Posts Tagged 'Business Intelligence'

Big Data on Azure – HDInsight

The HDInsight service on Azure has been in preview for some time. I have been anxious to start working with it as the idea of being able to leverage Hadoop using my favorite .NET programming language has a great appeal. Sadly I had never been able to successfully launch a cluster. Not, that is, until today. Perhaps I had not been patient enough in previous attempts, although on most tries I waited over an hour. Today, however, I was able to launch a cluster in the West US region that was up and running in about 15 minutes.

Once the cluster is running it can be managed through a web-based dashboard. It appears, however, that the dashboard will be eliminated in the future and that management will be done using PowerShell. I do hope that some kind of console interface remains but that may or may not be the case.

Figure 1. HDInsight Web-based dashboard

To make it easy to get started Microsoft provides some sample job flows. You can simply deploy any or all of these jobs to the provisioned cluster, execute the job and look at the output. All the necessary files to define the job flow and programming logic are supplied. These can also be downloaded and examined. I wanted to use a familiar language to write my mapper and reducer so I selected the C# sample. This is a simple word count job which is quite commonly used as an easily understood application of Map/Reduce. In this case the mapper and reducer are just simple C# console programs that read and write to stdin and stdout which are redirected to files or Azure Blob storage in the job flow.

Figure 2. Word count mapper and reducer C# code

One thing that is pretty cool about the Microsoft BI stack is that it is pretty straightforward to work with HDInsight output using the Microsoft BI Tools. For example the output from the job above can be consumed in Excel using the Power Query add-in.

Figure 3. Consuming HDInsight data in Excel using Power Query

That, however, is a discussion topic for another time!

If you are interested in learning more about Big Data, Cloud Computing or using Excel for Business Intelligence why not consider attending one of the new Learning Tree courses?

Kevin Kell

Data Analytics in the Cloud ‚Äď Microsoft Azure SQL Reporting

First, let me say I have been looking forward to using this service for some time. As a long time user of SQL Server Reporting Services (SSRS) I was eager to use this technology in some of my cloud computing projects. I was disappointed a few months ago, however, when I started down the path but then discovered that the minimum cost I could achieve would be in the order of around $600 per month. I could not in good conscience recommend that to my client. At the current cost of $0.16 per hour I think it is still a little expensive but may be preferable to building an on-premises solution. In this post I will take a quick look at using Azure SQL Reporting as a cloud-based business intelligence tool.

We can start from the Azure portal. Select the SQL REPORTING tab. A wizard walks you through the process of creating a Reporting Services service. Once the wizard completes you will have provisioned a Reporting Server on Azure. We can then go ahead and create reports and publish them to this server in exactly the same way we would publish to any SSRS server.

To create reports I usually use the Business Intelligence Template for Visual Studio 2012 (aka BIDS). I have also used Report Builder 3.0 but I find that I am more comfortable in Visual Studio and it offers more flexibility. For my report data source I created a database on Azure SQL DATABASE. In this way my whole solution is in the cloud. When you are finished creating the report to your specification all you then have to do is just deploy it to your Azure SQL Reporting service using the Web Service URL shown on the dashboard.

The only issue I found here is that when you create the data source in BIDS you need to specify that the connection type is Microsoft SQL Azure. If you don’t do this you will get an error when you deploy the report.

Figure 1. Data Source Properties

Once it is deployed you can view the report in a browser:

Figure 2. Report hosted on Azure SQL Reporting service

So, all in all, the process is pretty straightforward and painless. In this way you can easily deploy SSRS reports without the administrative requirement of having to install and configure a Report Server on-premises. I think that it is likely, however, that there may be some¬†incompatibilities that I haven’t discovered yet. I will continue to look for these in the days to come.

Kevin Kell

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