Microsoft SQL Server 2012 Analysis Services: The BISM Tabular Model – Review

The latest technical book I’m reading is Microsoft SQL Server 2012 Analysis Services: The BISM Tabular Model, written by Marco Russo, Alberto Ferarri, and Chris Webb, published by Microsoft Press. This is my review.


Microsoft introduced the Tabular model with the release of SQL Server 2012 earlier this year. It doesn’t replace the Multidimensional model already in Analysis Services, but it does give you another option. If you’re familiar with PowerPivot you should be comfortable with Tabular models.

While this is an introductory book on the Tabular Model, it is not a beginners book by any means. You may find yourself in over your head if you’ve never worked with Analysis Services in previous versions of SQL. For instance, you will learn how to create hierarchies and relationships but not what they are.

Chapter 1 is Introducing the Tabular Model. You’ll get a the background of Analysis Services as it existed before SQL 2012. There is a comparison of features between the existing Multidimensional Model and the new Tabular Model.This section will help you to determine which part of SSAS you may need by going over the biggest differences. For instance you can’t create partitions using the Tabular Model. The hardware needs are different as well; Multidimensional would need better disks and Tabular would need more memory. Also the Tabular Model is only available in the Business Intelligence, Enterprise, or Developer Editions of SQL 2012.

Chapters 2 and 3 are where you begin to work with a Tabular Model. You’ll see what you will need to develop projects using SQL Server Data Tools. It’s more than just a walk through. You’ll learn how the Tabular model uses a workstation, a development server, and a workspace server and some best practices in setting them up. There’s a walkthrough in creating your first Tabular project against the famous AdventureWorks data warehouse. By now, if you’re already familiar with cubes in SSAS, you’ll have a pretty good feel for working with Tabular versus Multidimensional models.    

This book is worth getting just for the chapters on the Data Analysis Language (DAX). DAX isn’t new, you’ve been able to work with it in PowerPivot. The authors make it seem like an easy to grasp language, much easier than trying to use MDX. And what’s even nicer, they include a DAX Functions Reference Appendix at the end of the book, sorting functions by their use; statistical, logical, mathematical, and so on.

There’s so much more to this volume, I can’t cover it all. You’ll learn some best practices for deploying your solutions, security, how to process the models, how to work with the Tabular model in various clients, and much much more. The sample walkthroughs are clear and the text is easy to follow. I didn’t find any obvious technical errors though there were a few small typos. You’ll most likely spot them yourself but if you don’t make sure to check the errata page. The few I saw were already caught by others and explained. 

This is a book you’ll be returning to again and again. It’s a great reference for anyone working in Business Intelligence.