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MS SQL

Posted Jun 11, 2007

Distinct Counts in Analysis Services 2005

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 portions of this article, see Usage-Based Optimization in Analysis Services 2005, another article within this series.

Introduction

In a couple of earlier articles of this series, Introduction to MSSQL Server 2000 Analysis Services: Distinct Count Basics: Two Perspectives and Introduction to MSSQL Server 2000 Analysis Services: Manage Distinct Count with a Virtual Cube, I introduced the general concept of distinct counts, discussing why they are useful (and often required) within the design of any robust analysis effort. In these and other articles, I described some of the challenges that were inherent in their use in Analysis Services 2000, before undertaking practice exercises to illustrate solutions to meet example business requirements.

We have revisited distinct counts at points in other articles within both my Introduction to MSSQL Server Analysis Services and MDX Essentials series’, examining specifics with regard to appropriate use, and details of optimization within the perspective under examination in the article concerned. In this article, we will introduce distinct counts as they are managed in Analysis Services 2005. The redesign of the capability based upon the hierarchy and attribute structure that debuts in Analysis Services 2005 results in much more impressive performance and flexibility of deployment within our integrated business intelligence solutions, as many have come to report recently in blogs, forums, and other media outlets.

In this article, we will gain some hands-on exposure to distinct counts in Analysis Services 2005. Our examination of the expanded capability will include:

  • A discussion surrounding the general concepts of distinct counts, including why they are useful (and often required) within the design of any robust analysis effort.
  • An examination of some of the challenges inherent with using distinct counts in Analysis Services 2000, and how distinct counts have been redesigned in Analysis Services 2005 to overcome some of these shortcomings of the previous version.
  • Creation of a distinct count measure within a sample cube to demonstrate the ease with which we can add distinct count capabilities to the cubes in our individual business environments.
  • A discussion of other considerations that surround the use of distinct counts.

Distinct Counts in Analysis Services 2005

Anyone working within the realm of business intelligence and general analysis realizes, in short order, that we often encounter the need to quantify precisely the members of various sets of data. Those of us who have become familiar with Analysis Services are aware of its capabilities, when it comes to categorizing and aggregating data within the hierarchical contexts of dimensions and attributes. We can, for the most part, readily tap these capabilities from the user interface that Analysis Services provides. Through the exploitation of more advanced approaches, including the use of calculated members / measures, and multidimensional expressions (“MDX”) in general, we can extend our analysis even further, and leverage Analysis Services to reach far more specific objectives.

One of the basic requirements that comes into play, at least in some form, in many analysis scenarios, is the need to count the members of a set targeted for analysis. An example might be the need to count the number of products we have shipped from a given warehouse, or group of warehouses, to a given geographical location, or to a specific group of stores. This can be accomplished readily enough with the Count() function, as most of us are aware.

Count() does a great job of giving us a total count. Of course, the results we would achieve in using Count() with products, in the scenarios above, would represent total number of products shipped. What we would not get, and what we might find far more useful in some situations, would be a count of the different products that were shipped. Count(), in providing a total number, would also be providing multiple counts of the same products, because products will have been shipped multiple times, in many instances. To reach our objective of counting different products, then, we would need to count each different product shipped, only once. To count them multiple times not only misstates the number of different products, but it also likely renders averages, and other metrics based upon the count value, meaningless or misleading.

The word “different” here is easily supplanted by “distinct.” Moreover, as many of us are aware, the performance of distinct counts has historically presented a challenge in the OLAP world. Let’s introduce a simple example that illustrates the challenge, and then transform that challenge to an opportunity to meet an illustrative business need, using the newly expanded distinct count capabilities found within Analysis Services 2005.



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