Microsoft BI Review

With drill-through reports, links in the data presented take a report viewer to related reports. Reports look terrible on mobile screens.

What is most valuable?

Since its integration into SQL Server 2005, Microsoft has made a number of improvements and added many new features. It had a big overhaul in 2008 and acquired a bunch of new features with 2008 R2: KPIs, maps, sparklines, new functions, published Report Parts, and more.

Let me highlight some of the advanced features that keep people on the platform:

  1. Drill-through reports. These are ones where links in the data presented take a report viewer to related reports. Information Builders is another BI platform where this is available, but not as customizable as in SSRS.
  2. Highly customizable charts. The data-driven custom colors. The fact that almost every attribute of a component of a chart can be tweaked. Try doing some of those customizations on your flashy new cloud BI platform. Reports within reports. Sub-reports within tables of data and sophisticated charts within tables within sub-reports within reports. Go as deep as you want. See as much detail as you want.
  3. User-accessible parameters. Reports can offer report users parameters like no other platform. This makes linking to and from reports easy and allows you to integrate SSRS reports into other business applications. Try sending parameters to an Excel spreadsheet, a Power View report, or a cloud-based dashboard – impossible.
  4. Extensible. Programmers can extend the tool’s functionality. Custom data sources can be coded. Custom delivery extensions can be built. External DLLs can be referenced from within reports. Many companies do take advantage of these features.

What needs improvement?

The few things I mention below constitute very strong reasons why Microsoft has essentially abandoned the platform and why I agree with them.

  • Lack of mobile support. Reports look terrible on mobile screens. They don’t have the ability to redraw themselves as with responsive UIs. Security remains a hassle on mobile because SSRS relies heavily on Active Directory.
  • Speed of development is too slow. To be fair, each SSRS report has the potential to be its own business application, aware of who is viewing the report and customizing the output accordingly. Those that take advantage of the advanced features are in for a surprise – developers will spend countless hours squinting at the screen getting every pixel to fall exactly where they want it. Setting up data sources is still a thing for advanced SQL developers. It’s not like other modern BI platforms where stores of data sets are easily converted to dashboards.
  • Antiquated IDE for code developers extending it. I really wish that the custom code windows provided richer programming assistance (like auto-complete, object-oriented constructs, Intellisense…) and support for other programming languages.

For how long have I used the solution?

I have used it for two years.

What was my experience with deployment of the solution?

We have not encountered any deployment issues.

What do I think about the stability of the solution?

  • Long-running queries could take your system down. The desire of "I Want It All In One Report" should be avoided. All users should tune their reports and use parameters to get their reports in a light way.
  • Internet Explorer could be tricky sometimes.

How is customer service and technical support?

Customer Service:

Customer service is 7/10.

Technical Support:

Technical support is 7/10.

Which solutions did we use previously?

I switched from 2005 to 2008 in order to get more features.

How was the initial setup?

It is easy to install and to integrate in an enterprise setting.

What about the implementation team?

An in-house team implemented it.

What's my experience with pricing, setup cost, and licensing?

The SQL Server Reporting Services works as a part of SQL Server license. If we have a licensed copy of SQL Server, we can run Reporting Services on the same server for no additional license fee. However, if we run Reporting Services on a separate machine that is not yet licensed for SQL Server, such as a Web server, we will need to purchase an additional SQL Server license.

What other advice do I have?

SQL Server Reporting Services is one of the most popular components of SQL Server, but it has always been surprisingly difficult to get from one place all the basic facts you need to get up and running from scratch, to the point of producing reports. My overall experience with Microsoft SQL Server Reporting Services is that it is easy to install and to integrate in an enterprise setting. Developing sophisticated reports, however, can be slow and tedious. Ultimately, getting information to business users is the name of the game. Doing it fast and doing it intuitively trumps fancy features.

Disclosure: I am a real user, and this review is based on my own experience and opinions.
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