Using PowerPivot for SharePoint with SharePoint 2016

While the capabilities previously provided with Excel Services have been moved to Office Online Server (OOS) in the 2016 version of SharePoint, PowerPivot for SharePoint (PP4SP) has not. PP4SP remains a SharePoint service application in the 2016 edition of the product. This service application is responsible for providing the automatic data refresh capability for PowerPivot for SharePoint enabled workbooks. As an aside, it can also refresh connected workbooks, as I discuss here. Given that the rendering engine now exists on a separate server, there are a few additional steps to perform, and this article aims to walk through them.

Basic Installation

Prior to setting up PowerPivot for SharePoint, you’ll need a SharePoint farm that has been enabled for PowerPivot workbooks, as I have previously outlined here. The Add-In is available from Microsoft here.

Installing is a simple matter of downloading the add-in and running setup. You’ll be presented with a straightforward dialog box with 4 options.

This should be installed on every SharePoint server in the farm, whether or not it will run the Service application. Technically the first option is not required for front end web servers, but it is small, and I like to keep my options open. After clicking next, the bits will be installed.

Like SharePoint, once the bits are installed, they must be configured. This is done through the PowerPivot for SharePoint configuration tool, which the earlier setup installed. It should be available from the application list on the server. It works much the same as it did with earlier versions of PP4SP and SharePoint. Run it and you’ll be prompted for the installation type. Select “Configure or repair..” and click OK. Next, you’ll be presented with the configuration detail dialog. The dialog contains a number of configuration nodes, which drive a series of PowerShell scripts that are used to perform the configuration (tip – click on the Script tab to see the scripts in question). The exclamation point icon indicates that parameters need to be supplied.

The first node is mandatory – Configure or Repair.

Here, you enter the credentials of the user that can perform the configuration – I normally use the user that was used to configure SharePoint in the first place – spSetup in my demo environments. This is the only step that is critical. However, I find it to be good practice to change the name of the Service application and database.

The default values begin with “Default Power Pivot…” and the database contains a GUID as part of its name. When searching alphabetically for PowerPivot, I tend to look under P not D, so I remove the word default from both, the GUID from the database, and further change the database name to conform with naming conventions. Finally, it’s a good idea to check the Site Collection that will be activated.

The configuration tool will activate the PowerPivot solution in one site collection by default. It can be activated later in others, but it’s worth starting off on the right foot.

Click the “validate” button, and if all of the indicators are green, go ahead and complete the configuration.  Once configured, no further Central Admin work should be necessary, at least not at this point.

PowerPivot Gallery

A PowerPivot gallery is not required. All of the PowerPivot for SharePoint features can be used in a regular document library, but the gallery centralizes things and makes these features more discoverable. It should be noted that just as with SharePoint 2013, the PowerPivot gallery is a customized document library that uses Silverlight to display its contents. This dependency on Silverlight means that in order to use it, workstations must have Silverlight installed, and neither Google Chrome, nor Microsoft Edge browsers will support it.

To create a new PowerPivot Gallery, navigate to the site contents of the target SharePoint site, and select “Add an app”. Select the PowerPivot gallery and give it a name. If you don’t see PowerPivot Gallery as an option, you may need to enable the PowerPivot Feature for Site collection in the Site Collection features list. Once added, upload a PowerPivot enabled workbook. This workbook should contain a data model where the data was imported directly into PowerPivot (not via Power Query). Once uploaded, after a few moments, the thumbnails from the workbook objects should show up in the gallery. It should be possible to interact with the workbook, as PP4SP is not required for that, but the two (or 3 depending on whether or not SSRS has been installed) icons on the right of the workbook provide access to PP4SP capability.

In order to set up scheduled refresh, click on the calendar icon (The Excel icon is for using Excel as a data source – see below). This opens up the data refresh history for this workbook. To configure it, click on the “Configure Schedule link”. On the configuration screen, select the enable check box, enter the desired schedule, and the credentials needed to connect to the source data. For testing purposes it is more deterministic to explicitly enter credentials here, but refresh supports a “refresh account” (configured via the Secure Store Service), or any Secure Store Service credentials. Also, selecting “Also refresh as soon as possible” will immediately force a refresh cycle, which will begin within 5 minutes of saving, and is useful for testing.

Once complete, open the refresh history for the workbook, and you should see either a stopwatch icon, indication a refresh is in progress, a green check mark, indicating successful completion, or a red x, indicating failure.

One thing should be noted – data models created by using Power Query in Excel will always fail – this is true as of March 2016. Power Query refresh has been stated as a feature for PowerPivot for SharePoint 2016, but as of this writing, it has not yet been included.

Workbook as a Data Source – Kerberos Enablement

The URL of a workbook that contains a data model can be used in a connection string in another workbook, and PowerPivot for SharePoint can intelligently route that connection to the backing SSAS PP Mode server. To the consuming workbook, it looks just like a regular SSAS server.

In prior versions of SharePoint and PP4SP, using a workbook as a data source “just worked”, because the service and the workbook were all on the same server. With OOS, the server is on a different server. OOS needs to connect to the source workbook (the one with the data model) with the credentials of the consuming user, which means that for this to work, Kerberos Constrained Delegation (KCD) must be configured between OOS and SharePoint.

To be sure, you only need to configure KCD if you wish to use Excel files as a data source. If not, this step can be safely skipped.

You need to allow the computer account for the OOS server to delegate credentials to the account running the HTTP service for the SharePoint application that contains the workbooks to be used as data sources. In the example below, the OOS Server is NAUTILUS2016OOS, the service account is NAUTILUS\spApps, and the application is http://home.nautilus.local. This PowerShell can be run on any Domain Controller server.

$allowedPrincipals = @()
$allowedPrincipals += Get-ADComputer -Identity NAUTILUS2016OOS

# Set the delegation property on the application pool identity.
Set-ADUser spApps -PrincipalsAllowedToDelegateToAccount $allowedPrincipals

# Set the Service Principal Names for the application pool identity.
SetSPN -S HTTP/home NAUTILUS\spApps
SetSPN -S HTTP/home.nautilus.local NAUTILUS\spApps

Once successfully configured, it should be possible to use Excel files that contain data models as a data source for other Excel files. To create a new one, click the Excel icon beside the data refresh history icon in the PowerPivot gallery.

Wrapping Up

One other feature requires further configuration to work, and that is the PowerPivot Administration dashboard. Security constraints now prevent the use of Central Administration as a container which means that the dashboard must be set up in a regular site collection. This  requires Server to Server (S2S) trust to be configured. Given that this is not a user facing feature, it’s out of scope for this article, but details on how to do it can be found in the Deploying SQL Server 2016 PowerPivot and Power View in SharePoint 2016 document.

Setting up PowerPivot for SharePoint will still not give you the ability to render Power View reports in a browser whether they are created standalone, or in an Excel workbook. For that, it is necessary to set up SQL Server Reporting Services (SSRS) in SharePoint mode, as Power View rendering is part of SSRS. That will be the topic of an upcoming article.

Connecting to Analysis Services in Power BI

At the moment (July 2015), SQL Server Analysis Services (SSAS) data has the widest range of connection options in Power BI. This is a good thing, but the flip side of this is that great power tends to lead to complexity. In this post, I hope to clarify some of the complexity, and clearly spell out the different data connection options for it.

To begin with, SSAS running in Tabular mode is currently the only on-premises data source that supports direct query data. When operating in this fashion, at no point is data persisted or cached in the Power BI Service. Reports exist in the service, but every interaction with the reports goes back to the SSAS on-premises server for execution, and the results are streamed live back through the service to the requesting client. Operating in this mode has several advantages. Since you are maintaining your own SSAS server, there are no total capacity limits on your data models, compared to the 250 Mb limit on most models in the Power BI service. All data is stored on-premises, so it does not count against your total overall storage limits (10 GB for Pro users). Data is served up in real time, so there is no need to wait for a refresh process. Finally, since data is persisted on-premises, there are also no data sensitivity or sovereignty issues. You can use the cloud based Power BI services, and still maintain a policy of having no sensitive data stored in the cloud, or out of country.

There is of course a cost to all of this flexibility. Live connections require a Power BI Pro license (currently $9.99 US/user/month), and anyone consuming these reports must have such a license. You must of course maintain an SSAS server, which has its own added cost, and you must also install and maintain an SSAS Connector somewhere within your environment. Power BI uses Azure Active Directory for authentication, while SSAS uses only Windows authentication. Therefore, your directory needs to be federated with AAD (same as Office 365 directory federation) in order to use it, although this excellent post by Greg Galloway describes a workaround for test scenarios.

Of course, direct query is not the only way to work with SSAS data. SSAS data can also be loaded into a data model, and refreshed on a periodic basis, like most other data sources. In this mode, the data model is loaded into the Power BI service, and is refreshed periodically through the Power BI Personal Gateway. This approach is common to all on-premises based data sources.

On the tooling front, there are currently three different tools that can be used to connect to SSAS data, with only one of them supporting both the direct query and imported modes. Let’s walk through each one.

Excel

Excel can connect to SSAS three different ways. You can use the traditional Data – From Analysis Services on the Data tab, through Power Query and through Power Pivot. The first method connects directly to the SSAS server and is unfortunately not supported at all by Power BI, even with the SSAS Connector installed.

Direct Connection to SSAS in Excel

Power Query will import data from SSAS into a workbook, a data model, or both. Power BI works with the data model, so if Power Query is used the data should be loaded into the model, and not the workbook. There is one special case where data can be loaded into the workbook, and that is if Power BI connects to the workbook and uses Excel Services instead of importing it. When a workbook, is imported, only the data model and Power Views are brought in.

Power Query SSAS Import in Excel

Finally, PowerPivot in Excel can be used directly to import data from SSAS. PowerPivot only loads data into the model, so there is no confusion here.

PowerPivot SSAS Import in Excel

Once the model is created, and visualizations created, you can either import it or connect to it in the Power BI service. Since Excel does not support the direct query mode at all, only import, the data will need to be refreshed periodically. Refresh can be performed whether the Excel file has been imported, or if it is connected through Excel Services. Reports created in Excel can work with SSAS whether it is running in Tabular Mode, or Multidimensional (OLAP) mode.

Power BI Desktop

Power BI Desktop is a client application that allows you to import, or connect to live data, create and edit data models, and produce reports. You can use it to connect to Analysis Services in both live query mode, and in imported mode. Once launched, simply select “Get Data” and then select SQL Server Analysis Services Database and click “Connect”.

The next dialog is important to determine the behaviour of your Power BI Report. Here you enter the name of the SQL Server Analysis Services Server that you need to connect to, and then the way that you can connect. You MUST be able to connect to this from your client – communication does not flow through the SSAS Gateway at this point.

SSAS Connection Options in Power BI Desktop

The first option will connect to the SSAS using Live Query Mode. IN order to use this option from Power BI, you will need to be using the SSAS Gateway somewhere on your premises. The second option will import the data into a model in the same manner that Excel does. This mode will NOT require the SSAS Gateway, but it WILL require the Personal Gateway in order to keep the data in the Power BI model refreshed.

In addition, the Live Query approach will ONLY work with SSAS Servers running in Tabular mode. If your SSAS server is running in Multidimensional mode, the second option (import) is your only choice.

Once the report is created, it can be published to the service using the publish button, or the created .pbix file can be imported via the same mechanism as Excel.

Power BI User Interface

If you have an SSAS Connector registered somewhere within your organization, you can create a connection to it directly from the Power BI user interface. The Power BI interface can only connect to Analysis Services in Live Query mode, imported models must be created using either Excel or Power BI Desktop.

In order to browse an on-premises SSAS server, first Select “Get Data” in the Power BI user interface, then select “Get” in the Databases section. Then select the “SQL Server Analysis Services” option, and click “Connect”. When you do, you’ll be presented with a screen containing all SSAS servers that have been registered with your organization.

SSAS Servers Registered with Power BI

Click on the one that you wish to connect to, and you’ll be presented with a list of data models to connect to.

SSAS Model Selection

Once selected, the model will appear in the list of Datasets in Power BI.

Clicking on it will allow you to browse the model, and to start building reports. Since the Dataset uses Live Query, there is no need to schedule any sort of a refresh, your reports will always be as fresh as the data on SSAS.

 

Summary

We can summarize the various SSAS connection options for the various Power BI design tools in the following table.

Design Tool Live Query Imported
Excel No Power Query Load to ModelPower Pivot
Power BI Desktop Yes (Tabular mode) Yes (all modes)
Power BI UI Yes (Tabular mode) No

 

I expect some of this information to change over time, but at the initial launch of Power BI V2, this is where Analysis Services fits in.

Using the new Excel 2013 Data Model with SharePoint

One of the biggest new features in Excel 2013 is the ability to import and analyze massive amounts of multi tabular data. However, it’s not really all that new – if you’ve used PowerPivot in the past, you’ll already be familiar with the underlying technology. What’s really new here is that Excel can now work with these large data models without the need of an add-in. The even better news is that Excel Services in SharePoint supports this new data engine. What may be a little unclear is what is necessary to make it all work, and this post is an attempt to clarify this a little bit.

To really understand what’s new, we need to understand what is (or was) available via the 2010 family of products. It’s a bit of a bumpy ride that covers 3 main product groupings, SQL Server, SharePoint, and Office, so hang on, and I’ll do my best to clarify.

Background

When SharePoint Server 2007 was initially released, it contained Excel Services. Among other capabilities, the original Excel Services was a means of surfacing an Excel workbook, or part of a workbook to a user through a browser interface without the requirement to have Excel installed client side. It was relatively limited, and the version of Excel Services that shipped with SharePoint 2010 removed many of those limitations. The Office Web Applications that install alongside of SharePoint bring the ability to edit workbooks directly in the browser.

At approximately the same time that SharePoint 2010 was released, the SQL server team released PowerPivot for Excel. PowerPivot is a free, downloadable add in to Excel that allows Excel users to work with massive amounts of data, and to analyze it in ways previously available only to advanced OLAP systems. The reason that it can accommodate the required data volumes is because it adds a new highly compressible data engine (previously named Vertipaq, now called x-Velocity) directly into the Excel file. These PowerPivot workbooks work perfectly when you have Excel 2010 and the PowerPivot add in installed, but what happens when you want to use Excel Services to share it with your team?

To solve this problem, the SQL Server team also released PowerPivot for SharePoint and included it with SQL Server 2008 R2 (read – it’s not available out of the box with SharePoint 2010). Installing PowerPivot for SharePoint in your SharePoint farm adds a new SharePoint shared service that works with Excel Services to allow those PowerPivot enabled workbooks to be rendered up by the server. These workbooks are “live” so that users can very effectively interact with them, using slicers, etc.

The way that it does this is that it creates a local “runtime” version of Analysis Services on the server that is used to perform all of the necessary analytical calculations. Also, to keep the data fresh, PP for SP also contains a series of timer jobs and configurations that connect to the back end data sources on a periodic basis. If you’re up for it, there’s a very detailed description of the architecture here.

Pre 2013 Usage

Without getting into much detail (like I will below with 2013 ), setting up PowerPivot for SharePoint involves starting with a SharePoint farm that is enabled for Excel Services, adding the PowerPivot for Excel add-on to one or more workstations that will create at least one PowerPivot enabled workbook, and then installing PowerPivot for SharePoint onto a SharePoint server FROM the SQL Server 2008 R2 or 2012 media. After performing some (relative onerous in some cases) configuration steps, The PowerPivot enabled workbooks can be uploaded into a SharePoint library or PowerPivot gallery, and then used by anyone accessing the SharePoint environment. There are quite a few moving parts here including

  • Excel 2010
  • SharePoint Server
  • Excel Services
  • PowerPivot for SharePoint
  • SQL Server
  • Analysis Services

As with any system, the more moving parts that there are, the more opportunity there is for failure. In addition, there are a fairly broad set of skillsets required to make it all work, so any simplification is welcome.

What’s New in 2013

The big news is that the x-Velocity engine that is the underlying power behind PowerPivot is included in Excel 15 without the use of an add-in, which will undoubtedly increase its adoption. This does lead to some practical questions around how this works with SharePoint 2013 and Excel Services. Couple this with the fact that PowerPivot still exists, and the landscape can get pretty confusing.

Excel Services itself can render Excel workbooks with embedded data models, but it’s not possible to interact with them. Clicking on slicers, filters etc. simply won’t work. The workbook can be seen, but it is completely static. Any attempt to interact with it will result in an error like the following.

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As with PowerPivot in SharePoint 2010, what is needed is an Analysis Services engine to perform the necessary work. The big difference with 2013 is that the engine no longer needs to be installed on the SharePoint server – you can connect to an Analysis Services server elsewhere on your network, and that server does not need to be part of your SharePoint farm.

That server does, however need to be operating in “SharePoint mode”, and it can be a little unclear as to what that means. In the end what it means is that PowerPivot for SharePoint (available on SQL 2012 media) is installed on a non-SharePoint server. However, if you try to do this using the release versions of SQL Server 2012 (or 2008 R2 for that matter) you will get an error because the SharePoint bits are not present. What is needed is a minimum of SQL Server 2012 SP1, which as of this writing is available as a Community Technology Preview V3, and can be found here. To set this up, run the SQL install on the AS machine, and at the Setup Role prompt choose SQL Server PowerPivot for SharePoint.

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Unless you need it, you don’t need to install the relational engine. No, you’re not really using PowerPivot at this point, but it’s the option you need to pick. I suspect that the name may change by the time SQL Server 2012 SP1 is released, but for now, that’s what it is.

Follow the remaining prompts to complete the installation. After the installation completed, resist the urge to run either of the PowerPivot configuration tools. These are used if we actually ARE using full PowerPivot (see below), and that will require a SharePoint server. If you run it on a non SP farm machine, things can get very messed up.

Once that is set up, you need to tell Excel services to use it. Navigate to your Excel Services service application in Central Administration, and select “Data Model Settings”.

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The options here are pretty limited…what’s your Analysis Services server? Click on Add Server, and add your Analysis Services (PowerPivot for SharePoint) server. Unless you’ve changed it, PowerPivot for SharePoint will have installed in a non default instance named POWERPIVOT, so the server name will take the form SERVERNAMEPOWERPIVOT, as below

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You may need to run an iisreset on your SharePoint front end servers, but once this is complete, you’re ready to test. To do that, you’ll need to start up Excel 2013, and import multiple tables from a data source. This triggers creation of the model.

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Once imported (it may take a bit), create a pivot table and add an interactive element (a slicer is perfect). Test it out, and if it’s working, save it to a SharePoint document library.

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Close Excel, navigate to the library, and click on the workbook. It should open in the browser. Once open, trigger the interactivity element (click the slicer) and if it works, you have everything configured properly.

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If you want to have a look under the covers, start SQL Server Management studio, and create an Analysis Services connection to your instance (defined above). You should see a new model created for your workbook.

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If it’s not there, make sure that you’ve interacted with the workbook – it doesn’t get created until the first interaction.

Whither PowerPivot?

Now that the engine is baked into Excel, is there any need for PowerPivot any longer? As we’ve seen, for simple analysis, no. However, if we want to do anything advanced, like filtering import data, modifying the model, creating complex relationships, or using DAX (the tabular answer to MDX), the answer is emphatically yes.

On the client side, PowerPivot is actually included with Excel – no download required anymore. It is disabled by default, and is enabled through the Excel Com Add in interface. You can view this as your individual or team model designer. With it you can create complex models and then share them out via SharePoint. Optionally these very same models can be imported into Analysis Services projects if/when they become mission critical, or too large. Another nice thing is that models created with PowerPivot can be shared on a SharePoint farm that is not using the full PowerPivot for SharePoint (but does need “Analysis Services in SharePoint mode – confused yet?).

On the Server side, we can install PowerPivot for SharePoint, just as we did with SharePoint 2010. The reason that we would want to do this is to gain access to PP for SP features like the Pivot Gallery, but primarily to access refresh capabilities. In the scenarios that I’ve described above, using Excel Services, the data that we’re using is relatively static. Data is imported when creating the model, and is used for analysis, but there is no mechanism to refresh the data in the model in the way that Analysis Services can. PowerPivot for SharePoint offers this capability in SharePoint 2010, and this carries forward with SharePoint 2013.

Configuring PP for SharePoint 2013 is beyond the scope of this post, but I will likely address it in a future post.

Compatibility

With Office 2013 we have the Third major release of PowerPivot, and the data model on the second platform for SharePoint. It’s not likely that anyone will upgrade all of their applications immediately, so the question is, what works where? The good news is that the core engine is relatively unchanged, and models created with any versions of PowerPivot should work well with Excel Services 2013 (and Analysis Services SharePoint mode). Conversely, models created with Excel 2013 whether with or without the PowerPivot 2013 add-in should work with previous versions of SharePoint. I haven’t yet had the chance to try out all of the various permutations and combinations, and would like to hear what your experience is.

Hopefully, this helps clear up some of the confusion around the Excel BI features in SharePoint 2013. Hopefully the naming in the SQL media installation gets cleaned up by release.

Update – July 26 2012 – If you’re interested in trying out any of the tools that I mention below, you can use a pre-built environment that’s been set up on CloudShare. Click here to sign up and access the environment.

Connecting to Cubes and External Data with Excel in SharePoint

While many people are still unaware of it, Excel 2010 (and even previous versions) is a very powerful business intelligence client. That’s right, I said Excel. And I don’t mean the classic grab some data, do some charts and email it around sort of Excel, I mean connecting it to Analysis Services cubes and performing fast, useful data analytics on known sets of data. It can also go off and do some pretty amazing things with the Data Mining add-in, or PowerPivot, but for now I’m going to restrict myself to using core capabilities, and getting them published to SharePoint.

To start with, it’s important to understand how SharePoint interacts with Excel. Of course, at it’s core, you can store Excel files in a SharePoint document library,and open them in Excel. However,starting with SharePoint 2007,SharePoint included Excel Services, which allowed you to open a spreadsheet directly in the browser (without having Excel installed or using any ActiveX trickery). It also provided an Excel calculation engine, that was programmatically callable. Why would that matter? A power user could develop a complex model with Excel, store it in SharePoint, which could then be used as a calculation “black box” for other things. The model could also be tweaked by the power user as necessary with them needing  to worry about coding. Finally, you could expose part of the spreadsheet (and named range or object) through the Excel Services web part, which would truly allow you to incorporate Excel content into a dashboard.

SharePoint 2010 brings more to the table, including not only the browser consumption of spreadsheet content, but editing through the Excel Web Application.

However, all of this power does not come without its risks, and when interacting with external data, risks abound. Microsoft has done an excellent job of providing us with a highly secure infrastructure that allows us to do what we want here, but the only trouble is that it’s not always clear which approach to take. My aim in this article is to navigate through the process of connecting to an external data source (an analysis services cube, but the principle applies to others) in a particular scenario in a simple fashion. Our scenario is a fairly common one:

  • One Front End SharePoint Server
  • One SQL back end Server hosting the SharePoint databases
  • One SQL server hosting the Data Warehouse and the Analysis Services cubes
  • Kerberos not installed in the environment

In this environment, we have an authentication problem, the famous double hop problem. If I as a user ask the server to process a spreadsheet that connects to external data, it can’t just take my authentication token and pass it along to the external data source. What we need to do is to set up a proxy account (this has its own set of implications that I won’t get into here) and we’ll do that via the secure store service. If you’re using Kerberos, then you don’t have the double hop problem and the Secure Store part of this won’t apply, but then you’re probably busy enough dealing with Kerberos issues anyway….

If you’ve ever connected to external data, and then sent the file to someone else, you’ll know that they get prompted to verify that they want to connect to the data source and that they trust the connection. In this case, the author has created an embedded data connection. Embedded data connections are not allowed (or at least are strongly discouraged) on the server, because it has no way of verifying the authenticity of the connection.

The way that we deal with this in SharePoint is by creating a connection file, and then publishing it to a trusted location in SharePoint. Administrators need to take heed, in that by default, Excel Services trusts all SharePoint locations, which makes life easy, but not necessarily secure. The library that the connections are stored in should also utilize approval features, but this is not required. This walkthrough isn’t concerning itself with the security aspects, but they need to be considered in any real world situation.

Most of the steps below only need to be performed once, and connection documents can be reused, etc. However, this walkthrough is aimed at getting everything all set up from scratch.

We also don’t want to store our credentials in our connection string, so we will utilize the Secure Store service in SharePoint which will allow us to use, without necessarily knowing, a set of credentials. This will allows us to work around the double hop problem in a secure way. We will start with the setup of the Secure Store Service.

1. Set up the Secure Store Service ID

From Central Administration, navigate to Manage Service Applications, and click on your Secure Store application. If you don’t have one already, you’ll need to create one. You should know that SharePoint Foundation does NOT come with the Secure Store service. However, Search Server Express 2010 does come with it (and a few other things). Given that it’s free, it provides a nice option.

The Secure Store Service Application relies on both the Secure Store Service (duh) and the Claims to Windows Token service. You’ll need to make sure that they’re both started in the “Services on Server” Section in Central Administration System Settings.

The secure Store application requires an encryption key. If  one has not already been created, you’ll see a message indicating that you need to do so. The process is simple, just click the “Generate New Key” button in the ribbon.

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Once a key has been created, we need to create a new target application, which is essentially a set of credentials. This is the application that our connection strings will reference when they need to connect to a back end data source. You create a new application by clicking the “New” button in the ribbon. The New application screen then appears.

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There are a couple of things to note on this screen. Firstly, the Target Application ID is the ID that you will be using when you set up your connection below. You can name it what you like, but you’ll need to remember what it is. The Display Name and the Contact E-Mail need to be filled in, but the important thing to note is the Target Application Type field. If this is to be used by more than one person, you need to make sure that it is set to Group. By default, it is set to Individual, which doesn’t work so well in a shared environment. Take it from me – I found out the hard way. When this is filled in, click Next, and you’re presented with the following screen.

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The Administrators are just that – the people who will set the properties of this set of credentials. The Members are the people that will be allowed to use this credential set in connections, External Lists etc. In the example above it’s set to anyone authenticated, which again, I wouldn’t recommend in production…..

When done, click OK, and we’re done right? Not so fast. We never actually set the credentials for this application, just everything around it. To do that, we select the application, and click the “Set (credentials)” button in the ribbon, or hover over the ID in the list and select “Set Credentials” from the dropdown.

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In the subsequent screen you enter the account and the password (twice) of the credentials that are to be used as a proxy. Click OK and you’re done. A couple of things to note. If using a Windows account the name should be in DOMAINACCOUNT format. The proxy account is NOT a managed account, and if the password changes, you’ll need to come back here to update it. The proxy account should be a least privileges account, with access only to the things that are absolutely necessary to retrieve the appropriate data, or whatever its purpose is. Don’t add it to the Domain Administrators group.

OK, now step 1 is done. Whew.

2. Set up a Data Connection Library

The next thing we need to do is to set up a library to store our data connections. If you’ve set up a BI Site already (to use PerformancePoint), you can use the libraries there. Depending on your requirements, I find that it’s often a good idea to centralize this library and use it from different locations, but your requirements may vary. What we want to create is a Data Connection Library. This library will be used to store connections for both the Office Applications (ODC) and InfoPath UDC).

From the Site Actions menu on the site where it is to be located, select More Options, the, in the subsequent dialog box, Filter by Library, and select Data Connection Library. Give it a name (Don’t use spaces  here, you can always come back and add them later, but we don’t want spaces in the internal name), and click Create

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What makes this library special is that it uses the “Office Data Connection File” and the “Universal Data Connection File” content types. You could always add these content types to any old document library and achieve the same effect. You could also include Reporting Services connections if you’re using Reporting Services in integrated mode.

This library also needs to be registered as trusted in the Excel Services Application. This is done through the Manage Service Applications section of Central Administration. Simply click on your Excel Services application, click Trusted Data Connection Libraries, and add the URL of your library, if not already there.

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3. Set up a Library to house the Excel Reports

You can store the Excel Report that we’ll be creating below into any document library in the Site Collection. If you have set up a BI Center, then you already have a “Reports” library, whose purpose is to do just that. Oddly, by default, this library isn’t set up to contain Reporting Services reports (.rdl files), but that isn’t relevant to my task here.

You simply need to create a new document library, and for the purposes of this example, I’ll call mine Excel Reports (original, huh?)

You’re now ready to create our connection. We’ll use Excel to do that.

4. Create And Store The Connection File

Open a new Spreadsheet in Excel. Click on the Data tab, then click the “From Other Sources” button and choose “From Analysis Services” (obviously, if you’re using something else, choose that).

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Enter in the name of your server, and click Next, Select the Database and Cube that you want to connect to, and then click Next again. We’ll need to do a couple of things in the last screen that appears.

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First, select “Always attempt to use this file to refresh data”. Then, click the “Authentication Settings” button. This is where it gets interesting.

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Window
s Authentication is what you would use if the data resides on the same machine as the SharePoint front end, or your organization is using Kerberos. With this setting, the credentials of the user are used to connect to the data source.If you select None, then the credentials identified as the “Unattended Service Account” (if configured) in the Excel Services configuration will be used. You can only use one of these accounts, and when configuring it, it too will use the Secure Storage Service. We want to select our credential set and we do so by selecting SSS, and entering the ID of the credential set that we created in step 1 above.

Next, we need to save this connection into the SharePoint data connection library that we created in step 2. Click the Browse button, enter the URL of the library in the Address bar, choose a name and click save.

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Finally, When you’re done, click finish, and fill out the metadata form that pops up with any comments or keywords that you might want to use later to fine the connection document. Now we have a connection document in the connection library.

5. Create The Excel Content

When you’re done creating the connection document, Excel will prompt you to insert a pivot table or chart. Choose the location, and Excel will insert it for you, and put you in pivot edit mode. You can select your dimensions and measures, and build your chart accordingly. When you’re ready, your worksheet should look something like this.

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Later, we’ll want to show just the chart on a dashboard page, and to do that, we need to make sure that our chart has a logical name, so we need to do that, as highlighted above. Any named range can be published out to an Excel Services web part. When ready, it’s time to publish to SharePoint, but we also want to set some file properties first. These properties are very well hidden….

Click on the “File” tab to go to the backstage. Once in the backstage, click on the “Save and Send” tab on the left hand side. Then click on “Save to SharePoint”. Your screen will appear as follows:

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Finally, we need to click on the Publish Options button. This allows you to control what gets used by Excel Services, and what appears when the spreadsheet is opened in the browser. It also lets us define parameters which can be used by the Excel Services web part, but  I won’t be using parameters here. I will however choose to publish only my chart and my pivot table to Excel Services, so I click on the dropdown option in the Show tab, change it to “items in the workbook”, and check my two items.

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Finally I can click OK, then click on “Save to SharePoint” and save the spreadsheet in the library created in step 3 above.

6. Test the File and Publish the Chart in a Dashboard

Navigate to the library that you stored the report and click on it. The file should open in a browser, and you should see the first item (alphabetically) that you set to publish above.

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You can switch between published items, using the view dropdown highlighted above. Once you’ve gotten this far, everything is working, and we’re ready to put our chart into a dashboard page.

All that we’ll need to know is the name of the item, and the address of the spreadsheet. In our case, our item is “Chart 2” and the URL of the spreadsheet is http://uvspdev2010/ExcelReports/MySpreadsheet.xlsx. Navigate to anywhere in the site collection that you’d like to show the chart. I’m going to use a team site. From the destination, select Site Actions – Edit Page (or select Edit from the ribbon). Place your cursor where you want the chart to appear, click the Insert tab on the ribbon and click the Web Part button. Select the Business Data category, Choose the “Excel Web Access” part and click insert.

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Once added, click on the “Click here to open the tool pane” link, and enter all desired parameters. The two crucial parameters are Workbook and Named Item. When adding content to a dashboard, I find that it is better to remove all of the buttons and web part chrome, but that’s totally dependent on the use case. When ready, my web part parameters look something like this:

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At this point, you can click OK, and you should see your item on the page in context.

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Congratulations – you’re done!!

This was meant to be a “Hello World” walkthrough, and thus, I’ve left out quite a bit. You can add slicers and all kind of cool BI functions to your sheet, and they’re work in the browser. This is showing data in a cube, and therefore the chart will be updated when the cube is. You can also use parameters in Excel and drive them through filter web parts and connections on the display pages.

There ARE a lot of moving parts here, but once the infrastructure is set up, power users can do some pretty spectacular things using just Excel and SharePoint, and they can do so in a fully managed environment. Oddly enough, chances are that your power users probably already know both of these tools.