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SQL Server 2008 (Katmai) Reporting Services Performance: Two Steps Forward, One Step Back? : Page 4

In this article, David Leibowitz compares the performance of the prerelease of Microsoft's SQL Server 2008 Reporting Services to SSRS 2005. While it is clear performance improvements have been made for report automation, developers might have differing opinions on the new Report Designer.

Comparing SSRS Development Efficiency in SQL Server 2008 Katmai to the SSRS 2005
Figure 4. Report Designer: Here is the Report Designer Preview—with ribbon!
Unfortunately, all is not peachy in the land of Katmai. The next test included development in CTP4 using the Report Designer Preview. While still clearly a prerelease product (there is no expression builder yet so you have to write code in a simple text box), it hints at the new direction that the RS team is taking. This new version takes bits from BIDS, Office 2007 (ribbon included), and Report Builder 2005, and mashes them together for a single development interface (see Figure 4). The new interface should help capture hard-core report developers who felt Report Builder was too simplistic.

Report Builder will not be going away (at least not yet) but it is clear that Microsoft intends business analysts and non-techies to use the “Report Designer.” and this is where Katmai falls short.

New forms and pop-ups take an Office 2007 and Vista approach; they are clean and functional. But the functions that work for single clicks (like bolding in a Word document), do not easily translate for development with much greater form interaction.

A case in point is the sheer number of additional clicks it takes to build a report in RS 2008. Creating parameters used to take place on a single form, now a popup modal form appears for each new parameter. That popup has very nice visual appeal, but the design loses tons of efficiency. All properties used to be set on a single interface (parameter name, defaults, valid list of values, etc.).

To call the previous form design of RS 2005 “Spartan.” would be an overstatement, but it got the job done. Conversely, to set values on RS 2008 Report Designer you must click into each section: General, Available Value, Default Values, and the new Advanced. There is no shortcut key, so you will be jockeying from keyboard to mouse for these extra steps.

Figure 5: RS 2005 Parameters: This figure shows a simple grid that easily allows entering values.
As previously mentioned, the Katmai version is clean. But after you get past the color gradations a few challenges arise. For example, the list of parameters display only on the General tab. If you are working on the Available Values tab you can no longer see your parameters. Trivial? Perhaps. But many people like that kind of visibility.

Further adding insult to injury, it may take up to five times longer to provide valid lists of "Available Values" than it did in the earlier version of Reporting Services. In RS 2005 always presented you with a simple grid in which you could easily enter values (see Figure 5). And the grid dynamically resized; for each new value, a row was automatically created.

Figure 6: The Grid is Gone in 2008: This figure shows adding Report Parameters in SQL Server 2008 (Katmai).

In SSRS 2008, as Figure 6 shows, the grid is gone. Now you must add each possible value by clicking an Add button, and then clicking into the row to provide the detailed elements. A significant level of efficiency is lost. Katmai uses this long-winded approach for every input, from parameters to data sets and properties. Get used to it.

Dropping the automatic grid function on development UI components in favor of the new Add button concept takes a huge step backwards in productivity. Of course, you are not required to manually enter values if you derive them from a query. But sometimes values are entered during the prototype phase or when it is unnecessary to roundtrip to a database.Please keep in mind that many items may change before the retail release. However, it does seem clear that the behavior described in this article is expected in the upcoming version.

See sidebar 2 for the Author’s Parameter entry wish list for future versions.

SSRS Reaches Adolescence
SSRS is growing up, that’s clear. With this third version the product keeps maturing. Benefits will be realized in performance and scalability and similar improvements are expected in SSIS. However, the new development UI does little to embrace the developers who have been using this tool since the 2000 version. No doubt, new converts to SSRS will adjust nicely to the Office 2007 look-and-feel, but business users and other non-techies might feel as though they have been left hanging.

David Leibowitz is Practice Manager for Computer Generated Solutions, helping customers realize value from enterprise portals and analytics. For over a decade he's architected solutions for retail, wholesale, and distribution companies ranging from startups to Fortune 500 firms.
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