SQL Server Analysis Services: A Comprehensive Guide 101

on Data Analytics, SQL Server • November 5th, 2020 • Write for Hevo

SQL Server Analysis Service

Are you looking to understand how to use SQL Server Analysis Services? If your answer is yes, we have you covered. Data should be easy to understand and should be transformed to get an actual idea and decision. This can be achieved using SQL Server Analysis Service.

Table of Contents

What is SQL Server?

SQL Server is an RDBMS service from Microsoft. It is designed and built to manage and store information. It provides support for numerous business intelligence operations, analytics operations, as well as transaction processing. Microsoft SQL Server Express is a free version of Microsoft’s SQL Server relational database management system that can be easily downloaded, distributed, and used. It is specifically targeted for embedded and smaller-scale applications. A paid version is also available with a wider range of advanced features.

What is Analysis Services?

Analysis Services (VertiPaq) is a decision support and business analytics tool that uses an analytical data engine. For business intelligence (BI), data analysis, and reporting applications like Power BI, Excel, Reporting Services, and other data visualization tools, provides enterprise-grade semantic data model capabilities. Analysis Services is available on a variety of platforms, including the following:

  • Azure Analysis Services: Azure Analysis Services server resources, which are Azure resources, support tabular models at the 1200 and higher compatibility levels. DirectQuery, partitions, row-level security, bidirectional relationships, and translations all work.
  • Power BI Premium: Analysis Services in Power BI Premium Through client libraries and APIs that support the open-standard XMLA protocol, the VertiPaq engine provides programmability, client application, and tool support for Power BI Premium and Premium Per User datasets at the 1500 and higher compatibility levels. Microsoft and third-party client applications and tools can connect to Power BI Premium datasets using XMLA endpoints for read-only and read-write operations.
  • SQL Server Analysis Services: SQL Server Analysis Services supports tabular models at all compatibility levels (depending on version), multidimensional models, data mining, and Power Pivot for SharePoint when installed as an on-premises or virtual machine server instance.

What is SQL Server Analytics Service?

SSAS is a multidimensional OLAP (Online Analytical Processing)  server as well as an analytics engine, that allows you to slice and dice larger volumes of data. This is part of Microsoft SQL Server and helps perform analysis in various dimensions.

SSAS supports two forms of analysis as follows:

  1. Multidimensional
  2. Tabular

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What is SSAS Architecture?

SQL Server Analysis Service: Architecture of SSAS | Hevo Data
Architecture of SSAS

Basically, SSAS architecture consists of three tiers:

Tier-1: Datasources – such as RDBMS database, excel sheets, access database, etc.

Tier-2: Contains the aggregated data generated by analysis services.

Tier-3: Front-end client shows the visualization of these cubes to the end-user.

What are the SSAS Terminologies?

Data Source:  This is a connection string to connect the analysis database to RDBMS (Relational Database Management System) database.

Data Source View: This is the logical model of the data source.

Cube: This is a collection of aggregates that returns a quick query result.

OLAP: This is a specific set of rules that help us to see the computed cell result in every dimension.

Dimensions: Describe the business facts.

Level: This is a type of summary for a particular dimension, in other words at how much depth we can see the details of the facts.

Fact Table: Contains the values, measurements, facts, and foreign keys for dimensional tables.

Dimensional Table:  Contains the dimension (attribute) of the fact table that describes the characteristics of the fact tables.

Schema: Schema is nothing but the organization of databases in such a way that databases are constructed. For example star schema, snowflake schema

MDX:  It is a query language to retrieve the data from multidimensional tables for analysis purposes.

What are the Types of SSAS Modeling?

SQL Server Analysis Service: Types of Model in SSAS | Hevo Data
Types of Models in SSAS
  1. Multi-dimensional Model: This is made up of cubes. It is a group of dimensions that allows us to query data using dimensions and cubes.
  1. Tabular Model: Organizes the data in related tables.

What are the Features of SSAS?

  • Supports backward compatibility at the API level.
  • We can use MDX as query language and OLEDB for OLAP client access API.
  • Using SSAS, 3 different types of architectures are supported:
    • ROLAP – Relational Online Analytical Processing
    • MOLAP – Multidimensional Online Analytical Processing
    • HOLAP – Hybrid Online Analytical Processing
  • Can be used with various types of wizards and designers.
  • Data modeling is easy and flexible.
  • SSAS offers ad-hoc reports, shared metadata, and security.

How to Install SQL Server Analysis Services?

SQL Server Analysis Services is multi-instance, which means you can install multiple copies on the same computer or run old and new versions simultaneously. Any instance you install will run in one of three modes: Multidimensional and Data Mining, Tabular, or SharePoint, as determined during setup. You’ll need a separate instance for each mode if you want to use more than one.

You can use the server to host solutions that conform to a specific model after you install it in that mode. If you want to access tabular model data over the network, for example, you’ll need a tabular mode server.

Install using the wizard

The following diagram depicts the pages used to install Analysis Services in the SQL Server Installation wizard.

  • From the Feature Tree in Setup, choose Analysis Services.
  • Choose a mode on the Analysis Services Configuration page. The default setting is tabular mode.
Setup page with Analysis Services config options
Image Source

The default storage for tabular models is the VertiPaq in-memory analytics engine (VertiPaq). You can configure tabular solutions to use DirectQuery disc storage instead of memory-bound storage after you’ve deployed tabular models to the server.

The default storage for models deployed to Analysis Services in Multidimensional and Data Mining mode is MOLAP. If you want to run queries directly against a relational database instead of storing query data in an Analysis Services multidimensional database, you can configure a solution to use ROLAP after it’s deployed to the server.

When working with non-default storage modes, memory management and IO settings can be tweaked to improve performance.

Command Line Setup

The server mode is specified by the parameter (ASSERVERMODE) in SQL Server Setup. The example below shows how to install Analysis Services in Tabular server mode using the command line.

Setup.exe /q /IAcceptSQLServerLicenseTerms /ACTION=install /FEATURES=AS /ASSERVERMODE=TABULAR /INSTANCENAME=ASTabular /INDICATEPROGRESS /ASSVCACCOUNT=<DomainName\UserName> /ASSVCPASSWORD=<StrongPassword> /ASSYSADMINACCOUNTS=<DomainName\UserName>

INSTANCENAME must be under 17 characters long.

Replace all placeholder account values with valid accounts and passwords.

The case of ASSERVERMODE is important. All values must be written in capital letters. The valid ASSERVERMODE values are listed in the table below.

ValueDescription
TABULARThis is the default value. If you do not set ASSERVERMODE, the server is installed in Tabular mode.
MULTIDIMENSIONALThis value is optional.
POWERPIVOTThis value is optional. In practice, if you set the ROLE parameter, the server mode is automatically set to 1, making ASSERVERMODE optional for a Power Pivot for SharePoint installation.

Get tools and designers

The model designers and management tools used for solution design and server administration are no longer installed by SQL Server Setup. Tools have their own installation in this release, which you can get from the following links:

Visual Studio 2019 is available for download.

Extension for Analysis Services projects can be downloaded.

To create, deploy, and work with Analysis Services instances and databases, you’ll need both Visual Studio and SSMS. Tools can be installed anywhere, but before connecting, make sure the server’s ports are configured.

What are the Advantages of SSAS?

  • It is an ideal tool for numerical analysis.
  • SSAS offers the discovery of data patterns.
  • Supports OLAP analysis for different data sources.
  • SSAS can be integrated with Excel and SSRS for visualization.

What are the Disadvantages of SSAS?

  • Once we select the model (Multidimensional or Tabular) we cannot change the version, to do so we need to start over.
  • Tabular and multidimensional data merge is not allowed.
  • It is very difficult to accommodate the changes mid of the project.

Conclusion

This article introduced you to SQL Server Analysis Service and the various terminologies and architecture associated with it. Most businesses today use multiple platforms to carry out their day-to-day operations. As a result, all their data is spread across the databases of these platforms. If a business wishes to perform a common analysis of its data, it would first have to integrate the data from all these databases and store it in a centralized location. Building an in-house data integration solution would be a complex task that would require a high volume of resources. Businesses can instead use existing data integration platforms like Hevo Data.

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