RESEARCH & RESOURCES

Microsoft Ships SP2 for Reporting Services with Next Gen Reporting Features

Next version of Reporting Services for SQL Server 2005 will marry developer facility with an intuitive and easy-to-use client-side console designed expressly for business users

When it ships later this year, Microsoft Corp.’s SQL Server 2005 will include a substantially revamped Reporting Services facility.

That hasn’t stopped Microsoft from tweaking the Reporting Services component it currently offers as an add-on for SQL Server 2000, however. Last week, the software giant unveiled an updated Service Pack 2 release that—on top of a raft of fixes—actually introduces a couple of long-requested features.

“We have our SP2 coming out soon actually, and there’s some enhancements in there, even, that we felt couldn’t wait for [SQL Server] 2005” confirms Tom Rizzo, director of product management for SQL Server with Microsoft.

What’s on tap in SP2? For starters: support for integration with Microsoft’s SharePoint Portal offering via SharePoint WebParts.

“A lot of people say to us, ‘I love reporting, I love subscriptions in it, I love going to the Web site and viewing my reports, but really I want to build a business intelligence portal,’” Rizzo says. “Now, you could do this today using SharePoint and Reporting Services, but really you have to piece it together. In SP2, we’re shipping WebParts so it’s very easy for a report user to start embedding and integrating reporting services into their portal.”

Rizzo says SP2 delivers on another long-requested feature: client-side printing. “A lot of customers just want to print directly from the Web browser [as part of a portal view]." The upshot, he explains, is the ability to do just that—courtesy of an ActiveX control that even supports full-page preview. “For the most part, yes, this is incremental stuff, but we think the SharePoint stuff is actually very important, because portals are the way people are trying to expose business intelligence these days.”

Since Microsoft unveiled its free Reporting Services deliverable in January of last year, that product has been downloaded more than 140,000 times, Rizzo notes.

Next Up: Next-Gen Reporting Services 2005

Microsoft expects Reporting Services adoption to lift off into the stratosphere with the SQL Server 2005 version. For the first time, Rizzo says, Reporting Services will marry the traditional strengths of its powerful developer-oriented developer facility (that is, Visual Studio) with an intuitive and easy-to-use client-side console designed expressly for business users.

“If I’m a developer, I love Reporting Services, but what I really want is an end-user ad hoc query and reporting tool I could push out to users. That’s why we invested in a company called ActiveViews,” says Rizzo, referring to Microsoft’s acquisition of that company in April of 2004.

“We took that and enhanced that technology, so we have this new client technology called Report Builder, and it is targeted at knowledge workers. Someone who knows how to use office will be comfortable with this.”

According to Rizzo, the idea is to achieve the long-sought Holy Grail of enterprise reporting: Empowered users who have the ability to build, or at the very least heavily customize, their own reports with only minimal oversight from IT.

“The interesting thing there is, you get the end-user client reporting tool, but IT doesn’t sacrifice control. A lot of the things that corporate customers tell us is that they like self-service reporting, but they like the IT access control,” he explains. “We balance that with Report Builder. IT professionals can generate these models that sit between the end user and the actual data, so the developer and the IT professional have complete control.”

As of SQL Server 2005, Rizzo says, the Visual Studio-based Report Designer isn’t a relational-only play. In fact, he notes, it’s able to handle relational and multidimensional reporting with equal aplomb.

“The big thing customers will see is that Analysis Services becomes a first-tier supported data source. You could go against it in SQL 2000, but you have to write the MDX by hand, which is a turn-off for a lot of customers who aren’t MDX-savvy,” he explains. “With SQL 2005, we take the same query designer that’s used in our BI development studio, and it’s embedded in our Report Designer, so now you can go in and graphically design MDX queries just like you do with relational queries.”

Last April, Microsoft shipped an embedded Visual Studio control for Reporting Services. On tap for Reporting Services 2005 is more of the same. “One thing developers wanted was they liked Reporting Services, but they wanted embeddable controls so they could take the power of Reporting Services and put it into their own application.”

The first such control Microsoft delivered last year with Reporting Services was a Web-browser-only viewer; the version of Reporting Services that ships with SQL Server 2005 will support a native Windows client viewer, too. “The interesting thing is that these controls don’t require Reporting Services, actually,” he continues. “Imagine this scenario: you built your sales force automation application, you say, ‘I want to run this thing offline.’ We integrate really well with ADO.NET, so if you have a data source that ADO can get at, you can take that data, the report definition that you created in that report designer, and pass that to the control, and the control renders it locally.”

The goal: to encourage adoption of Reporting Services as an embedded reporting solution—on par with Crystal Reports from Business Objects SA. “The controls will allow ISVs, especially people who build custom applications and package these, to get very functional reporting without having to write the code themselves,” he says.

In Visual Studio 2005, as for more than a decade, Microsoft will continue to bundle Business Objects’ Crystal Reports, however.

“In the end, it comes down to customers. Customers have an investment in Crystal, and we don’t want to strand them by removing that investment in Visual Studio. From a SQL Server standpoint, we’re okay with Crystal shipping inside of Visual Studio, because we believe we have a better product,” he concludes. “We’re not going to cut customers off at the knees and cut Crystal out.”

You can download Reporting Services Service Pack 2 at
http://www.microsoft.com/downloads/details.aspx?FamilyId=502C0D89-1308-4662-8F58-CEC55EF1235B&displaylang=en


About the Author


Stephen Swoyer is a technology writer with 20 years of experience. His writing has focused on business intelligence, data warehousing, and analytics for almost 15 years. Swoyer has an abiding interest in tech, but he’s particularly intrigued by the thorny people and process problems technology vendors never, ever want to talk about. You can contact him at evets@alwaysbedisrupting.com.

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