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Introducing Microsoft Reporting Services

  • April 5, 2005
  • By Teo Lachev
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1.1.3 RS and the Microsoft BI platform

RS is positioned as an integral part of Microsoft's business intelligence (BI) platform. This platform is a multiproduct offering whose goal is to address the most common data management and analysis challenges that many organizations face every day, such as analyzing vast volumes of data, trend discovery, data management, and of course, comprehensive reporting.

During the RS official launch presentation on January 27, 2004, Paul Flessner, Microsoft senior vice president of Enterprise Services, outlined the place of RS in the Microsoft BI platform offering, as shown in figure 1.1.

Table 1.4 outlines the purpose of the major building blocks within the Microsoft BI platform.



Click here for a larger image.

Figure 1.1 The Microsoft BI platform consists of several products layered on top of the SQL Server database engine and addresses various data management and reporting needs.

Most of you have probably used more than one of these products in the past to solve your data management and analysis needs. Indeed, most of them have been around for a while. What was missing was a product for authoring, managing, and generating reports that could be easily integrated with all types of applications. RS fills the bill nicely.

Table 1.4 The key Microsoft BI platform components

Component Purpose
Microsoft SQL Server A relational database to store data
Analysis Services An analytical processing (OLAP) engine
Data Transformation Services Tools for extracting, transforming and loading data
Reporting Services Server-based reporting platform for report authoring, management and delivery
Replication Services Replicates data to heterogeneous data sources
Microsoft Office Desktop applications for data analysis and reporting
SharePoint Portal Server Business Intelligence collaboration
Visual Studio.NET A development tool to create .NET-based applications, including analytical and reporting solutions.

Having introduced you to RS, let's take a panoramic view of its features to understand why it can be such a compelling choice for enterprise reporting.

1.2 RS AT A GLANCE

Even in its first release, RS offers a broad array of features that can address various reporting needs:

  • Information workers can leverage RS to author both standard ("canned") reports and reports with interactive features. Here, we use the term "standard" to refer to reports that display static data. An interesting aspect of RS is that your reports can include a variety of features that provide interactivity to users. For example, the end user can show or hide items in a report and click links that launch other reports or web pages.
  • Third-party vendors can target RS to package reports as a part of their applications. For example, if customers have RS installed, the vendor setup program can upload the report files to the Report Server. You'll see this done in chapter 2. Note that the next version of RS is expected to include stand-alone controls for generating reports directly from report files and will not require RS to be installed.
  • Organizations can use RS to report-enable their business-to-business (B2B) or business-to-consumer (B2C) applications. For example, an organization can selectively expose some of its data in the form of reports to its business partners. You'll see an example of a similar integration scenario in chapter 11. Let's now get a glimpse of the RS landscape and observe some of RS's most prominent landmarks. Don't worry if you find you are not getting the Big Picture yet. In section 1.3, we take a closer look at the main pieces of the RS architecture.

1.2.1 Authoring features

As a report author, with RS you have several choices for creating reports. We discuss each of these options in detail in chapter 2. For now, we'd like to introduce you to the Report Designer; this will likely be the option that you will use most of the time for report authoring.

Introducing the Report Designer

Using the Report Designer graphical environment, you can create reports of different types, such as crosstab drilldown reports, like the one shown in figure 1.2.

RS doesn't restrict your report-authoring options to static paper-oriented reports. Instead, you can make your reports more versatile and easy to use by adding interactive features, such as expandable sections, hyperlinks, and document maps. Given its tight integration with the Visual Studio. NET integrated development environment (IDE), the Report Designer provides you with access to all report design features as well as team development features, such as source code management.

About the Report Definition Language

At this point, you may be wondering what an RS-based report file looks like and how it is stored. RS saves the report as an Extensible Markup Language (XML) file that is described in a Report Definition Language schema.



Click here for a larger image.

Figure 1.2 With RS you can create various types of reports, including drilldown crosstab reports like this one.

DEFINITION A report definition contains report data retrieval and layout information. The report definition is described in an XML schema, called the Report Definition Language (RDL).

Saving reports as XML-based report definition files offers two main advantages:

  • It makes the report format open and extensible. Using the XML-based RDL format is beneficial for achieving interoperability among applications and vendors. Microsoft is working with other industry leaders to promote RDL as an XML-based standard for report definitions. Visit the RS official website (check the Resources section for the link) for a list of Microsoft RS partners.
  • It makes the report portable. For example, you can easily save the report to a file and upload it to another Report Server. In chapter 2 you'll see how a third-party reporting tool leverages this feature for ad-hoc reporting.

If you use the Report Designer to create your report, its definition will be automatically generated for you. However, just as you don't have to use Visual Studio .NET to write .NET applications, you can write the report definition using an editor of your choice, such as Notepad, or generate it programmatically (as you will see in chapter 2). Of course, the Report Designer makes authoring reports a whole lot easier. Third-party tools will most likely emerge at some point to provide alternative RDL editors.





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