I was once asked what I thought Microsoft's overall product trajectory for SQL Server was, in light of Oracle's rather obvious trajectory of acquiring multiple application vendors who will, in turn, deploy more and more of their applications to the Oracle database platform. To be honest, I had a little difficulty perceiving a clear and concise strategy statement for the sort of work going on in Redmond. I could see a lot of great features being developed. And I knew the SQL Server development team had developed a lot of new "plumbing" with each new release - features like Service Broker and Extended Events and exponentially more robust capabilities in the Analysis Services product lines. But the strategy itself was veiled and, since Microsoft wasn't explicitly telling us what the grand strategy was, I had difficulty putting my finger on it.
However, as I watched the second day keynote of at the recent Professional Association for SQL Server (PASS) Summit (http://summit2009.sqlpass.org), I experienced the "Ahah!" moment. In that keynote, featuring Tom Casey and Ariel Netz (with images at http://www.microsoft.com/presspass/presskits/sqlserver/imageGallery.aspx), I was dazzled as I witnessed the amazing power and ease of use in the new PowerPivot product. PowerPivot, formerly discussed under the code name Project Gemini, seamlessly blends the power of SQL Server back-ends with the ease of Microsoft Excel, while yielding the actionable information that BI has always promised. In a nutshell, PowerPivot truly unleashes business intelligence for the masses.
In the demo, Ariel showed how a regular power user - used to creating Excel reports and graphs - could easily church through millions of records (pulled from SQL Server) to quickly build a powerful BI application. In addition, the new features in SQL Server 2008 R2 and in PowerPivot make it extremely easy for the IT staff to keep up with exactly what the power users are doing with that data.
In fact, power users have traditionally been a negative part of a DBA's life. They ask for lots of data. They need a lot of handholding. And, if whatever widget they are cobbling together is successful, they wind up adding a lot more complexity to the DBA's life. Things get even more difficult for the DBA when the power user leaves the company and the DBA is left to support their widget. Now, however, the combined set of new features coming down the pipe will enable DBAs to very closely track and easily support the multitudes of widgets created by power users in their organizations. And the best part is that it all happens seamlessly, without intervention from the users.
The home for PowerPivot is located at http://www.powerpivot.com/. You can download the tool immediately and see demos interactively. There also are very useful pointers to more resources located at http://blogs.msdn.com/sqlcat/archive/2009/11/10/powerpivot-jump-start.aspx, including some excellent blogs and aggregators.