Archive for the ‘Books’ Category
Book Review: Microsoft SQL Server 2005 Analysis Services, by Edward Melomed, Irina Gorbach, Alexander Berger, Py Bateman
How can I review a book properly when I’ve only had it a day or so? Obviously I can’t, but I can tell you the most important thing you need to know and that is if you’re at all serious about Analysis Services you have to buy this book. Quite simply it contains so much useful information which is available nowhere else I don’t know where to start: on the overall architecture, on memory management, on query execution, on caching, and so on. The authors are all from the AS dev team so they know what they’re talking about and are able to go into great detail. There’s also a lot of information here which is available in other places, on general cube design, MDX and AS programming for instance, and it covers them very well too; in fact it’s very well-written in general with plenty of code snippets and illustrations. I’ve got a lot of reading and learning to do over the next few weeks…
You can buy it from Amazon UK here.
At long last I’ve got round to reviewing the last big SQL2005 BI book sitting on my bookshelf: "The Microsoft Data Warehouse Toolkit" by Joy Mundy and Warren Thornthwaite. It’s another very positive review too; although I should declare that I got the book as a freebie, hopefully you’ll believe me when I say I’m not biased by this and if anyone cares to send me a copy of a rubbish book on this topic I’ll be only too happy to slag it off in public!
Let me start by saying a word about the positioning of this book. If you’ve already got other Kimball Group classics like ‘The Data Warehouse Toolkit’ you may be worried about the overlap here; similarly if you’ve got a book like Teo Lachev’s ‘Applied Analysis Services’ you may be thinking that you don’t need another one like it. In my opinion ‘The Microsoft Data Warehouse Toolkit’ sits squarely between the two camps: it’s all about how you apply Kimball methodology to a data warehouse/BI project using the Microsoft platform, and while there is a certain amount of shared ground with the two books I’ve just mentioned I think there’s more than enough valuable information in here that you won’t find anywhere else to make this a worthwhile purchase. It means you no longer need to do as much work joining the dots between how Kimball et al tell you to design your system and what Lachev et al say you can actually do with the tools you’ve got at your disposal.
Let me give you two examples of the kind of issues it deals with. The chapter on real-time data has the most level-headed discussion of this subject that I’ve read, telling you what it means, when you do really need real-time data and when you don’t, as well as telling you how to design a real-time system and making some important technical points about the strengths and weaknesses of Analysis Services. Similarly there’s a chapter on the unsexy and usually neglected topic of operations and maintenance, telling you things like what you need to monitor (disk space, usage etc) and roughly how you need to go about doing all this. Again all the important technical points are made but there’s not too much technical detail – a good balance is struck between this and the higher-level design aspects. This also makes it as good a read for project managers as it is for architects and developers.
Another good thing about the book is the way it is structured. Although you can read each chapter on its own out of context, the book discusses issues in the same order as you’d encounter them in a project. So the first chapter covers defining business requirements, and we then move on to designing the dimensional model, building the relational data warehouse, ETL, Analysis Services, Reporting Services and so on. This means that the project manager or anyone new to BI has a clear list of the tasks that need to be undertaken on this kind of project and can plan ahead more effectively, and serves as an important checklist for people like me to tend to get carried away with the more interesting jobs to the detriment of the duller stuff. The breadth too is impressive, and since no-one can be an expert in every part of the SQL2005 toolset it’s useful to have a reference which can help fill the gaps in your knowledge.
If there’s one criticism I could make (I always try to make at least one) it’s that it’s almost too early in the lifecycle of SQL2005 to be able to write authoritatively on even high-level design. It’s not something that could have been avoided though: I learnt when co-writing ‘MDX Solutions’ that books written about new software have sales cycles, and that if you don’t get your book out within a few months of the release of the software you’re writing about then booksellers won’t place big orders for it, however good it is, so as an author you can’t afford to wait a year or so until you feel you know the product completely. Take the example of the recent about-turn on cubes whether you should design one cube with multiple measure groups or multiple cubes linked together that Teo blogged about recently here. This is a fundamental design decision and on P322 the authors state that "The best practice in AS2005 is to define a single cube for a database", which is exactly what I would have said up to a few weeks ago but which now seems to be wrong. The point here is that no-one could have known about this early enough to put it in a book – these things only emerge after months or years of experience with real implementations. Joy Mundy is clearly well ahead of me and just about everyone else on this issue though, as Deepak pointed out to me recently that in her recent webcast "Designing a Scalable Data Warehouse/ Business Intelligence System" that one of her bullets reads "Create several smaller cubes with related measure groups, rather than one big cube per database". Perhaps the advantage of publishing early is that it gives you the chance of writing a second edition at some point in the future.
But I digress. The vast amount of experience that the authors have got in designing BI systems is apparent throughout this book and I can wholeheartedly recommend it. The book’s websites can be found here if you want to find out more:
…and the second site in particular contains some useful links and downloads which are worth checking out even if you don’t buy the book.
If you’re interested in other SQL2005 BI books, then check out my book list here:
The only book on there that isn’t published and that I really want to read is "Microsoft SQL Server Analysis Services 2005" by Irina Gorbach and various other members of the dev team – I’ve heard it’s got good information on the internals of AS2005 that isn’t available anywhere else.
When I first thought of including book reviews on this site I made a vow not to review any book until I’d read it all the way through. The end result has been that I’ve got several books on my shelf which I’ve had for a while and which I’ve used extensively but which I haven’t reviewed, because strictly speaking I’ve not read them from cover to cover. Teo Lachev’s "Applied Analysis Services 2005" is one such book, but since I’ve now read so much of it (albeit a few pages at a time, when I’ve needed to look something up) I feel like I can bend my own rule and write a review at last.
In terms of content the book aims to be a general reference for anyone who is building BI solutions using Analysis Services 2005 and other, related Microsoft tools like Reporting Services, Integration Services and Office. While it’s suitable for the beginner – and I think Teo writes very clearly indeed, explaining the basic concepts very well – it’s much more than that, and goes into enough detail to make it useful for seasoned BI professionals. I’ve struggled to find a topic that it doesn’t cover in some shape or form (the book is 700 pages long so you get a lot of content for your money) and in almost all cases it goes well beyond the basics to offer sensible, practical advice. I can only think of one topic which I didn’t think was covered in enough depth and that was local cubes, but that was the exception rather than the rule and to be honest in that particular case I’m not sure anyone outside the development team knows much about AS2005′s capabilities. Teo also manages to cover advanced functionality such as measure expressions which isn’t officially documented anywhere else to my knowledge, not even in Books Online, which makes the book invaluable to anyone who wasn’t on the TAP program or doesn’t have a direct line to Mosha.
Although Teo’s quite open about the sources he’s used while writing the book, and helpfully includes a list of them with urls at the end of the chapter, I never got the impression that he was simply regurgitating information he’d found elsewhere but instead that he’d tested everything out himself and was offering the fruits of his own experience. He’s honest enough to disagree with Microsoft when he feels like he should, for example when he calls pro-active caching the "most oversold" feature of SQL 2005 after CLR stored procedures, and that to me is the sign of an author who knows his subject. And while I disagreed with him in one or two places on similar matters of opinion or style, I’ve not found any errors in the text either which is impressive for a book of this size and scope.
"Applied Analysis Services" isn’t going to be a replacement for more in-depth books like "Data Mining with SQL Server 2005" or (excuse the plug) "MDX Solutions", but if you’re only going to buy one book on AS2005 then you won’t go wrong here. There will be other similar books on the market soon but they’re going to have to be very good indeed to beat this one!
You can find out more about the book here:
You can see my list of SQL2005 BI-related books here:
Data mining has been one of the most widely touted of the new BI features of SQL 2005. Anyone who’s been in this industry for any length of time (and I haven’t been for all that long, really, only about 8 years now) will know that it’s been ‘the next big thing’ for ages but has never seemed to break through into the mainstream – whether Microsoft will succeed now will be in part down to whether they can make it easy enough for developers to understand what is a quite difficult technology, and having a good book available to educate us developers is an important step on the road to doing that.
So is ‘Data Mining with SQL Server 2005′ any good? Overall, yes: I’ve been reading through it very slowly since I got it late last year, and I certainly feel like I’m much closer to being able to do a real data mining project than I was before. It provides very readable explanations of how each of the algorithms available in AS data mining work (with one exception – see below), managing to give just enough detail on the theory behind them without being too dry and academic. It also covers the wider issues such as the lifecycle of a data mining project and other data mining tools and standards on the market, and it’s especially strong on the programming side too with plenty of examples of DMX and how to integrate data mining into your own .NET apps.
There are some criticisms to make though. Text mining is not covered in anywhere near enough detail, getting only two or three pages where it probably deserved its own chapter; if you’re looking for an explanation of how Term Extraction actually works I recommend you go to chapter 6 of "Professional SQL Server Integration Services" instead. It also has a somewhat uncritical tone, which is probably to be expected given that it was written by two of the lead developers of the product: it doesn’t point out any bugs or quirks, and doesn’t pre-empt any of the mistakes that novice users are likely to make in the way that good tech books do.
To sum up, this book is definitely worth buying if you’re interested in SQL2005 data mining – but don’t expect to have mastered the subject just by reading it!
If you’re in the UK, you can buy ‘Data Mining with SQL Server 2005′ here.
UPDATE: I’ve just had a mail from Sean McCown, pointing me to his site where he’s also reviewed this book:
You can now download chapter one of the second edition of ‘MDX Solutions’ (which I’m a co-author of), along with the table of contents and the index, here:
The book itself is coming very soon – place your order now! Although there are several other good Analysis Services 2005 books out there now, this is the only one which covers the new MDX features and functions in depth.
UPDATE: the sample chapter has been changed to chapter 6, which is rather more meaty in terms of content. And I believe that the book is now published! George at least has a copy, and I guess I’ll be getting one soon. Hurrah!
Since I can’t get my links to Amazon working in an MSN Spaces list, I thought I’d just put my book list in a regular entry and then update it as necessary.
Microsoft SQL Server 2005 Analysis Services: Irina Gorbach, Alexander Berger, Py Bateman, Edward Melomed
MDX Solutions (2nd Edition): George Spofford, Siva Harinath, Chris Webb, Francesco Civardi, Dylan Huang
Teo Lachev has announced that ‘Applied Microsoft Analysis Services 2005′ has gone to the printers and will be available by the end of November. More details and resources can be found here.
Mosha has announced that the second edition of ‘Fast Track to MDX’ is on the verge of publication. He has more details and some comments on other books on this list here.
Nick Barclay has a review of ‘Data Mining with SQL2005′ on his blog here. I’ve also just bought a copy and will be reviewing it as soon as I’ve read it properly! First impressions are good though.
If anyone wants to send me a free copy of their book for review (cheeky idea for getting free books, I know, but it might just work!) then please drop me a line at the email address mentioned in my profile.
Thanks to Nick Barclay again for the fact that ‘The Microsoft DataWarehouse Toolkit’ book (what’s listed above as ‘Data Warehousing with SQL 2005′ – I’ll update the link when Amazon UK updates its page for the book) has its own web page with some content.
Nick Barclay has a positive review of ‘Applied Analysis Services 2005′ on his blog here. Mark Hill also reviews it favourably here.
I have a review of ‘Data Mining with Analysis Services 2005′ here.
Nick Barclay has a review of ‘MDX Solutions’ second edition here.