This statement is a bit misleading. Clearly, SQL Server Reporting Services (SSRS) never actually went away. At Superior Consulting Services (SCS), SSRS never left our arsenal of tools for meeting client business needs. We have been using SSRS to create robust reporting and data visualization solutions all along. We have continued to train and mentor both technical and business users on report authoring with Report Builder. During the past few years, however, it has seemed as though SSRS had slipped the mind of the powers that be at Microsoft as other visualization products got all the attention.
All that changed last week at the PASS Summit. Microsoft is once again giving love—lots of love—to the SQL Server on-premises tools, especially Reporting Services.
I had the chance to attend the Keynote presentation and multiple sessions on the features that will be shipping in SQL Server 2016 and beyond. I also had the opportunity to chat with Riccardo Muti, the Program Manager for Reporting Services at Microsoft. A consistent theme across the conference is one of a major facelift for Reporting Services in the 2016 release and more exciting features coming soon after that release.
To appreciate where SSRS is headed, it is important to understand how Microsoft now views reporting. This vision divides reporting into four categories:
- Paginated Reports – These reports require fine control over the formatting of the output and are often presented in strict paginated formats such as PDF or hard copy. This is still the mainstay for most organizational reporting and will be for years to come.
- Mobile Reports – These reports are designed for viewing on mobile platforms – tablets and phones. They are going to be predominately graphical rather than textual because of the small footprint.
- Interactive Reports – These reports facilitate data exploration. They are for users that want to immerse themselves in the data to a high degree.
- Excel Spreadsheets – Spreadsheets are still many business users favorite way to interact with data.
Microsoft envisions four tools to produce reports in these four categories. The tools will, in turn, be grouped under three environments. Excel, within various versions of Office, is, of course, the main tool for creating spreadsheets. Power BI Desktop is the tool for creating interactive reports. The Reporting Services environment contains the tools for creating both paginated and mobile reports. Paginated reports continue to come from Report Designer in Visual Studio (now supporting VS 2015!) and Report Builder (with a new look). Mobile reports are based on the technology obtained as part of the Datazen acquisition and now rebranded as part of SSRS.
Report Manager Makeover
The SSRS portal has received a much-needed update. Report Manager, which provides the user interface for an on-premises report server, now has a contemporary look and feel, while also playing well with all modern browsers across all screen sizes. Both mobile (Datazen) and paginated (SSRS) reports can be deployed to on-premises report servers. Sometime after the release of SQL Server 2016, the report server will add support for Power BI content – giving organizations a means to share Power BI content in an on-premises environment.
While supporting the familiar folder organization, Report Manager now features a highly individualized home page. The home page can host critical KPI elements to create a ready-access dashboard. The home page also serves as the location for links to your most-used reports in the “favorites” area.
Deploy Anywhere/View Anywhere
Unlike in the past, the reporting tool choice no longer dictates where a report can be deployed. As mentioned already, the Report Manager on-premises portal will, in the near future, support Power BI content. The inverse is true already. You can take visualizations from your SSRS reports and pin them to a Power BI dashboard in the cloud.
Continuing the theme of mix-and-match, no matter where you deploy your reports, you can view them from either web or mobile devices. And since Report Manager works well with any modern browser on any platform, visibility is made easier. Want a more custom experience on your mobile devices? Simply connect the iOS or Android mobile app to your report server and its content is available within the app.
In addition to all the changes surrounding where things can be deployed and how they can be viewed, there have been some exciting changes in the SSRS reports themselves. SSRS reports are now rendered using HTML 5.0. So, like Report Manager, SSRS reports can be viewed using any modern browser without issue. Taking that compatibility one step further, SSRS reports are now printed without using a browser plug-in.
One of the most cheered new features of SSRS reports is the ability to customize the parameter entry area of a report. Parameters can be laid out in more than two columns. Additional spacing can be added around each parameter. The order and grouping of parameters can be controlled. This enhancement has been a long-time coming.
Charts and gauges in SSRS now feature default configurations that yield more modern-looking data visualizations. In addition to the update to the look of the existing chart types, a couple new chart types have been added. These are the tree map and the sunburst chart.
SSRS is Here to Stay!
All of the enhancements and integrations indicate that Microsoft has not forgotten about SSRS. In fact, this new-found focus on SSRS demonstrates that it is an important part of the reporting/data visualization strategy moving forward. In short, SSRS, that highly-capable tool that we know and love, is here to stay!