Sunday, April 13, 2008

What's up with the new SSRS 2008 Report Designer

Here’s the scoop from developer to developer, per the last comments and feedback from the MS product team for SSRS:

The new Report Designer for 2008 will be included, as of CTP6 and into RTM, in Visual Studio 2008, and also as a standalone installed application. This is significant because it means that business analysts and information workers do not have to license and install Visual Studio (a developer-oriented environment) in order to design/develop reports for SSRS. In SSRS 2005, the only other option that end-users had to develop reports was the Report Builder application.

Report Builder – RB 2005 – is a click-once Windows Forms application that allows users to create ad-hoc reports. However it limits users to retrieving data from Report Models (SMDL files) that were deployed to a report server. Report Models had to created beforehand, by a developer, well-versed in the data structures (DB, Cubes, etc) and business needs, in order to provide the appropriate entities and fields that could be consumed by ad-hoc reports in RB. An interesting concept that came from SMDL and the models is that of infinite drill-through. Basically, the idea is that once the model is created, and a report consumes that modeled data, a field that is displayed on the report can be clicked by the end-user allowing them to drill into the information. The semantic model would understand relationships and hierarchies presented by the data, and provided a generated report with all the attributes and aggregates that were significant to the drilled down information. In theory, the user could keep on clicking through the data “infinitely.”

Unfortunately, the latest I've heard from the SSRS product team on this topic was that, while the SSRS 2008 Standalone Report Designer (codename “blue”) would allow users to create reports, using the same design interface as developers in Visual Studio, which consume SMDL models, they would not be able to perform “infinite drill-through” using these reports, and they would not get an integrated query designer.

In order to address that shortcoming, they chose to keep the 2005 RB click-once application with the RTM version of SSRS 2008. Once they’ve completed this feature with the new designer, they will release the updated Report Designer (blue). This will come in the form of a SQL Server Service Pack (probably SP1).

To summarize, when SQL Server 2008 is released, developers will get the new report designer in Visual Studio 2008, and users will get the standalone version of the same design tool. and users will continue to get RB 2005 deployment from Report Manager. the "blue" designer will be available in the SQL Server installation media, but not installed by default, starting with the next CTP Refresh. Once "blue" is installed, users will be able to write reports for all the out-of-the-box data providers (not just report models), but will not be able to create reports with infinite drill-through capabilities.

When SP1 for SQL 2008 is done (or the next available update after RTM), the new Report Designer will have incorporated all of the missing features available in RB 2005, and Microsoft will phase out the RB 2005 tool at that point, in favor of “blue.”

Re-designed memory management (say goodbye to memory leaks in your report servers).

  • Directly leveraging HTTP.sys driver - does away with dependency on IIS. This reduces server footprint (and possible attack surface) on dedicated report servers, and allows all of the Reporting Services components to function within one single application pool, under one windows service, by one single service account. This also makes server deployment a breeze.
  • Integration of the acquired Dundas Charts and Gauges component – this brings new charts and gauges, with tons of new features that will allow users to create very pretty reports.
  • Say good bye to the old matrix and table paradigm…..hello, TABLIX!
  • New MS Word (2003) rendering extension, will allow users to export reports to Word .doc files.
  • Still get all the neat SharePoint integration features….