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Posted Dec 11, 2006

Actions in Analysis Services 2005: The URL Action

By William Pearson

About the Series ...

This article is a member of the series Introduction to MSSQL Server Analysis Services. The series is designed to provide hands-on application of the fundamentals of MS SQL Server Analysis Services (“Analysis Services”), with each installment progressively presenting features and techniques designed to meet specific real-world needs. For more information on the series, please see my initial article, Creating Our First Cube. For the software components, samples and tools needed to complete the hands-on portion of this article, see Usage-Based Optimization in Analysis Services 2005, another article within this series.

About the Mastering Enterprise BI Articles ...

The purpose of the Mastering Enterprise BI subset of my Introduction to MSSQL Server Analysis Services series is to focus on techniques for implementing features in Analysis Services that parallel – or outstrip - those found in the more “mature” enterprise OLAP packages. In many cases, which I try to outline in my articles at appropriate junctures, the functionality of the OLAP solutions within well-established, but expensive, packages, such as Cognos PowerPlay Transformer and Cognos PowerPlay, can be met – and typically exceeded – in most respects by the Analysis Services / Reporting Services combination – at a tiny fraction of the cost.

The vacuum of documentation comparing components of the Microsoft BI solution to their counterparts among other enterprise BI vendors, to date, represents a serious “undersell” of both Analysis Services and Reporting Services, particularly from an OLAP reporting perspective. I hope, within the context of the Mastering Enterprise BI articles, to demonstrate that the ease of replicating popular enterprise BI features in Analysis Services will be yet another reason that the Microsoft integrated solution will commoditize business intelligence.

For more information about the Mastering Enterprise BI articles, see the section entitled “About the Mastering Enterprise BI Articles” in my article Relative Time Periods in an Analysis Services Cube, Part I.

Introduction

In Actions in Analysis Services 2005: An Introduction, we overviewed the general types of Actions with which we, as Analysis Services developers, can support information consumers. We discussed examples of consumer needs that might be classified within each of the general Action types, as well as reviewing the points of interaction at which we can place “triggers” to allow analysts and information consumers a means of accessing valuable, but often external, information in a non-disruptive manner. We stated in Actions in Analysis Services 2005: An Introduction that we would extend our introduction to individual examinations of specific Action types in separate articles. Individual articles, we reasoned, would afford us the time and focus required to examine each type in detail, from a perspective of creation and maintenance. This article will focus upon the URL Action, which, although it existed in Analysis Services 2000, has witnessed enhancement in Analysis Services 2005.

In this article, we will gain some familiarity with the URL Action – how it works and some of its capabilities - and then get some hands-on exposure to creating a URL Action within the sample AdventureWorks development environment, which can be installed with MSSQL Server 2005. Our examination of the URL Action in this article will include:

  • An introduction to the URL Action, including an overview of its uses and the data it presents;
  • A hands-on practice exercise, wherein we set up a working URL Action, based upon the sample Adventure Works Analysis Services database;
  • A discussion regarding the various settings that we exploit in the design and creation of our URL Action;
  • Special focus upon the use of an MDX Condition expression to restrict the availability of a URL Action;
  • Verification of the effectiveness of our new URL Action, from the tandem perspectives of availability of the Action and operation of the Action, in meeting the business requirements of a hypothetical client.

The URL Action

Overview and Discussion

As we noted in Actions in Analysis Services 2005: An Introduction, a URL Action returns a URL that constitutes a link between selected structures in the cube and internet or intranet sites that contain complementary information. We noted that the client temporarily stores the URL information, and launches its default browser to the URL’s specifications, when the Action is executed. As we mentioned, URL Actions have been the most commonly chosen (since Analysis Services 2000), as Action type examples within the slowly growing body of knowledge surrounding Actions that is currently available in print and electronic media. Many of us have seen examples where the URL Action takes the relevant parameters from selected City and State (and sometimes postal code, etc.) members in a cube, transits the browser to a popular mapping web site, and inputs the parameters via the browser to obtain a map based upon the provided information.

NOTE: For a general introduction to Actions in Analysis Services 2000, see my articles Putting Actions to Work in Regular Cubes and Actions in Virtual Cubes, both members of this series.

URL Actions are easy to use, and afford us an opportunity to offer intuitive links from cube members, to information sources about those members that lie outside the realm of the cube’s analytics. Indeed, Report Actions, which debut in Analysis Services 2005, are, in essence, URL Actions that are enhanced to construct a URL string specifically for Report Server access, based upon properties we input about the Report Server, its location, and additional report, and report format, parameters that we can supply.

At heart, the URL Action simply presents a page via a web browser, based upon the “relative position” of the target from which we launch the Action. (As we noted in Actions in Analysis Services 2005: An Introduction, targets are points from which analysts and other information consumers can trigger an Action, within the context of the element of the cube structure upon which the Action is put into motion.)

As a part of preparation for our practice session with URL Actions, we will create an Analysis Services Project within the Business Intelligence Development Studio, which provides the environment and the tools that we need to design and develop business intelligence solutions based upon Analysis Services 2005. As we have noted in other articles of this series, the Analysis Services Project that we create within the BI Development Studio will assist us in organizing and managing the numerous objects that we will need to support our work with an Analysis Services database.

Considerations and Comments

For purposes of the practice exercises within this series, we will be working with samples that are provided with MSSQL Server 2005 for use with Analysis Services. The samples with which we are concerned include, predominantly, the Adventure Works DW Analysis Services database (with member objects). The Adventure Works DW database and companion samples are not installed by default in MSSQL Server 2005. The samples can be installed during Setup, or at any time after MSSQL Server has been installed.

The topics “Running Setup to Install AdventureWorks Sample Databases and Samples” in SQL Server Setup Help orInstalling AdventureWorks Sample Databases and Samples” in the Books Online (both of which are included on the installation CD(s), and are available from www.Microsoft.com and other sources), provide guidance on samples installation. Important information regarding the rights / privileges required to accomplish samples installation, as well as to access the samples once installed, is included in these references.

Hands-On Procedure

We will get some hands-on experience with our subject matter in a practice session. We will first need to prepare for our exercises by creating an Analysis Services project, within which to work from the Business Intelligence Development Studio. We will rely heavily upon samples that ship with MSSQL Server 2005, to minimize the preparation time required to create a working practice environment. This “shortcut” will afford anyone with access to the installed application set and its samples an opportunity to complete the steps in the practice session.

Preparation

If you prefer to work within an existing copy of the Adventure Works Analysis Services project (perhaps you have already made a copy for work with previous articles), or you intend to create a new, pristine copy of the original from the CDs or another source for this (and possibly other) purposes, please feel free to skip the related preparatory sections.

Create a New Analysis Services Project within a New Solution

For purposes of our practice session, we will create a copy of the Adventure Works Analysis Services project, one of several samples that are available with (albeit installed separately from) the Microsoft SQL Server 2005 integrated business intelligence solution. Creating a “clone” of the project means we can make changes to select contents (perhaps as a part of later exploration with our independent solution), while retaining the original sample in a pristine state for other purposes, such as using it to accompany relevant sections of the Books Online, and other documentation, as a part of learning more about Analysis Services and other components of the Microsoft integrated business intelligence solution in general.

To create a copy of the sample Adventure Works Analysis Services project, please see the following procedure in the References section of my articles index:

Ascertain Connectivity of the Relational Data Source

Let’s ensure we have a working data source. Many of us will be running “side-by-side” installations of MSSQL Server 2000 and MSSQL Server 2005. This means that our installation of the latter will need to be referenced as a server / instance combination, versus a server name alone (the default for the Adventure Works DW project sample’s connection is localhost, which will not work correctly in such a side-by-side installation, as MSSQL Server 2000 will have assumed the identity of the local PC by default).

If you do not know how to ascertain connectivity of the relational data source, please perform the steps of the following procedure in the References section of my articles index:



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