Archive for the ‘OData’ Category
A few weeks ago, when I was playing around with the new WebService() function in Excel 2013, I was disappointed to learn that it didn’t work with services that require authentication – a pretty big limitation in my opinion – so, for example, it meant I couldn’t use it to import data from the Azure Marketplace into Excel. You might be wondering why I’d want to do this, when there’s already built-in functionality for importing Azure Marketplace data into Excel 2013 and an addin to do this for earlier versions of Excel; the reason is that I want to be able to dynamically construct the url used to call the service inside the spreadsheet. For example, in this post I’m going to be using the Bing Search API and I want to be able to enter the search term I pass to it in a cell in a worksheet rather than hard-code it in the connection, which is what happens when using the native functionality. I’m sure I could use some VBA to do the same thing but using VBA always seems like an admission of defeat to me, so in this post I’m going to show how you can use Excel Web Queries to do it instead.
So let’s start with the Bing Search API, one of the many APIs and datasets available via the Windows Azure Marketplace. There are plenty of posts explaining how to use the Azure Marketplace website to import data into PowerPivot (see here for example) so I won’t go into too much detail at this point, but here’s an example Url that returns the top 15 news results for the search term ‘Microsoft’:
Next, you need to fire up Excel 2013 and create a Web Query, a feature that’s been in Excel since ohhhh, Office 2000. There are a lot of good articles on the web describing how this feature works but here’s one of the best I found:
Specifically, you need to go to the Data tab and click the From Web button:
This opens the New Web Query dialog; you then paste the Url from the Azure Marketplace into the Url box and click go. You’ll be prompted for a username and password, and you need to enter your Azure Marketplace account key for both. Click on the small yellow arrow in the top left hand corner of the browser window and you’ll see something like this:
Do not press Import at this point though! Instead, press the Save Query button in the toolbar (highlighted in the screenshot above) and then save the query to disk as an .iqy file and click Cancel. Next, find the .iqy file you’ve just saved and open it in Notepad. The contents will be something like this:
What you need to do now is to parameterise the Url in this file so that, instead of hard-coding it to search for news about microsoft (as in this example) you can enter your own search term. The link above describes how to do this in detail, but here’s the parameterised version of the Url for reference:
https://api.datamarket.azure.com/Data.ashx/Bing/Search/v1/News?Query=%27%5B"Query", "Search For:"]%27&$top=15&$format=Atom
You then need to save the file and go back to Excel. First, enter a search term in a cell in a worksheet. Then, go to the Data tab, click the Existing Connections button and then the Browse For More button and select the .iqy file. The next step is to choose a cell in a worksheet to dump the data to, and then when prompted for the parameter value click on the cell where you entered your search term and check the Use This Value/Reference For Future Refreshes and Refresh Automatically When Cell Value Changes boxes.
Click OK and you’ll be prompted for credentials again – although Excel will remember them – and the query will run, resulting in some XML appearing in the cell you selected:
This is ugly, and indeed Excel has the ability to import XML returned from a Web Query as XML – but what I’ve found is that if you don’t use the approach I’m showing here, you won’t be able to refresh you query properly.
So you now have our search results as XML and you want to be able to display them in a more meaningful way. This is where the new FilterXML function in Excel 2013 comes into its own. Create an Excel table with four columns: Rank, Title, Description and Url; then enter numbers from 1 to 15 in the Rank column (there are fifteen results returned from the Bing search). You can then use Excel table formulas like this one to get the Title, Description and Url from the XML and display it in the table:
=FILTERXML($B$4, "//feed/entry[" & [Rank] & "]/content/m:properties/d:Description")
(I’m very grateful to Phil Quinn, who I met at SQL Saturday 162, for helping me with the XPath here – I spent ages trying to get it to work with no luck and he managed to provide a working query in 2 minutes)
With this done, you now have the ability to enter a search term in your worksheet and automatically get Bing search results displayed in an Excel table. Of course, this approach would work with any dataset from the Azure Marketplace and indeed any OData source – for example, now that SSRS 2008 R2 and greater can render reports to OData, it should be possible to consume data from an SSRS report in a much more elegant way than the method I described here, because you’d be able to pass parameters from Excel to SSRS (hmmm, maybe this needs its own blog post). Of course, now you have a table in Excel you can add it to the Excel Model and do all kinds of interesting PowerPivot-y things with it.
What this really highlights, though, is that it should be much easier to parameterise the queries used to load data into the Excel Model/PowerPivot, whether they are OData data sources, SQL, MDX or DAX. Not being able to parameterise these queries means you increase the temptation to load all the data that might ever be needed by a user into PowerPivot; if it were easier to parameterise these queries then it would encourage PowerPivot users to build solutions where they only imported the data they actually needed to work with at any given moment.
In yesterday’s post I showed how you could create surveys in the Excel 2013 Web App, and mentioned that I would have liked to consume the data generated by a survey via the new Excel Services OData API but couldn’t get it working. Well, after a good night’s sleep and a bit more tinkering I’ve been successful so here’s the blog post I promised!
First of all, what did I need to do to get this working? Well, enable Excel Services for a start, duh. This can be done by going to Settings, then Site Collections features, and activating Sharepoint Server Enterprise Site Collection features:
With that done, and making sure that my permissions are all in order, I can go into Excel, start the OData feed import wizard (weirdly, the PowerPivot equivalent didn’t work) and enter the URL for the table in my worksheet (called Table1, helpfully):
Here’s what the URL for the Survey worksheet I created in yesterday’s post looks like:
(there’s much more detail on how OData requests for Excel Services can be constructed here).
And bingo, the data from my survey is loaded into Excel/PowerPivot and I can query it quite happily. Nothing to it.
In a way it’s a good thing I’m writing about this as a separate post because I’m a big fan of OData and I believe that the Excel Services OData API is a big deal. It’s going to be useful for a lot more than consuming data from surveys: I can imagine it could be used for simple budgeting solutions where managers input values on a number of spreadsheets, which are then pulled together into a PowerPivot model for reporting and analysis; I can also imagine it being used for simple MDM scenarios where dimension tables are held in Excel so users can edit them easily. There are some obvious dangers with using Excel as a kind of database in this way, but there are also many advantages too, most of which I outlined in my earlier discussions of data stores that are simultaneously human readable and machine readable (see here and here). I can see it as being the glue for elaborate multi-spreadsheet-based solutions, although it’s still fairly clunky and some of the ideas I saw in Project Dirigible last year are far in advance of what Excel 2013 offers now. It’s good to see Microsoft giving us an API like this though and I’m sure we’ll see some very imaginative uses for it in the future.
Jamie Thomson and I share a number of… obscure enthusiasms. For instance, last week when he spotted the new forms/surveys feature in the Excel 2013 Web App (see here for a mention) he knew I’d be excited. And I was. Excited enough to devote a whole blog post to them.
What is this feature? Basically a rip-off of homage to the Google docs functionality I mentioned here that allows you to create simple questionnaires and save the data back to a spreadsheet. To use it you need to create a new Excel spreadsheet in the Excel Web App (I can’t seem to find it in desktop Excel and it may not even exist there), then click on Form/New Form in the ribbon:
This opens a new dialog where you can create your form/survey:
It’s all pretty self-explanatory from there, you just enter a title and description and then some questions, which can be various types (returning text, numbers, multiple choices etc):
You can then answer the questions yourself or send a link out to other people so they can too:
If you’d like to take the survey you can do so here btw.
The data then lands in a table in the original Excel spreadsheet, ready for you to do something useful with it:
For my next trick, and to go back to another issue that Jamie and I have been moaning about for years, I would have liked to consume the data in this table via an OData feed as detailed here:
Unfortunately I couldn’t get it to work. Whether this is a temporary problem or a limitation with Office 365 (as opposed to on-prem Sharepoint) I don’t know… if someone knows how to make it work, though, I’d be much obliged if you could leave a comment.
UPDATE: First of all, if you can’t see the survey don’t worry – the service seems to be very unreliable. Secondly I’ve got the OData feed working now and will blog about it later.
I was just reading the following blog post on the OASIS OData Technical Committee Call for Participation:
…when I saw this:
In addition to the core OData version 3.0 protocol found here, the Technical Committee will be defining some key extensions in the first version of the OASIS Standard:
OData Extensions for Data Aggregation - Business Intelligence provides the ability to get the right set of aggregated results from large data warehouses. OData Extensions for Analytics enable OData to support Business Intelligence by allowing services to model data analytic "cubes" (dimensions, hierarchies, measures) and consumers to query aggregated data
Follow the link in the quoted text – it’s very interesting reading! Here’s just one juicy quote:
OData services expose a data model that describes the schema of the service in terms of
the Entity Data Model (EDM), an Entity-Relationship model that describes the data and
then allows for querying that data. The responses returned by an OData provider are
based on that exposed data model and retain the relationships between the entities in the
model. Adding the notion of aggregation to OData, without changing any of the base
principles in OData as is, has two sides to it:
1. Means for the server to describe an “analytical shape” of the data represented by
2. Means for the client to query an “analytical shape” on top of any given data
model (for sufficiently capable servers/services)
It’s important to notice that, while each of these two sides might be valuable in its own
right and can be used independently of the other, their combination provides additional
value for clients. The descriptions provided by the server will help a consumer
understand more of the data structure looking at the service’s exposed data model from an
analytics perspective, whereas the query extensions allow the clients to express an
“analytical shape” for a particular query. The query extensions will also allow clients to
refer to the server-described “analytical shape” as shorthand.
One of the authors, Siva Harinath, I know from the SSAS dev team and it’s easy to see how this extension for OData would be incredibly useful for Microsoft BI. Not only could you imagine cloud-based SSAS (when it finally arrives) being queryable via OData, but it would allow an OData provider to not only of supply raw data to PowerPivot but the design of the PowerPivot model itself.