SSRS 2016 – Integrated or Native Mode – Which one should you use?

The answer to the SQL Server Reporting Services Integrated vs. Native mode question used to be very simple. Once upon a time, if you had a SharePoint environment, you would want to deploy SharePoint Integrated mode, and if you didn’t, you would pick Native. Integrated mode would leverage your pre-existing security model in SharePoint, it would allow reports to look like documents in SharePoint making them more user friendly, and you would be able to use the advanced features of the SSRS web parts in SharePoint. Non-SharePoint users were able to do what they needed around security and report storage with Native mode. Everyone was happy.

SQL Server 2012 changed that a little bit. Power View reports were first introduced in SQL Server 2012 as a part of SSRS. These reports leveraged the tabular (PowerPivot) data models available in SSAS 2012 and provided some very user friendly tools for self service analytical reporting. However, one of the catches introduced was that Power View reports were only available in SharePoint Integrated mode. Suddenly, the choice of mode became feature based. This suited those with SharePoint environments just fine, but those without SharePoint would now need to stand up a SharePoint farm just to gain access to Power View. This is a daunting prospect, especially for those unfamiliar with SharePoint. This requirement, coupled with the minimal investment into new features for core SSRS in SQL Server 2012 had the effect of making the Native mode users feel abandoned. After all, we know what typically happens when Microsoft stops investing in a product. The balance was heavily tilted in the favour of Integrated mode.

The new normal

This situation remained exactly the same in SQL Server 2014, but has changed dramatically with SQL Server 2016. SSRS in SQL Server 2016 contains significant advancements, chief among them are a new HTML5 rendering engine, a new report portal, mobile reports, and (soon) Power BI Desktop rendering. This is fantastic news, but it also changes the game significantly with respect to the Integrated/Native mode decision. With SSRS 2016, most of the new investments are in Native mode only – the balance has shifted. The table below shows an (incomplete) list of new features, and their supported modes.

Feature Integrated Mode Native Mode
HTML 5 based rendering engine X X
New chart types X X
PDF based printing (no ActiveX) X X
PowerPoint rendering and export X X
New UI for Report Builder X X
Customizable parameters pane X
New web portal X
Mobile reports X
Pint to Power BI X
Render Power BI reports* X

* Coming soon

You can see above that the balance has shifted very heavily in favour of Native mode. The folks using Native mode are very happy about this move – they are no longer having SharePoint forced on them in order to access new features. However, now it’s the SharePoint folks turn to feel abandoned, but they really don’t need to. SSRS Integrated mode is still getting a significant enhancement in 2016, it’s just not as significant as the improvement to Native Mode. Integrated mode is also still required for rendering Power View reports. Last fall’s Reporting Roadmap reconfirmed Microsoft’s commitment to SharePoint as a platform -“We will continue to support embedding of BI content into SharePoint”. SharePoint has a bright future as an report destination. The only question is how that will be brought about.

It may well be that the features had to go into Native mode first in order to meet the shipping schedules, and that they’ll be brought along eventually. I suspect however that this is not the case. I think that this is either the last, or penultimate version of SSRS to contain Integrated mode. If the same level of embedding into SharePoint could be provided by Native mode, and the user experience improved (as it has been in the new report portal) then there is very little real need for Integrated mode at all.

Building shared service applications in SharePoint is a non-trivial task, and those resources could likely be better spent on features for SSRS. A new embedding model could support both SharePoint on-premises (as it currently does) and SharePoint Online (as it currently doesn’t). The same mechanism could be used to embed Power BI reports. We’ve already seen glimpses of this hybrid interoperability in the SSRS and Excel pin visual to Power BI capability. I suspect that over time we’ll see SSRS Native mode and its reporting portal also assume the role currently played by PerformancePoint Services as well. For all of these reasons, I think that SSRS Native mode is the only future for SSRS.

But that’s the future. What about the present?

When I first learned of these developments, I suspected that I would be recommending Native mode for anyone moving forward. However, as I discuss in an earlier article, the SSRS web parts for Native mode are deprecated, and missing key pieces of functionality, parameters being first among them. They are really little more than iframes, and they certainly can’t replace the Integrated mode web parts. If you’re going to use reporting in SharePoint in any meaningful way, or you are looking to upgrade an existing SharePoint farm with SSRS integration to 2016, you’re going to need Integrated mode. That means no mobile reports, report manager, or Power BI integration.

So why choose?

There is nothing stopping you (apart from possibly licensing) from running both modes. Using Integrated mode, you can take advantage of the new rendering engine, etc, and a separate Native mode server can be used for Report Manager, mobile reports, and Power BI integration. Over time, more reports can be brought over to Native mode and the embedding story improves. Once they are all brought over in “the future”, the Integrated mode service can be simply removed. This provides for a smooth, gradual migration. In fact, you can set up an SSRS 2016 Native mode server along side an existing SharePoint 2013 farm with SSRS 2014 or earlier Integrated mode to get started. Your SharePoint reports won’t have any of the new features, but your Native mode certainly will.

We are clearly in a transitional stage when it comes to on-premises reporting technologies from Microsoft. There are significant, bold steps forward, but there is also a legacy of technology to support. The current lineup of technologies allows for both approaches for organizations to embrace at their own pace.

11 thoughts on “SSRS 2016 – Integrated or Native Mode – Which one should you use?

  1. Pingback: SSRS 2016 Modes – Curated SQL

  2. Chris Oneslager

    Nice read. Finally an upgrade in SSRS and definitely a strong reason to go native with 2016. Wish there was more info on using FBA with SSRS as it appears it has also changed in 2016. We are trying to go with MVC with FBA with SSRS 2016 with the html5 report control and have a hard time with getting answers from anywhere.

  3. Paul

    It seems there is no solution on the horizon to use SSRS with SharePoint online? SharePoint integrated mode is fantastic, especially for managing security and embedding in SharePoint, but we are moving to SharePoint online, and this very critical piece has no solution, am I right?

  4. John White Post author

    You are right. However, in this, time is you ally I believe. THe embedding story is on the top of the team’s list, and I believe that the result will work really well for both on-prem and SPO.

  5. Jeff

    It’s obvious that Power BI is the present and the future for Microsoft BI, but the thing that only SharePoint provides (to my knowledge) is the meta-data and search capabilities of a Document Library with the SSRS content types enabled. The ability to use the Document Library features is huge from a content management standpoint, especially when managing hundreds or thousands of reports. Any ideas if either SSRS Native or Power BI will report management capabilities similar to SharePoint’s Document Library? If so, then I’m all for abandoning SharePoint integrated mode but if not then I still see SharePoint having the advantage here.

  6. DanTechMan

    Thank you John, for wonderful posts. In the feature chart you have “Pint to Power BI”. Is that Print?

  7. mphilippopoulos

    Thank you for this post and others on this site.

    I was recently tasked with installing SQL 2016 SSRS and had to decide on which mode to use, Native or SharePoint-Integrated. This post helped me decide, and, I must say, I was relieved to find out that Native mode is the way to go moving forward (has most of the new features etc.).
    (I am not a Sharepoint expert, just a DBA with experience on native-mode SSRS). 🙂

    Thanks again,
    Marios Philippopoulos

  8. Hikmer

    My biggest issue with this new split is that I cannot get both all the new SSRS features AND a way to host Excel Pivot Tables in a single environment. SSRS native doesn’t support Excel Web Services and SSRS SharePoint integrated doesn’t have the Datazen. Add to this that SQL native doesn’t support ADFS or Azure AD and now you have a really bad situation for folks who have been planning cloud based hybrid solutions. I am beyond frustrated that major functionality is limited by this new model which was supposed to never happen…back in 2013 they told us that SSRS native was being deprecated…not the other way around. So PowerBI v2.0 isn’t done yet, SharePoint SSRS and excel Services have been watered down (on premise) and SSRS native doesn’t support ADFS….this is really a struggle for enterprise folks that want to use the newest tools but have no solution for dilemmas.

  9. Ryan

    Great blog.

    We have ventured down the Native Mode path for SSRS 2016 where we are integrating these reports into PerformancePoint. We’ve noticed that the parameters we set in the report as dropdown choices are coming through as text boxes when our PPS dashboard is published to SharePoint. Any ideas or experience of this?


  10. Nick Losier

    Do you have any tips for migrating from SSRS 2012 Integrated with SharePoint 2010 over to SSRS 2016 Native mode? We’d like to minimize the amount of subscription recreation if possible. Is there a migration utility that you know of?

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