Microsoft Unveils Reporting Services Add-On
Product offers a "one-stop shop" for creating, managing, and publishing ad hoc or production reports.
Microsoft Corp. unveiled its long-awaited Reporting Services add-on for SQL Server 2000 yesterday. The product rounds out Microsoft's SQL Server BI stack with a much-needed reporting component; the stack already includes online analytical processing (OLAP), data mining, and extraction, transformation and loading (ETL) components.
Microsoft officials position Reporting Services as a one-stop shop for the creation, management, and publishing of ad hoc or production reports. “The reports can be dynamic, so you can have things like drill-down, and charting into reports, and they can be personalized, so you can generate a customized report for Tom, for Sarah, for Bob, and e-mail it to them so that they only get their information,” said Tom Rizzo, group product manager for SQL Server with Microsoft, in an interview late last year. “It supports drill-down, so you may get sales data for how you’re doing for this quarter, which product is doing well, which isn’t doing well, you can drill down into the data as well.”
The company expects that Reporting Services will find favor beyond report developers and the traditional consumers of their reports. The software giant hopes to leverage the ubiquity of its Visual Studio .NET development environment—and its strong integration with SQL Server 2000 and the SQL Server BI stack—to bring reporting functionality to rank-and-file developers who already feel at home in the Visual Studio .NET IDE.
“We’re saying, ‘Let’s just leverage the best development tool out there, let’s just integrate with Visual Studio so that they can easily build reports,” said Rizzo. “They can use the debugging that they’re used to in Visual Studio, the data tools that they’re used to in Visual Studio, so if you’re a Visual Studio customer, shame on you if you don’t use [SQL Server 2000 Reporting Services], because you’re missing out on one of the most integrated solutions out there.”
Microsoft says Reporting Services manages the complete lifecycle of reporting, from report authoring and publishing through distribution. When it first conceived Reporting Services, Microsoft placed great emphasis on the look and feel of reports, and so created a new XML-based language—Report Definition Language (RDL)—that contains presentation metadata about reports. Report authors use a template in Visual Studio .NET to create reports (which are actually RDL documents) and deploy them through Visual Studio .NET to a Report Server, which delivers them to report consumers in any of several different formats—including .PDF and .TIFF files, along with Excel, CSV, HTML, or XML formats—and by means of a variety of different transports, such as e-mail, the Web, or a network file share.
Reports can be customized for individual consumers so that a report authored in one format can be reformatted on-the-fly into another, Rizzo said. For example, a report authored in HTML can be converted into a .PDF file (on-the-fly) by the report server. Reporting Services supports most common data sources, including flat files, Excel spreadsheets, OLE DB, ODBC, and ADO .NET, and can also access multiple data sources in a single report.
There’s anecdotal evidence that Reporting Services could turn out to be Microsoft’s most popular add-on yet for SQL Server. After all, Microsoft’s newsgroups are buzzing with users anxious to get their hands on the gold code of the software. Meanwhile, one report administrator with a large telecommunications company who has tested Reporting Services during its first (private) and second (public) beta period is enthusiastic about the product. “We have been beta testing Rosetta [beta 2], and love it. We have implemented Reporting Services … in our newest application, and the only issue we are finding is the lack of documentation to help us get it up and running even faster,” he said last year. “No issues at all [with it], can’t wait to replace everything we have with it as it collaborates extremely efficiently with SQL Server, which we are a complete SQL organization.”
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Stephen Swoyer is a Nashville, TN-based freelance journalist who writes about technology.