9.2 Feature Round Up

MicroStrategy released version 9.2 yesterday and it’s currently available from the Download site.  I’ve been fortunate enough to work with the beta for a little over a month now, and I can say that in my experience of previous betas, this one was extremely stable even considering all of the new features added.  I didn’t run into any upgrade issues or compatibility issues, and all of the new features worked as advertised.  I’ll start testing the GA version in the coming weeks and hopefully upgrade my system within the next month or so.

You can find the full release notes on the Knowledge Base, but here are some highlights from my testing.  I’ll cover most of these features in more detail in future posts, but here’s a quick look at some new things.

Google Maps Widget
The most common question on the Customization forum is about custom maps.  In 9.0.2, MicroStrategy added ESRI support, and with 9.2 they’ve added Google Maps.  There’s some extra setup involved including obtaining a free Google Maps API Key, but overall setup and usage is pretty simple.  Usage requires that you’ve pre-geocoded your data, meaning you have to provide the Latitude and Longitude in order to plot on the map.  You could do this during ETL processing, or still use the Visualization SDK to extend the widget to support Google’s free Geo Coding services and build your own higher level polygons.

Schema Updates
With every release since version 9, I’ve noticed dramatic speeds in schema updates.  9.0.2 was nearly twice as fast as 9.0.1 for me, and although this isn’t a documented feature, it was the first thing I noticed after upgrading my projects in 9.2.  My current schema isn’t super large, but with 9.2 the schema updates so fast, I don’t even see the progress screen any more!

Incremental Update of Intelligent Cubes
This is a monumentally huge feature for those in need of it.  Until now, an Intelligent Cube had to be fully repopulated.  In my environment, that meant they were very difficult to use due to large volumes of data.  With 9.2, you can now keep the cube data you’ve already got and simple add/delete/update it.  For example, if your warehouse has 10yrs of data, you don’t have to load all 10yrs every day, but only need to add on the latest day.  The speed is fast, and the mechanism is very easy.  This feature worked absolutely perfect for me and I haven’t had any trouble, it’s very exciting.  The basics are that you create a special report called an Incremental Refresh Report that includes the data you want to update.  There are settings to insert only or insert/update, so if you’re concerned that data may have changed in your warehouse and your cubes are out of sync, you can overlap the refreshes on your schedule.  So if you’ve got a rolling 12 months of data in a cube, you could update/insert a rolling 1 week to make sure you catch any modifications and you’re still processing a very small subset of the data.  This raises some very interesting archival strategies, and I’ve got an idea for a future post to explore that.

Visualization Explorer / Analysis
Perhaps the flashiest feature is the new Visualization Explorer which comes with a brand new object type: Analysis.  This is a subtype of the Report object and is a pre-packaged hybrid of a Cube and a View Report.  You build an Analysis off of an Intelligent Cube, and it’s a Flash based GUI for slicing and dicing the report on the fly.  It’s very similar in function to the existing OLAP Services, but the twist is that you can also view the data in almost any of the Flash Widgets.  The default options are just the basics, but the SDK comes with an option to deploy visualizations for VE use, which opens some exciting possibilities in the future.  The speed is incredible and the UI is beautiful.  This will be a great tool for demoing MicroStrategy to users and prospective customers/business units, but I think some more compelling visualizations will need to be introduced before it supplants normal OLAP Services for usability.  However, when paired with the Data Import feature introduced in 9.0.2, they can be a pretty powerful combination.

Data Import Enhancements
Speaking of Data Import, a pretty important enhancement was added in 9.2.  Introduced in 9.0.2, this feature provides the ability for the user to upload external data into a MicroStrategy Intelligent Cube directly.  While I personally didn’t find much use for the feature, 9.2 adds the ability to link directly to existing MicroStrategy objects.  This opens the door for some really interesting solutions for pulling in data from external sources instead of using Multisource.  One particular use case I’m interested in is pulling in Budgeting data from an external data feed instead of involving ETL.  While traditional ETL is probably the more sustainable long term solution, Data Import allows for a great opportunity for Proof of Concept and rapid deployment by bringing in basic data structures straight to MicroStrategy.

Multisource Enhancements
Two features surprisingly absent from Multisource before now were added in 9.2.  First up is the ability to access tables from secondary data sources inside Logical Views.  I’ve wanted to use this a few times and was a little disappointed it wasn’t supported.  This required additional ETL work to bring those tables to the primary data source, but now with this enhancement we can have additional flexibility.  The second feature is the ability to use Partition Mapping across data sources.  While this may sound obscure, the lack of this feature had a dramatic impact on the schema strategy of my current project.  The primary use case for me will allow us to hit aggregate tables on the source system for absolute real time data.  When added to our data warehouse data, users will have a full picture up to the second!  There’s not many data warehousing solutions that can offer that kind of data availability, so I’m excited to see where this goes.

Flash Builder 4 Support
Anyone who does regular work in the Visualization SDK will want to take note of this enhancement.  Personally, I’ve struggled a lot with Flex Builder 3’s poor support of 64bit operating systems.  After upgrading to Flash Builder 4, all of those issues are resolved and the transition couldn’t have been easier. I’ve got a more detailed post coming soon that compares the differences between the two versions as well as the upgrade issues I ran into, but those are all Flex based.  MicroStrategy’s Flash Builder plugin worked flawlessly for me, and there were no hiccups on that side.  It’s not a required upgrade if you’re comfortable in Flex Builder 3, as you can simply use the Flex SDK 4.1 (the version required for 9.2) if you don’t wish to upgrade the tool itself.

Excel Export in Native Format
This is an incredibly welcome feature enhancement.  MicroStrategy Web will now export to native Excel format, which removes the annoying warning message that Microsoft Office 2007/2010 show when opening a freshly exported report.  The reason is that previous MicroStrategy versions would export in XHTML format, but with the .xls file extension.  Office would interpret it correctly and then save it in the native format, but starting with Office 2007, they saw this as a potential security exploit.  Thankfully this is now a configurable option on the project and that annoying message is gone!

Web Enhancements
There’s a healthy list of web enhancements that I won’t rehash here, but some of the highlights include the ability to edit ACL (Access Control List, Object Security) over the web, renaming Shortcuts, and certification for all of the latest browsers including Firefox 4 and Internet Explorer 9.

Administrative Tools
There were some welcome enhancements to each of the stand along administrative tools including the ability to mark objects for deletion during a migration in Object Manager, project configuration and database connection tasks added to Command Manager and some convenient enhancements to prompt handling in Integrity Manager.  Check the release notes for more details!

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