Archive for December, 2014

5th Blogging Year

December 31, 2014 Leave a comment

It’s hard to believe that it’s been 5 years since my first ever post, in which I simply spelled Business Intelligence. Thanks to everyone for being with me since then!

I blogged around my daily experience as a Data Warehouse and Business Intelligence developer. Most of my posts are about how to use the tools, i.e. the Microsoft SQL Server Business Intelligence stacks with more productivity and efficiency, of cause, also about the two major data query languages, SQL and MDX. I enjoy working as a DWH and BI developer for the creativity I found in all I do. I mostly praise the tools and the query languages we use, but occasionally my posts complain about the the inefficiency and even bugs in the tools.

In 2013, I co-authored the book MDX with SSAS 2012 Cookbook. As much as I’d love to write again and blog more, in 2014 I felt that I I needed more time for myself to relax and recharge, and to spend more time with my family.

Looking forward to next year, I would like to think that being a DWH and BI developer will continue to give me professional satisfactions; I do not need to find a new career. I also hope that 2015 is a year that will give me inspiration for a new book for DWH and BI developers.

My posts cover a lot of grounds in SSIS, SSRS, SSAS, SQL Jobs, SSMS, Visual Studio’s SSDT, and SQL and MDX. But it’s interesting that the top 5 posts that received the most views are all in SSIS, according to the WordPress’s annual report. More interestingly, these top SSIS posts are all about how to use variables in SSIS. I will consider writing about those topics again.

Once again, thanks for following and commenting on my posts in 2014. I look forward to seeing you all online again in 2015! Happy New Year!


Sherry Li

SQL #56–Aggregation with ROLLUP operator is not fully supported

December 31, 2014 Leave a comment

ROLLUP, CUBE, and GROUPING SETS Operators have been around since SQL Server 2005. These operators are extensions of the GROUP BY clause.

The GROUPING SETS operator might be introduced later in SQL Server 2008.

I only have experience with the ROLLUP operator. My test of GROUPING SET also suggested that it is not fully supported either.

The ROLLUP operator is useful in generating reports that contain subtotals and totals

The ROLLUP operator is useful in generating reports that contain subtotals and totals in the same dataset.

This simple GROUP BY query with a ROLLUP operator generates a grand total rows at the end.






















Dynamic SQL and aggregates with the ROLLUP are commonly used in web reporting project

You might be wondering where you can actually use this feature. I never used it until I was involved in a web reporting project. To centralize all the data manipulation logic in the database layer, the decision was to write a very flexible stored procedure that meets the following three requirements:

  • All metrics calculations must be table-driven.
  • Only one stored procedure should be used.
  • The stored procedure should return subtotals and grand totals in the same result set.

The first two requirements forced us to generate dynamic SQLs instead of static SQL queries. The last requirement forced us to resort to the ROLLUP operator with aggregations.

This all worked well until we had a new requirement for an additional metric, which needs to calculate:

  • A percentage of a COUNT for group over a subtotal.

SUM(COUNT(*)) OVER() can generate an aggregate count

My first reaction is to simply add a TOTAL_CNT to the query using SUM(COUNT(*)) OVER(). Then the PCT_OF_TOTAL will be just the CNT over the TOTAL_CNT.

My thought was right on the mark, until I noticed that ROLLUP operator altered two calculations, TOTAL_CNT and PCT_OF_TOTAL.

To try to figure out what exactly went wrong, I tested a simple aggregation query.

Here I added a few things to the first query.

  • VacationHours and AVG_VacationHours: I wanted to make sure that a simple averaging would work always.
  • TOTAL_CNT: I used a SUM(COUNT(*)) OVER() to get the total count over all the DepartmentName.
  • PCT_OF_TOTAL: this is just the CNT over the TOTAL_CNT.

This query has no ROLLUP or GROUPING SETS. All numbers look good including the TOTAL_CNT and PCT_OF_TOTAL

















Next, I added the GROUPING SETS operator.

with the GROUPING SETS operator, a grand total row was added to the result set. The count and the average are all correct, but the TOTAL_CNT and the PCT_OF_TOTAL has been messed up.

















Looking closely, you can see that the TOTAL_CNT was doubled. You might be tempted to try to correct it by dividing by 2 to get it right. But adding more hierarchies to the aggregation generates even more confusing results.

ROLLUP operator does not support the SUM() OVER()

I was quite disappointed that the ROLLUP operator does not support the SUM() OVER(). This basically means that I’d need to write a lot more inefficient code to achieve this. With the dynamic queries in the midst, the coding will not be as efficient and elegant.

The closest example I could find is from this SQL Magazine article from 2012 by D. Yitzhak, in which only examples of ranking functions with the ROLLUP, CUBE, and GROUPING SETS operators were given.

Take Advantage of SQL Server 2012’s Window Functionality

GROUPING SETS is supposed to supersede ROLLUP

In the last query, I used the GROUPING SETS instead of the ROLLUP operator. This is because GROUPING SETS is a newer additions to SQL Server, and is supposed to supersede ROLLUP. According to many blogs, the WITH ROLLUP and WITH CUBE features will be removed in future versions of SQL Server. But I have not seen any official statement from Microsoft.

For more on GROUPING SETS in SQL Server 2008 R2, check out these TechNet article:

OVER Clause

OVER Clause has been around in SQL Server for a long time. If you have used any of the following types of functions, you are already familiar with it:

  • Ranking functions
  • Aggregate functions
  • Analytic functions
  • NEXT VALUE FOR function

The OVER clause defines a window within a query result set. A window function then computes a value for each row in the window. You can use the OVER clause with functions to compute aggregated values such as

  • moving averages
  • cumulative aggregates
  • running totals
  • top N per group results

In the following example, adding an ORDER BY clause to the SUM(COUNT(*)) OVER() generates running totals.























For more information, check out this MSDN SQL Server 2014 article:

OVER Clause (Transact-SQL)


SQL #55 – Data Types and Storage Reference

December 19, 2014 Leave a comment

When we design a database, we usually need to do an estimate on the size of the database based on the dimension and fact tables.

Keep the following information handy next time when you need to do so.

The lists are based on this article:

SQL Server 2012 Data Types Reference

What I like about this is that it lists the minimum, maximum, accuracy, length and storage size in the same table in an easy to read tabular format.

Table A: Character data types

Data Type Length Storage Size Max Characters Unicode
char Fixed Always n bytes 8,000 No; each character requires 1 byte
varchar Variable Actual length of entry in bytes 8,000 No; each character requires 1 byte
nchar Fixed Twice n bytes 4,000 Yes; each character requires 2 bytes
nvarchar Variable Twice actual length of entry in bytes 4,000 Yes; each character requires 2 bytes

Table B: Integer data types

Data type Minimum value Maximum value Storage size
tinyint 0 255 1 byte
smallint -32,768 32,767 2 bytes
int -2,147,483,648 2,147,483,674 4 bytes
bigint -9,223,372,036,854,775,808 9,223,372,036,854,775,807 8 bytes

Table C: Precision storage requirements

Total characters (precision) Storage size
1 – 9 5 bytes
10 – 19 9 bytes
20 – 28 13 bytes
29 – 38 17 bytes

Table D: Float and real data type restrictions

Data type n Minimum Value Maximum value Precision Storage size
float(n) 1 – 24 -1.79E + 308 1.79 + 308 7 digits 4 bytes
25 – 53 -1.79E + 308 1.79E + 308 15 digits 8 bytes
real n/a -3.40E + 38 3.40E + 38 7 digits 4 bytes

Table E: Smalldatetime and datetime restrictions

Data type Minimum value Maximum value Accuracy Storage size
smalldatetime January 1, 1900 June 6, 2079 Up to a minute 4 bytes (the first 2 bytes store the date; the second 2 bytes store the time)
datetime January 1, 1753 December 31, 9999 One three-hundredth of a second 8 bytes (the first 4 bytes store the date; the second 4 bytes store the time)
date January 1, 1900 December 31, 9999 Only date 4 bytes ?
time 00:00:00.0000000 23:59:59.9999999 Only time 4 bytes ?
datetime2 larger year and second range 8 bytes ?

Table F: Smallmoney and money restrictions

Data type Minimum value Maximum value Storage size
smallmoney -214,748.3648 214,748,3647 4 bytes
money -922,337,203,685,477.5808 922,337,203.685,477.5807 8 bytes

Does SQL Server 2008 have any new data types?

SQL Server 2008 has several new data types:

  • date stores only date values with a range of 0001-01-01 through 9999-12-31.
  • time stores only time values with a range of 00:00:00.0000000 through 23:59:59.9999999.
  • datetime2 has a larger year and second range.
  • datetimeoffset lets you consider times in different zones.
  • hierarchyid constructs relationships among data elements within a table, so you can represent a position in a hierarchy.
  • spatial identifies geographical locations and shapes — landmarks, roads, and so on.
Categories: SQL Challenge Tags: , ,

SSIS #118–Is it an OLEDB or an SMO Server Connection?

December 17, 2014 2 comments

OLEDB is the native client for SQL Server. Every SSIS developer is familiar with how to use it. Almost every task in Integration Services can use an OLEDB connection. As a matter of fact, it’s a preferable client to use if your backend is SQL Server.

However, there is one exception, that is the Transfer SQL Server Objects Task. This task uses an SMO Server connection only.












If you don’t know this before you use this transfer object task, there can be confusions during development and also during deployment.

Here are my lessons learned.

  1. Visual differences between the OLEDB and the SMO Server connections in Integration Services 2012 helps




In SSIS 2012, I am happy to see the visual differences. If you are still stuck in 2008, you will not see any visual differences.

  1. Name your SMO Server connections properly

A good practice is to name the SMO Server connection properly. I used such names as:

  • SMOServer_Staging (this could be the source server for the transfer task)
  • SMOServer_Reporting (this could be the destination server for the transfer task)
  1. Rename the SMO Server connection properly

In SSIS 2012, you have three difference places to create connections.

  • At project level: connections are available to all packages in the project
  • At package level: only available to the packages in which the connection is created
  • At task level: also only available to the packages in which the connection is created

The best practice is to create connections at the project level.

However, no matter where you are creating the connections, the UI in the SSIS always prefix the connection with the server name:

  • For OLEDB – servername.databasename: removing the servername is usually the best practice here, leaving just the database name.
  • For SMO Server – servername: since we cannot just simply remove the servername, the best practice here is to rename it to what is suggested in the section 2.
  1. Confusions during deployment over where to change to production/test server

In 2008 , during deployment, I’ve seen DBAs done the following:

  • Create new connection: because of the confusions about OLEDB vs. SMOServer connections, and even bigger confusions if your connections have your development server name in it, DBAs would most likely choose to create new connections.
  • Rename the connection name: again if you have not named your SMO connections properly, they will tend to rename it.

Neither of the above practices is good. If you as a developer have done if properly, DBA’s will not need to mess too much with the connections:

  • Named your SMO Server connections properly so they know the differences with the OLEDB connections.
  • Your connection names do not have your development server name so they don’t need to rename it.
  1. In 2012, the deployment is a lot easier

In 2012, deployment is much more straightforward because

  • Connections can be created at project level: there is only one place to mess with the connections, including the connection name, server name and database name, and bunch of other connection properties
  • Of cause you can take even greater advantages of many features such as project level parameters if you have chosen to deploy packages to SSIS Catalog

More about SMO connection manager

SMO Connection Manager

Quote from the MSDN article:

An SMO connection manager enables a package to connect to a SQL Management Object (SMO) server. The transfer tasks that SQL Server Integration Services includes use an SMO connection manager. For example, the Transfer Logins task that transfers SQL Server logins uses an SMO connection manager.

When you add an SMO connection manager to a package, Integration Services creates a connection manager that will resolve to an SMO connection at run time, sets the connection manager properties, and adds the connection manager to the Connections collection on the package. The ConnectionManagerType property of the connection manager is set to SMOServer.

You can configure an SMO connection manager in the following ways:

  • Specify the name of a server on which SQL Server is installed.
  • Select the authentication mode for connecting to the server.

More about Transfer SQL Server Objects task

Besides, the data flow object, the Transfer SQL Server Objects task is another task you can use to transfer not just data but also other types of objects between instances of SQL Server. For more info, check out this MSDN article.

Transfer SQL Server Objects Task


SSAS #39–Building Optimal and Well-Tuned Dimensions

December 14, 2014 Leave a comment

The Analysis Services Performance Guide from bunch of Microsoft Analysis Services experts have been updated since 2005 edition for 2008 R2 and for 2012.

  • Microsoft SQL Server 2005 Analysis Services Performance Guide
  • Microsoft SQL Server 2008 R2 Analysis Services Performance Guide
  • Microsoft SQL Server Analysis Services Multidimensional Performance and Operations Guide

I highly recommend the guide. It is short, to the point and it’s FREE.

Here is my summary of how to build optimal dimensions from the Part 1 of the guide.

  1. Efficient Use of Attributes Is a Key Design Skill to Master
  • Dimensions are composed of attributes, which are related to each other through hierarchies.
  • Studying and implementing the attribute relationships available in the business model can help improve cube performance.
  • Using the KeyColumns, ValueColumn, and NameColumn properties effectively can reduce processing time. They also reduce the size of the dimension and the likelihood of user errors. This is especially true for attributes that have a large number of members, that is, greater than one million members.
  • KeyColumns: define the attribute; uniquely identify each instance of the attribute; It is a best practice to assign a numeric source field, if available, to the KeyColumns property rather than a string property; Furthermore, use a single column key instead of a composite, multi‐column key.
  • NameColumn: displayed to end users; if empty, default to the KeyColumns property.
  • ValueColumn: typically used for calculations; strongly typed and can be accessed through the MemberValue MDX function.
  • Using ValueColumn, and NameColumn properties: eliminates the need for extraneous attributes. This reduces the total number of attributes in your design, making it more efficient.
  • Consider using Key fields (numeric) for the KeyColumns property, rather than the alphanumeric fields.
  1. Considering Hiding Most Attribute Hierarchies
  • Set AttributeHierarchyVisible = false for most attribute hierarchies.
  • Hiding the Surrogate Key.
  1. Considering disabling Attribute Hierarchy
  • If attribute is included for ordering purpose, set AttributeHierarchyEnabled = false and AttributeHierarchyOptimizedState = NotOptimized to save on processing operations
  1. Considering Disabling Ordering of Attribute
  • For such hidden attribute that you used only for implementation purposes, you don’t care about the ordering of an attribute (the surrogate key is one such case), set AttributeHierarchyOrdered = false to save time during processing of the dimension.
  1. Set Explicit Default Attribute Members Properly (carefully)
  • Default Attribute Members: Any query that does not explicitly reference a hierarchy will use the current member of that hierarchy.
  • The default behavior of Analysis Services is to assign the All member of a dimension as the default member.
  • Explicitly set default members only on dimensions with single hierarchies or in hierarchies that do not have an All level.
  1. Removing Meaningless All Level
  • It can even be expensive to ask for the All level of dimension if there is not good aggregate to respond to the query.
  • You can disable the All member in a hierarchy. You do this by setting the IsAggregateable = false on the attribute at the top of the hierarchy.
  • Note that if you disable the All level, you should also set a default member as described in the previous section–if you don’t, Analysis Services will choose one for you.
  1. Identifying Attribute Relationships Other Than the Relationships to the Primary Key
  • Bushy attribute relationship: By default, all attributes are related to the primary key, and the attribute relationship diagram represents a “bush” where relationships all stem from the key attribute and end at each other’s attribute.
  • Redefine attribute relationships: You can optimize performance by defining hierarchical relationships supported by the data.
  • Attribute relationships help performance in 3 ways:
    • Cross products between levels (for example the cross-product between Subcategory and Category) in the hierarchy do not need to go through the key attribute, saving CPU time during queries.
    • Aggregations built on attributes can be reused on related attributes, saving resources during processing and for queries.
    • Auto-exits can be more efficient to eliminate attribute combinations that do not exist in the data.
    • If the attribute relationship is defined, the Analysis Services engine knows beforehand which category each subcategory belongs to via indexes built at process time.
  1. Flexible vs. Rigid Relationships: considering using rigid relationships
  • A flexible attribute relationship (customer-city) is one where members can move around during dimension updates, and
  • A rigid attribute relationship (month-year) is one where the member relationships are guaranteed to be fixed.
  • Processing flexible attribute relationship is expensive: When a change is detected during process in a flexible relationship, all indexes for partitions referencing the affected dimension (including the indexes for attribute that are not affected) must be invalidated. This is an expensive operation and may cause Process Update operations to take a very long time. Indexes invalidated by changes in flexible relationships must be rebuilt after a Process Update operation with a Process Index on the affected partitions; this adds even more time to cube processing.
  • Flexible relationships are the default setting. Carefully consider the advantages of rigid relationships and change the default where the design allows it.
  1. Considering unnatural user hierarchies
  • There are two types of user hierarchies, natural and unnatural hierarchy.
  • Unnatural hierarchies have at least two consecutive levels that have no attribute relationships, commonly created for drill‐down paths of commonly viewed attributes that do not follow any natural hierarchy. An example is gender-education relationship.
  • Unnatural hierarchies are not materialized on disk, and the attributes participating in unnatural hierarchies are not automatically considered as aggregation candidates. Rather, they simply provide users with easy‐to‐use drill‐down paths for commonly viewed attributes that do not have natural relationships.
  • By assembling these attributes into hierarchies, you can also use a variety of MDX navigation functions to easily perform calculations like percent of parent.
  1. Considering accessing attributes via member properties only
  • Disable the attribute’s hierarchy: by setting the AttributeHierarchyEnabled property to False if you only want to access an attribute as member property.
    • Member properties provide a different mechanism to expose dimension information.
    • For a given attribute, member properties are automatically created for every direct attribute relationship.
    • For the primary key attribute, this means that every attribute that is directly related to the primary key is available as a member property of the primary key attribute.
  • After you verify that the correct relationship is in place, you can disable the attribute’s hierarchy.
  • Disabling the attribute hierarchy can improve performance and decrease cube size.
  • Because the attribute will no longer be indexed or aggregated. This can be especially useful for highcardinality attributes that have a one‐to‐one relationship with the primary key.
  • High cardinality attributes such as phone numbers and addresses typically do not require slice‐and‐dice analysis.
  • By disabling the hierarchies for these attributes and accessing them via member properties, you can save processing time and reduce cube size.


SSIS #117–What is the Location in the MSOLAP Connection String

December 13, 2014 Leave a comment

MSOLAP is a native OLE DB provider for Analysis Services

A common task during ETL is to process the OLAP dimensions and the cube after all the dimension and fact tables are loaded into the data warehouse. Integration Services provide two special control flow tasks for this purpose, the Analysis Services Processing Task and the Analysis Services Execute DDL Task.

Before you can use either of these two tasks, you will need to create a SSIS Connection Manager that knows where the Analysis Services server is. The Connection Manager is just the name of the GUI in Integration Services. Behind the fancy GUI, it’s just a connection string that uses the native data provider, the Analysis Services OLE DB provider (or just short as MSOLAP DLL).









































Location in the connection string causing “connection cannot be made”

In the above screenshot, I not only provided the Server name but also the Location which I made it the same as the server. The testing of the connection in the GUI was successful.

After the GUI is completed, the final connection string looks like this.

Provider=MSOLAP.5;Data Source=localhost\MULTI2012;Integrated Security=SSPI;Initial Catalog=SSAS2012DEMO;Location=localhost\MULTI2012

The control flow task Analysis Services Execute DDL Task is usually the more flexible choice for processing Analysis Services objects than the Processing Task. But to makes sure that my connection string is correct, I used the Analysis Services Processing Task, which is the GUI version of the DDL task, to test the connection string. I ran into this “connection cannot be made” error.










It turned about the problem is in the Location. Removing the Location from the connection string solved the connection issue.

AS a matter of fact, the shortest connection string that can pass the connection is just this:

Data Source=localhost\MULTI2012

No explanation for Location in connection strings for MSOLAP and ADOMD.NET provider

I checked both the connection string document in MSDN library for MSOLAP and ADOMD.NET , and couldn’t find much information about what the Location is supposed to be.

AdomdConnection.ConnectionString Property

Connection String Properties (Analysis Services)

In the first link for the ADOMD.NET provider it just simply states:

Location: Sets the name of the server.

In the second link for the MSOLAP provider, I couldn’t even find any mentioning of Location.

Three types of data providers for Analysis Services

There are really three types of data providers for Analysis Services.

Data providers used for Analysis Services connections

Analysis Services provides three data providers for server and data access. All applications connecting to Analysis Services do so using one of these providers. Two of the providers, ADOMD.NET and Analysis Services Management Objects (AMO), are managed data providers. The Analysis Services OLE DB provider (MSOLAP DLL) is a native data provider.

More ways to access Analysis Services in SSIS than the DDL Task and the Processing Task

Check out this book if you want to know more than just the DDL Task and the Processing Task to access Analysis Services in SSIS.

Microsoft® SQL Server® 2008 Integration Services Problem–Design–Solution

Quote from the book:


* Using the control flow object Analysis Services Processing Task is the most straightforward

approach, and is discussed in the next section. This allows any SSAS objects (that involve

processing) and their processing method to be selected. A few drawbacks are listed in the next



* Although the Analysis Services Execute DDL Task may sound as if it only allows objects to be

modified, created, or deleted, its functionality goes way beyond Data Definition Language

(DDL). This task runs an SSAS XMLA script. XMLA includes the capability not just to run DDL,

but also query and process. Therefore, this task is very useful for SSAS processing, because the

XMLA can be modified in an SSIS package before it is executed.


* Another approach involves using the Execute Process Task to call the ASCMD executable that

comes with SSAS. This executable can run MDX, Data Mining Expressions (DMX), and XMLA,

and also contains some command – line switches to make your processing more dynamic.

The data flow in SSIS includes two destinations: the Dimension Processing destination and the

Partition Processing destination . These allow data directly from the pipeline to be pushed into

either an SSAS dimension or SSAS partition, respectively. Unlike all the other SSIS approaches

discussed here, this approach is the only one where data is pushed directly to SSAS. The

other approaches essentially tell SSAS to start pulling the data from a data source. Like the

other SSIS approaches, this approach is described later in this chapter.


* Finally, the programming API for SSAS, called Analysis Management Objects (AMO), allows the

interface into the SSAS object model and can leverage the processing methods to process any of

the SSAS objects described. To use AMO for processing, you must leverage either the Script Task

in the control flow, or the Script Component in the data flow.


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