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Tag: datasets

It’s time to stop using Power Pivot

Excel is an excellent tool for analyzing data. An analyst can easily connect to and import data, perform analyses, and achieve results quickly. Export to Excel is still one of the most used features of any Business Intelligence tool on the market. The demand for “self-service BI” resulted in a lot of imported data being stored in overly large Excel files. This posed several problems. IT administrators had to deal with storage requirements. Analysts were restricted by the amount of data they could work with, and the proliferation of these “spreadmarts” storing potentially sensitive data created a governance nightmare.

A little history

Power Pivot was created to provide a self-service BI tool that solved these problems. Initially released as an add-in for Excel 2010, it contained a new analytical engine that would soon be introduced to SQL Server Analysis Services as well. Its columnar compression meant that millions of rows of data could be analyzed in Excel and would not require massive amounts of space to store. Data in Power Pivot is read-only and refreshable – ensuring integrity. It allowed analysts to set up their own analytical data sets and analyze them using a familiar looking language (DAX), and visual reporting canvas (PowerView) all from within Excel.

The original version of Power BI brought PowerPivot to Office 365 through Excel before Power BI’s relaunch gave it its own consumption interface (the service) and design client (Power BI Desktop). Both the PowerPivot engine, and Power Query were incorporated into the service and Power BI Desktop, while the Silverlight based Power View was replaced with a more web friendly reporting canvas.

Excel support

Throughout all these changes, Excel has continued to be well supported in the Power BI service. Analyze in Excel allows an analyst to connect to a deployed Power BI dataset (built with Power BI Desktop) and analyze it using pivot tables, charts, etc. Recent “connect to dataset” features have made this even simpler. Organizational Data Types allow Excel data to be decorated with related data in Power BI.

Excel workbooks containing Power Pivot models have always been supported by the service. These models can even be refreshed on a regular basis. If the source data resides on premises, it can even be refreshed through the on-premises data gateway. This all because the data engine in Power BI is essentially Power Pivot.

It’s that word “essentially” that causes a problem.

Datasets that are created and stored within Excel workbooks are functional but can only be accessed by that workbook. Contrast this with a dataset created by Power BI Desktop, which can be accessed by other interactive (pbix) reports, paginated reports, and as mentioned above, by Excel itself. The XMLA endpoint also allows these reports to be accessed by a myriad of third part products. None of this is true for datasets created and stored in Excel.

So why would anyone continue to create models in Excel. The reason has been until now that although Excel can connect to Power BI datasets to perform analysis, those connected workbooks would not be updated when the source dataset changes. This meant that those analysts that really care about Excel needed to work with the Excel created models. This changed recently with an announcement at Microsoft Ignite Spring 2021. In the session Drive a data Culture with Power BI: Vision, Strategy and Roadmap it was announced that very soon, Excel files connected to Power BI datasets will be automatically updated. This removes the last technical reason to continue to use Power Pivot in Excel.

Tooling

Building a dataset with Power BI Desktop is fundamentally the same as building one with Excel. The two core languages and engines (M with Power Query, and DAX with Power Pivot) are equivalent between the two products. The only difference is that the engine versions found in Excel tend to lag those found in Power BI Desktop and the Power BI service itself. I’d argue that the interfaces for performing these transforms, and building the models are far superior in Power BI Desktop. not to mention the third-party add-in capability.

In this “new world” of Excel data analysis, Datasets will be created by using Power BI Desktop, deployed to the service, and then Excel will connect to them to provide deep analysis. These workbooks can then be published to the Power BI service alongside and other interactive or paginated reports for use by analysts. With this new capability, Excel truly resumes its place as a full-fledged first-class citizen in the Power BI space.

What to use when

With this change, the decision of what tool to use can be based completely on its suitability to task, and not on technical limitations. There are distinct types of reports, and different sorts of users. The choice of what to use when can now be based completely on these factors. The common element among them all is the dataset.

With respect to report usage, typical usage can be seen below.

ToolUsed byPurpose
Power BI ServiceReport consumersConsuming all types of reports: interactive, paginated and Excel
Excel OnlineReport consumersConsuming Excel reports from SharePoint, Teams, or the Power BI service
Power BI DesktopModel builders
Interactive report designers
Building Power BI dataset
Building interactive reports
Power BI Report BuilderPaginated report designersBuilding paginated reports
ExcelAnalystsBuilding Excel reports
Analyzing Power BI datasets

Making the move

Moving away from Power Pivot won’t require any new services or infrastructure, and existing reports and models don’t need to be converted. They will continue to work and be supported for the foreseeable future. Microsoft has neither said not indicated that Power Pivot in Excel is going anywhere. However, by building your new datasets in Power BI Desktop, you will be better positioned moving forward.

If you do want to migrate some or all your existing Excel based Power Pivot datasets, it’s a simple matter of importing the Excel file into Power BI Desktop. This is completely different than connecting to an Excel file as a data source. From the File menu in Power BI Desktop, select Import, then select Power Query, Power Pivot, Power View. You will then select the Excel file that contains your dataset.

Power BI will then import all your Power Query queries, your Power Pivot dataset, and if you have any it will convert PowerView reports to the Power BI report types. The new report can then replace your existing Excel file. Once deployed to the Power BI service, other Excel files can connect to it if so desired.

Building your datasets with Power BI Desktop allows you to take advantage of a rich set of services, across a broad range of products, including Excel. Building them in Excel locks you into an Excel only scenario. If you already use Power BI, then there’s really no reason to continue to build Power Pivot datasets in Excel.

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Fixing Power BI Report Builder Connection Errors

Power BI Report Builder is Microsoft’s design tool for building Paginated reports in Power BI. It is based on Microsoft Report Builder (formerly SQL Server Reporting Services Report Builder), but has been optimized for the Power BI service.

One of the most important capabilities of Power BI Report Builder is the ability to connect to datasets that have been published to the service. If you have done this, and spent any significant amount of time building reports, you may have come across some puzzling connection errors that are caused by the same thing.

After initially creating a connection and building a “Paginated dataset” (not to be confused with a Power BI service dataset), and then spending some time designing your report, when you select the “Run” option from the ribbon, you may be presented with the “Failed to preview report” error shown at the top of this article. Selecting the details button reveals more information:

A similar error can be found under the same conditions when editing a Paginated dataset’s query with the Query designer tool. Selecting this tool can result in the error “Unable to connect to data source xxxxxxxx”, and the details button reveals another “Unauthorized” error.

What’s worse in this case is that when you select OK, a dialog box appears prompting you to enter a set of credentials.

There are no combination of credentials that you can enter that will fix the connection to the data source. This dialog box was designed for classic paginated connections, not for connections to published data sets. You should select cancel if you see this dialog box.

What is happening in both of these cases is that the token acquired from the Power BI service has expired, and Report Builder does not automatically fetch a new one. There are a couple of ways to deal with this problem.

If you have saved the RDL file to a local file system, you can close Report Builder and reopen it. That will re-establish the data connection. You could also choose to save the RDL directly into the Power BI workspace. This will also re-establish the connection. You can do this by selecting File – Save as and selecting Power BI Service.

You can then choose which workspace to save the file in. This also removes the need to upload the file into the service when you want to publish it – saving and publishing are the same thing in this scenario.

If you are editing a file directly in the service, these errors will still appear after periods of no data retrieval activity, but the connection can re-established simply by saving the report. You can look at the errors as a way of prompting you to save your work .

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Connect to Power BI dataflows and datasets using Power BI Desktop with multiple accounts

Image result for multiple accounts

Power BI datasets and dataflows are the two native data sources for Power BI reports. Connecting to a datasets allows a report to be built against an existing Power BI dataset in place, and dataflows represent a source of data that has had transformations applied to it. When connecting to Power BI dataflows, data is imported, into a data model but the connection to a Power BI dataset is a direct connection.

The two sources handle identity in drastically different ways, and this can lead to confusion when dealing with multiple accounts and tenants. This post is an attempt to help clarify this confusion

Connecting to a dataset

To connect to a Power BI dataset, select the “Get Data” button from the ribbon, select the “Power BI” tab, select Power BI dataset, and finally the “Connect” button.

Connecting to a Power BI dataset

Next, if a user is signed into Power BI Desktop a list of workspaces and their datasets are presented. If not, the user is prompted to sign in. The dataset can then be connected.

Selecting a Power BI dataset

The important thing to notice here is the list of workspaces itself. The list presented is a list of the workspaces available in the tenant belonging to the currently signed in user. It is the same list of workspaces that can be chosen as a publishing target. It should also be noted that the identity of the user is displayed in the upper right corner of the dialog box, and the identity can be changed directly from there.

Connecting to a dataset in a different tenant

The signed in user can be changed by selecting “Sign in” at the upper right of the Power BI Desktop client, or within the connection dialog itself. If the user signs into a different account (in a different tenant), a different list of workspaces and datasets will then be offered. The dataset source is hard linked to the currently signed in user. In this way, the Power BI dataset source behaves differently than all other data sources, which maintain connection credentials separately.

Connecting to a Dataflow

Connecting to a dataflow follows the same steps as a dataset, with the exception that the “Power BI dataflows” option is chosen.

Connecting to a Power BI datflow

At this point, a Power BI data connection dialog will be shown.

Signing in to a Power BI dataflow

There is only one authentication option because Power BI dataflows only support one authentication option.

Unlike datasets, dataflows are NOT linked to the currently signed in user. The connection is authenticated, not the current user. The “Sign In” button must be selected, and authentication completed to connect to a Power BI dataflow.

Once signed in, selecting the “Connect” button will display a list of workspaces that contain dataflows. Expanding the workspace and then the dataflow will expose a list of entities that can be imported into the Power BI data model.

Selecting a Power BI dataflow

The connection information for the dataflow is cached with Power BI Desktop, and subsequent connections to dataflows will not require the user to sign in. The same authentication credentials will be used.

it should be noted that unlike the dataset connection dialog, this one does not show the current credentials and does not allow those credentials to be changed. This makes the process of changing credentials to use dataflows in multiple tenant somewhat less than intuitive.

Connecting to a dataflow in a different tenant

With datasets, changing the currently signed in user will result in a different set of datasets being presented when the dataset option is chosen. This is different with dataflows. No matter what user is currently logged in, the cached credentials will be used.

This behaviour can be confusing when multiple tenants need to be accessed. With most other data sources, the cached credentials are linked with the specific data source. For example, when two different SQL databases are connected, Power BI caches two different sets of credentials.

To connect to dataflows in a different tenant, the current connection information needs to be cleared. This can be done with any data source, but it is particularly important to dataflows as it is the only way to switch connection credentials.

To clear the credentials for the dataset, select “File”, “Options and Settings” and the “Data Source Settings”. The Data source settings dialog will then be presented.

Power BI Data source settings
Clearing the credentials for a Power BI dataflow

Unlike most other data sources which can have multiple entries in the list, one for each unique data source, there will only be one source for dataflows. It is named “Power BI dataflows. For example, if the current instance of Power BI Desktop has authenticated to 3 different SQL servers, there will be three SQL Server connections in this list, but there will only be one for dataflows, no matter how many tenants that have been connected.

To switch tenants, the current credentials must be either cleared, or edited. The cached credentials can be fully removed by selecting “Clear Permissions” or they can be changed by selecting “Edit Permissions”. If cleared, the user will be prompted for credentials the next time the dataflow option is selected. If edited, the new credentials will be stored.

Conclusions, and recommendations

It is possible to work with multiple tenants for both connected datasets and dataflows. However, the methods for doing so are completely different for either option. This can obviously lead to some confusion.

It is my opinion that this behaviour should be changed, and that the behaviour or connected datasets is the more intuitive. If the credentials for the currently logged in user were user for both types of connection, it would be much more intuitive, and also easier to user for report designers.

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