bells and whistles, but it’s likely worth setting up for new capabilities that will hopefully show up sooner rather than later.