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Posted July 23, 2015

Creating Dashboards for Mobile Devices with Datazen – Part 1

By Arshad Ali

Introduction

With the recent acquisition of Datazen by Microsoft, if you have SQL Server 2008 or later Enterprise Edition with Software Assurance, you can leverage (download and use) Datazen to create visually appealing dashboards for mobile devices across all the major platforms at no additional costs.

In this article series I am going to demonstrate how you can use Datazen for creating dashboards and KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) for mobile devices easily and quickly.

Understanding Datazen Architecture

With the recent Datazen acquisition by Microsoft, the Microsoft Data Platform includes capabilities to let users get insight into any enterprise data (virtually anytime, anywhere) on various mobile devices (for phone, tablet and traditional workstation data visualization layouts) and accelerates Microsoft's strategy to help every company create a data culture and ensure insights reach every individual in every organization.

To get insights into organizational data, Datazen allows you to create dashboards with rich, interactive and intuitive data visualization across multiple mobile devices from across multiple major platforms, both in online and offline mode. The design goals of Datazen is to help business users create rich looking, drill-down\drill-through dashboards easily and quickly and to provide premium user experience on any device.

With respect to its overall architecture, Datazen includes Datazen Server, Datazen Publisher Application for creating, authoring and publishing new dashboards, and native Datazen Viewer applications for Windows, iOS and Android mobile platforms.

To get started, you need to download Datazen Server from here; but before I go into the details of installing, configuring and using Datazen Server, let me first talk about Datazen Architecture at high level. As you will notice in the image below (image adapted from Datazen documentation), the main component of Datazen is Datazen Server. Once a dashboard is designed, it is published to the Datazen Server so that it can be accessed by others in the team based on their access rights for collaboration and also it refreshes data periodically so that the dashboard remains relevant with changing data at the data sources.

Datazen Architecture
Datazen Architecture

These are three core services of Datazen Server:

  • Core Services - It contains the repository or metadata for published KPIs, Dashboards, Data View definitions and users. It also contains a repository to caches queries result to provide fast read access by the concurrent users.
  • Data Acquisition Service - As its name implies, it periodically runs queries (which are referenced in the Dashboards and KPIs) against the underlying data sources for scheduled data refresh and caches results in Core Service repository for faster data read by the users.
  • Rendering Service - This accepts requests from clients, does processing and renders dashboards thumbnail on the Datazen Viewer applications.

The above discussed three core services are Windows Services and then there are web applications as mentioned below: 

  • Web-API – It provide REST-based API interface for client applications to access from any platform.
  • Control Panel – Its a web and browser based application for managing and administrating Datazen Server from a local or remote machine.
  • Web Viewer - A portal that allows accessing your dashboards and KPIs in the browser. As it is based on HTML5 and hence it renders well on almost all major browsers.

To provide security for your data, Datazen encrypts data at rest and for data security in transit you can configure to use HTTPS so that client applications can access data on HTTPS.

For horizontal scaling, Datazen also supports scaling of Data Acquisition Service, Shared cache instances and Web applications to provide more computing resources, redundancy, and reduces per-instance resource usage.

Datazen Applications

There are two main applications of Datazen that can downloaded and used for free:

Datazen Publisher

Datazen Publisher (sometimes referred as Datazen Designer) application allows you to create and author dashboards and KPIs quickly with a touch based interface, and once done publish it to Datazen Server so that published dashboards and KPIs can be accessed by end-users if they have been given access, as shown in figure below (image adapted from Datazen documentation).

With Datazen Publisher, you can create dashboards with rich, interactive and intuitive charts or visuals on the data coming from a variety of the sources (Microsoft Excel, SQL Server, SQL Server Analysis Services, Azure SQL Database, SharePoint and other cloud & enterprise data sources). It also allows you to define different visual layouts for tablets or mobile for the same dashboard. I am going to discuss in detail (step-by-step guide) how to use Datazen Publisher in my next article.

Publishing to the Datazen Server
Publishing to the Datazen Server

Before you start using Datazen Publisher to author your dashboards, you need to create data views. You can think of a data view as a tabular result set of your query and can have an associated data refresh schedule; you can also specify the data view to be real time in which case it is not refreshed automatically but rather data is queried from the underlying data sources when it is requested by the users only.

Please note, Datazen works in local mode also, which means with Datazen Publisher, a user can create dashboards from local Microsoft Excel documents, save them locally and share with others via email. But if you want a true collaboration with the added ability to provide annotation by users (conversations between users for each of the dashboards) and for many more features, you need to use Datazen Server for publishing dashboards and KPIs so that others in the organization, with sufficient access rights, can access it from anywhere.

You can download Datazen Publisher from here.

Datazen Viewer

Datazen offers native applications for all major mobile platforms as shown in the image below (image adapted from Datazen documentation) and each of these applications has been designed using the native User Interface (UI) paradigms of the target platform so that end users have a natural experience on their device of choice. With these applications, end users can connect the Datazen Server and access dashboards and KPIs she\he has access to.

Applications for All Major Mobile Platforms
Applications for All Major Mobile Platforms

Based on your platform you can follow the links below to install Datazen Viewer application on your device.

Datazen Viewer for Android

Datazen Viewer for iOS

Datazen Viewer for Windows 8

Datazen Viewer for Windows Phone

Though you can use Datazen applications on various platforms, there are some features available on some specific platforms only, as shown in figure below as of this writing. Of course, this list might change over a period of time with new enhancements and releases of the Datazen product. Please refer to http://www.datazen.com/ for the latest updates on the features supported in each of these platforms.

Datazen Features
Datazen Features

Conclusion

Datazen enables dashboard and KPI creation based on data from a variety of data sources and publishes it to Datazen Server. After publishing, dashboards and KPIs are accessible on any mobile device via its native app, or through any major browser if the required access has been provided.

In this article I introduced the Datazen Architecture and different applications for authoring and viewing dashboards. In the next article of the series, I will demonstrate installing, configuring and using Datazen Server and using Datazen Publisher to quickly author and publish dashboards for collaboration.

Resources

Datazen Server Download

Datazen Publisher and Client Applications download

Datazen Product Documentation

See all articles by Arshad Ali



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