Speaking the language of business intelligence with an Australian accent

Saturday, January 7, 2006

Book Review - Microsoft SQL Server 2005 Reporting Services

The 2nd edition of Brian Larson's Microsoft SQL Server 2005 Reporting Services was released in November last year. This is, of course, a revision of the RS2000 edition of book with appropriate additions & changes to bring the content up to date with the current release of the product.

Overall the book is great for those with little or no Reporting Services experience. It covers all things SSRS from beginning to end: installation, report design, deployment, management & security etc. etc. It does go into a little more technical depth here and there but the book was never meant to be a deep dive into the innermost workings of the product. It assumes the reader has no Reporting Services experience and to this end includes quite a long chapter on database and T-SQL basics. There is also a very good chapter which goes into a lot of detail in explaining the various report rendering formats along with the pros and cons of each. Other RS books have skimmed over this topic, it was good to see an entire in-depth chapter dedicated to this.

A few months ago I put together a two-day training course in order to teach our team of consultants how to design reports in RS2000. One of the hardest things I found was putting together example report design exercises. I wish I'd had this book with me as a guide to formulating that part of the training. As you would expect in a Reporting Services book a good chunk of the content is aimed at actual report design. There are several large chapters filled with very detailed, well-organised, step-by-step instructions on a number of realistic report design scenarios covering all report objects and several advanced techniques. While I have not read the first edition of the book I could see some of the example exercises where the author has added a few extra steps to make use of a new SSRS feature like user-defined sorting or freezing table/matrix rows.

As Business Intelligence Development Studio (BIDS) is installed as part of the client tools component of SQL Server 2005 the group of people able to develop SSRS reports is becoming much larger. This is good news for the hard-core developers who may prefer spending less time building simple reports and more time taking care of the infrastructure which supports them. So how do you get new users up to speed on using SSRS? Hand them this book with a few strategically placed bookmarks: "Here, step through these examples and let me know if you have any questions." I know not everyone will appreciate being handed a 700-ish page book, but it is a good start and you may be surprised at how many could take to that style of learning.

Let's not forget about Report Builder. One of the appendices in the book covers the overall basics of Report Builder well and serves as a good start to a new user's experience with this excellent addition to the MS BI toolset. Brian does note that Report Builder will only be available with the Enterprise Edition of SQL 2005 which highlights how far in advance authors must have to complete their manuscripts before sending them to the publisher; around the middle of 2005 MS announced that Report Builder would be included in Standard and Enterprise Editions along with the Workgroup Edition (which is limited to report off local and relational sources only).

A few things that disappointed me about the book:

  • I would like to have seen more example exercises on the improved development experience when it comes to SSAS-based reports. There was at least one example of a report which sourced data from a UDM but it would have been nice to have more in this area including walkthroughs based on a data mining model, a report [Builder] model, a Web Service or even an XML file.
  • In the chapter dedicated to Report Manager I found it strange that there was no mention of the ability to manage one/many Reporting Services instance/s through SQL Server Management Studio (SSMS), instead all the focus is dedicated to the web-based Report Manger.
  • At the time of this writing the sample code is not available (or at least I can't find it) on the McGraw Hill / Osborne book site. The code from the original RS2000 edition is there but this is not very useful when it comes to examples involving newer features.

It's easy to see that Brian has been busy in the months leading up to the release of SQL Server 2005. Aside from the book reviewed here he has another book - Delivering Business Intelligence with Microsoft SQL Server 2005 - which has been / is just about to be released - I'm looking forward to reading that one too.

In comparison with Integration Services (SSIS) and Analysis Services (SSAS), Reporting Services is the BI tool that has changed the least in this current release of SQL Server 2005 (obviously, because it's only been in existence since Feb 2004 and was originally designed for the Yukon release). For this reason alone books about RS2000 are not going to differ vastly from those on SSRS. So if budgets are tight and you already have copies of other RS2000 books you may want to direct the money towards other upcoming SQL Server 2005 BI titles. On the other hand, if you have no books on Reporting Services at all this is a great one to start with.

In summary this is a good book to have around the office, not as much for the already experienced Reporting Services developer but instead to help beginners learn about the product from the ground up. If you're a trainer of any kind or someone charged with ensuring more people in your organisation develop SSRS skills then this is a book you should have.

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