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Posted Jun 13, 2005

Introduction to MSSQL Server Analysis Services: Mastering Enterprise BI: Relative Time Periods in an Analysis Services Cube

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, 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: Current Service Pack 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, upon which I have also implemented MS Office 2003, 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 ("Analysis Services" or "MSAS"). The same is generally true, except where differences are specifically noted, when MS Office 2000 and above are used in the environment, in cases where MS Office components are presented in the article.


In this article, we will examine the design and creation, within Analysis services, of relative time periods, a popular feature that can be generated automatically or manually for reporting in the Cognos PowerPlay application, within its cube design component, Cognos PowerPlay Transformer, as well as other popular enterprise BI applications. A common request among scores of e-mails and calls I receive, centering upon the replication, in Analysis Services, of features found within popular enterprise BI applications, is for assistance in setting up these time periods, examples of which include current "period," (meaning month, quarter, year, or other levels of the Time / Date dimension), prior period, period to date, and others. In this article, we will examine the creation such a time grouping in
Analysis Services, which we can later put to use in the reporting component of the Microsoft integrated BI solution, Reporting Services, much as we would report from a cube created in Cognos PowerPlay Transformer using Cognos PowerPlay as the reporting application.

In this, the first half of a two-part discussion surrounding relative time periods in an Analysis Services cube, we will overview the capabilities found in Cognos PowerPlay Transformer and other enterprise cube design applications, and then:

  • Discuss a simple approach to meeting the requirement for relative time periods;
  • Highlight the differences between our approach and the Cognos PowerPlay Transformer capabilities;
  • Perform a practice exercise, whereby we add relative time capabilities with this straightforward method;
  • Verify adequacy of our solution by demonstrating the use of the new capabilities from the perspective of the Cube Browser in Analysis Manager;
  • Look forward to a more sophisticated solution we will propose and build in Part II, to more closely replicate the functionality in Cognos PowerPlay Transformer and make the solution even more user friendly for reporting specialists and information consumers.

About the Mastering Enterprise BI Articles ...

Having worked with Cognos PowerPlay, together with its cube design component, Cognos PowerPlay Transformer, for over ten years (along with numerous other enterprise BI applications), I have come to appreciate the leadership roles Cognos has played in the evolution of OLAP and enterprise reporting. As I have stated repeatedly, however, I became convinced, from their earliest appearance, that the components of the Microsoft integrated BI solution (including MSSQL Server, Analysis Services, and Reporting Services) will commoditize business intelligence. It is therefore easy to see why a natural area of specialization for me has become the conversion of Cognos enterprise BI to the Microsoft solution.

Having been impressed from my first exposure to each member of this exciting group of integrated applications, my certainty in the destiny of the Microsoft BI solution grows stronger by the day, as I convert formerly dominant enterprise Business Intelligence systems, such as Cognos, Business Objects, Crystal, and others, to the Reporting Services architecture. I receive constant requests to conduct strategy sessions about these conversions with large organizations in a diverse range of industries - the interest grows daily as awareness of the solution becomes pervasive. Indeed, the five-to-six-plus figures that many can shave from their annual IT budgets represent a compelling sweetener to examining this incredible toolset.

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 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 of well-established, but expensive, packages, such as Cognos PowerPlay Transformer and Cognos PowerPlay, can be met - often exceeded - in most respects by Analysis Services / Reporting Services - at a tiny fraction of the cost. To this end, I welcome input from readers who are performing comparisons between the two vendors, or are perhaps undertaking or considering evaluations of Analysis Services / Reporting Services against their Cognos counterparts. I look forward to opportunities to show, in future articles, ways that the same capabilities can be accomplished in the Microsoft solution.

The vacuum of documentation comparing components of the Microsoft BI solution to their counterparts among the dominant enterprise BI vendors, to date, represents a serious "undersell" of both Analysis Services and Reporting Services, particularly from an OLAP reporting perspective. I hope to contribute to making this arena more accessible to everyone, and to share my implementation and conversion experiences as the series evolves. In the meantime, rest assured that the ease of replicating popular enterprise BI features OLAP in Analysis Services will be yet another reason that the Microsoft solution "commoditizes" Business Intelligence.

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