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Posted Apr 19, 2004

Introduction to MSSQL Server 2000 Analysis Services: Actions in Virtual Cubes

By William Pearson

About the Series ...

This is the twenty-second article of the series, Introduction to MSSQL Server 2000 Analysis Services. As I stated in the first article, Creating Our First Cube, the primary focus of this series is an introduction to the practical creation and manipulation of multidimensional OLAP cubes. The series is designed to provide hands-on application of the fundamentals of MS SQL Server 2000 Analysis Services, with each installment progressively adding features and techniques designed to meet specific real-world needs. For more information on the series, as well as the hardware / software requirements to prepare for the exercises we will undertake, please see my initial article, Creating Our First Cube.

Note: Service Pack 3 updates are assumed for MSSQL Server 2000, MSSQL Server 2000 Analysis Services, and the related Books Online and Samples. Images are from a Windows 2003 Server environment, but the steps performed in the articles, together with the views that result, will be quite similar within any environment that supports MSSQL Server 2000 and MSSQL Server 2000 Analysis Services ("MSAS").


In our last article, we began an exploration of MSAS Actions. Our initial objective was to gain an understanding of the Types of Actions, and the options that are available as points of interaction (Targets) by information consumers. We then activated what we learned, reinforcing the concepts within a hands-on practice exercise that allowed us to see the end-to-end process for creating a simple Action for a regular cube.

In this article, we will extend our examination of Actions to their creation and use within virtual cubes (see Exploring Virtual Cubes in this series for my introduction to virtual cubes). After considering the differences in the regular and virtual cube scenarios, we will create an Action in a sample virtual cube. We will then perform the import of an example Action into a virtual cube. We will accomplish these steps within illustrative practice exercises, commenting upon the results obtained to reinforce our understanding of the concepts involved.

As I remarked in our last session, Actions are a powerful feature that allows information consumers to go beyond the robust OLAP perspective offered by MSAS, and to "step outside" for related information, to generate commands or to initialize programs, without leaving their current analysis focus. We also saw how Actions can be structured into the cube by the developer, to allow users to perform these extended activities from various vantage points, with a simple right-click of the mouse. The power of Actions lies in their potential to save the consumers time and focus, precious considerations within the context of analysis, which often loses much value when it falls victim to distraction and interruption.

I mentioned that I find Actions to be remarkably underused jewels within the MSAS goldmine. Indeed, virtual cubes are also underutilized, and are often greeted with excitement by clients who, until I explain their potential for performance enhancement and other efficiencies in design and implementation, "know them not" in any apparent way. I expect the vacuums that exist for Actions, virtual cubes, and other innovative structures and capabilities of MSAS to improve over time, especially, as I continue to point out, if the creative users out there will contribute their ideas in public forums.

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