Home > Book Reviews, SSAS > Book Review: Why You Should Read Expert Cube Development With SSAS 2012 Cover to Cover

Book Review: Why You Should Read Expert Cube Development With SSAS 2012 Cover to Cover

Expert Cube Development with SSAS 2012 Multidimensional Models was published earlier this year by Packt Publishing. It’s the second edition of the very successful book on SSAS cube development by three well-known industry leaders, Chris Webb, Alberto Ferrari and Marco Russo.

This book is not a tutorial book on using SSAS as a tool. It is more of a guided tour through the lifecycle of building an Analysis Services solution with an informed commentary telling you what to do, what not to do, and what to watch out for.

Reading this book cover to cover

If you are a SSAS cube developer, you would want to read this book cover to cover, no matter what level you are, with the exception of absolute beginners who do not understand basic Analysis Services concepts yet, such as what a cube and a dimension is.

I bought the first edition a few years ago, but didn’t read it cover to cover because at the time I didn’t find some of the topics relevant to my work. Earlier this year I bought the second edition and I found myself unable to put the book down. By the time I knew it, I had already read it cover to cover once, with pages of notes in Microsoft OneNote. Knowing that my cube development skills could have progressed much faster, I wish I had read the book a few years ago cover to cover.

So don’t repeat the same mistake I made. Whether you already have the first edition or just bought the new 2012 edition, go ahead and start reading it now.

What I enjoyed about the book

I don’t wish to spoil your fun with the book, so I’ll just gloss over a few key points about the book.

  • Beginner developers might think that cube development is all about how to use SSAS as yet another tool. This book will change your mind. The big chunk of Chapter 1 focused on the data modeling for Analysis Services. Then the book moved on to Chapter 2 to show you how to build basic dimensions and cubes. More complex dimension modeling is covered in Chapter 3. Data modeling for measures and measure groups is covered in Chapter 4. What I enjoyed the most is how the book presented the challenges we all encountered in our day-to-day work and provided the best practices in terms of data modeling in Analysis Services multidimensional model.
  • Microsoft Analysis Services is not a standalone technology, it’s part of a family of technologies and disciplines that all work together to make it possible for end-users to do interactive data analysis, reporting, and visualization. From a developer’s point of view, these technologies include the SQL Server engine, the Reporting Services, the Analysis Services, with the Integration Services in the middle as the glue. The disciplines include, but are not limited to, data warehouse data modeling, multidimensional modeling, and designing and implementation for performance and good user experience. I personally find that being able to fit all these techniques and disciplines together in the lifecycle of building an Analysis Services solution is not an easy task. Throughout the book the authors did a fantastic job of showing how each technique and discipline can fit seamlessly to build high performance cubes.
  • As a tool, Analysis Services is very easy to use; some might say too easy. Dimensions and cubes are built with various wizards with properties already being filled with default values. You can have a cube up and running in a matter of minutes. Some properties are for cube’s client tools to consume, but many of the properties are cube’s metadata and will end up having some impact on the cube processing performance, query performance, and/or storage engine performance. Assuming that your cube has started its life with a good design, then a good portion of a cube developer’s job is to understand what those impacts are and to make informed trade-off decisions. This book is a life-saving book that tells you what those properties mean, what to do with them, what not to do, and what to watch out for.
  • Bad cube query performance can be detrimental for your Analysis Services projects. The book has devoted an entire Chapter 8 to query performance tuning. The concept of query performance tuning is very familiar to SQL Server developers, but cube query performance tuning methodology has its own twist and turns, such as the Formula Engine vs. the Storage Engine, the partitions and aggregations, and tuning an algorithm in MDX. The book explains in detail what to do with each methodology and even the right tools and scripts to use to get the job done correctly.
  • I also like the many links in the book to other very detailed white papers, such as “The Analysis Services 2008 R2 Performance Guide”, and “The Many-to-Many Revolution”. Many blog posts are also included in the book, such as the blog posts from Mosha Pasumansky who was considered the most influential person in MDX.

No covering of SSAS Tabular models

As you may know, as of SQL Server 2012, there are two versions of Analysis Services: Multidimensional and Tabular. Although both of them are called Analysis Services and can be used for much the same purposes, the development experience for the two is completely different.

I have bought the first edition a few years ago. Although this is basically the same book as the first edition, I still went ahead and bought it because the 2012 edition has a new section that talks about the DAX query support in SSAS 2012 multidimensional model. Don’t get me wrong, this book only covers SSAS Multidimensional models. But it’s nice to have a new section on how SSAS 2012 multidimensional model supports not only MDX queries, but also DAX queries.

No substantial changes in this second edition

Since there are no substantial changes in this second edition, it’s probably not worth buying a copy of the second edition if you already have a copy of the first edition. What is covered in the first edition should work perfectly fine in SSAS 2008 and 2012, and even in 2014. This is because Microsoft has not added anything that is substantially new to SSAS Multidimensional models since the 2008 version. But if you don’t have the 2008 edition, I’d recommend you to buy this new 2012 edition, even if you are still working on cubes in SSAS 2008.

Not a book for absolute beginners

If you still need to understand basic Analysis Services concepts, such as what a cube and a dimension is, then this book is not book for you. This book does not take the form of a basic tutorial either.

Authors’ personal experience and thoughts are invaluable

Chris Webb, Alberto Ferrari, and Marco Russo are well-known in the SSAS and MDX community. This is an invaluable book because it contains their personal experience and thoughts. I myself visit Microsoft books online (BOL) very often. But if a book is solely derived from BOL then it is not too useful for me, as I can read it in the BOL myself. I am putting this review on my blog, and also planning to put it out on Amazon and Barnes and Nobel, hoping that all cube developers will read the book cove to cover.

Packt Publishing

Packt Publishing is one of my favorite tech book publishers. Their books focus on practicality, recognizing that readers are ultimately concerned with getting the job done. They also offer a subscription service, which I personally also use. Good job for putting out “Expert Cube Development with SSAS 2012”!


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