Business Intelligence in Microsoft SharePoint 2010 – #bookreview

Business Intelligence in Microsoft SharePoint 2010
By Norm Warren, Mariano Teixeira Neto,
John Campbell and Stacia Misner

(Microsoft Press, $44.99, paperback)

This useful and well-written book was created, at least in part, as a response to customer complaints about SharePoint documentation. The customers told Microsoft they needed a better sense of  “the big picture” of how business intelligence (BI) and SharePoint 2010 mesh together with BI software tools.

Business intelligence is the process of extracting important and useful information from the massive quantities and flows of information available to companies at any moment.

A stated Microsoft strategy is to “democratize” BI, to make business information and insights available to all employees of a company, so they can make “faster, more relevant decisions.”

What SharePoint 2010 does, the writers note, is to work “with SQL Server reporting and BI tools to surface BI data in meaningful ways.”

Two important focuses for “the BI stack” are “report authoring,” using Microsoft Office, PerformancePoint, Dashboard Designer, and more,  and “report viewing,” in “just about any browser,  in Microsoft Office, on Windows 7 phones, and in SharePoint Search.”

The authors state that in planning this book, “we chose not to include information about setting up all the various tools and databases—although we did include a synopsis of best practices for planning, deployment and configuration.”

A number of step-by-step processes and screen shots are included, however, to illustrate some key configurations, setups, menus, tests and examples. But frequent references to other documents also are made. And some processes are described as “beyond the scope” of the book.

The writers add that “[b]ecause this book is aimed primarily at three audiences—SharePoint administrators, business users and BI developers—we were forced to sharpen our focus and choose only the most relevant BI products from Microsoft for these audiences.”

The four highlighted products are: (1) SharePoint Excel Services; (2) SQL Server 2008 R2 PowerPivot; (3) SharePoint Visio Services; and (4) SharePoint PerformancePoint Services.

Within the BI world, there generally are two types of users: power users and casual users. Power users delve into BI almost daily and frequently “develop advanced technical skills” that help them use BI tools “to explore the data without restraint,” the authors say. Casual users, meanwhile, tend to be “department managers, executives, or even external stakeholders such as customers or suppliers” who are less skilled at using BI tools and need simple interfaces that can help them “find the information they need on their own.”

The 384-page book is structured as follows:

  • Chapter 1: Business Intelligence in SharePoint
  • Chapter 2: Choosing the Right BI Tool
  • Chapter 3: Getting to Trusted Data
  • Chapter 4: Excel Services
  • Chapter 5: PowerPivot for Excel and SharePoint
  • Chapter 6: Visio and Visio Services
  • Chapter 7: PerformancePoint Services
  • Chapter 8: Bringing It All Together
  • Appendix A: Virtual Machine Setup and SharePoint Configuration
  • Appendix B: DAX Function Reference
  • Appending C: SharePoint as a Service—“Office 365”
  • Index (19 pages)

The book does not come with a CD, but a companion website offers interactive exercises and code samples to download.

The minimum hardware and software requirements cannot be described briefly here, because they vary, depending on whether you want to (1) use pre-configured virtual machines present in the 2010 Information Worker Demonstration and Evaluation Virtual Machine (RTM) or (2) install SharePoint 2010 software, perform the configuration procedures and create virtual machines from scratch. These options and their various choices are described in Appendix A and Appendix B.

Business Intelligence in Microsoft SharePoint 2010 can be an informative and useful guide for executives, managers, employees, suppliers and customers who must use BI on an occasional basis. If your goal is to become a BI power user, but you are just getting started, you also should look into this book.

Power users of BI may want to consider having this book, as well. You may be well-versed in one particular area or aspect of business intelligence. But business itself changes very rapidly these days, and a narrow expertise suddenly can  become less useful. You may need “the big picture,” too, to help you figure out where else to specialize, just in case.

Si Dunn

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Two Microsoft Certification Training Kits – #bookreview

In today’s tough and fiercely competitive IT job market, you never outgrow your need for certifications. Microsoft Press recently has released two self-paced training kits that you may need to study, if they apply to your areas of information technology. And you may need to keep these books close at hand in your technology library once you are certified.

The two training kits are: Accessing Data with Microsoft .NET Framework 4 (MCTS Exam 70-516) and Windows Server Enterprise Administration (MCITP Exam 70-647).

Short reviews of each book are posted below. In general, however, both are hefty, handsome and well-organized volumes that include practice tests on their accompanying CDs. The practice tests contain hundreds of questions and come with “detailed explanations for right and wrong answers.” Each of the books includes a certification exam discount coupon from Microsoft. 

Accessing Data with Microsoft .NET Framework 4
(MCTS Exam 70-516)
By Glenn Johnson
(Microsoft Press, $69.99)

“This training kit,” the author writes, “is designed for developers who write or support applications that access data written in C# or Visual Basic using Visual Studio 2010 and the Microsoft .NET Framework 4.0 and who also plan to take the Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist (MCTS) exam 70-516.”

Before you plunge into this self-paced training kit, be sure you have “a solid foundation-level understanding of Microsoft C# or Microsoft Visual Basic and be familiar with Visual Studio 2010.”

Also, be sure your available equipment meets the minimum requirements: 2.0 GB – and preferably more – of RAM; at least 80 GB of available hard disk space; a DVD-ROM drive; and Internet access.

The software requirements are Windows 7, SQL Server 2008 Developer Edition and SQL Server 2008 Express Edition. Links are provided to download evaluation copies of Windows 7 and SQL Server 2008 Developer Edition. A link also is provided to download a full release of SQL Server 2008 Express Edition.

A “virtualized environment” can be used, rather than configuring a machine specifically for the training kit, the author states. He notes that virtualization software is available from Microsoft, Oracle andVMware.

The CD supplied with Accessing Data with Microsoft .NET Framework 4 includes practice tests, all of the Visual Basic and C# code samples in the book, and a “fully searchable” eBook version of the printed book.

Directions are provided for installing, using and uninstalling the practice tests.

The 647-page training kit is structured as follows:

  • Introduction
  • ADO.NET Disconnected Classes
  • ADO.NET Connected Classes
  • Introducing LINQ
  • LINQ to SQL
  • LINQ to XML
  • ADO.NET Entity Framework
  • WCF Data Services
  • Developing Reliable Applications
  • Deploying Your Application

The final sections are the Answers appendix and a detailed and apparently thorough index.

This training kit’s chapters generally contain one to three lessons, with code examples, practice exercises, plus a lesson summary and lesson review. Accessing Data with Microsoft .NET Framework 4 provides more than 250 practice and review questions to help you prepare for the certification exam.

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Windows Server Enterprise Administration
(MCITP Exam 70-647)
By Orin James, John Policelli, Ian McLean, J.C, Mackin, Paul Mancuso, and David R. Miller, with GrandMasters
(Microsoft Press, $69.99)

This training kit for Windows Server Enterprise Administration is intended for “enterprise administrators who have several years’ experience managing the overall IT environment and architecture of medium to large organizations.”

To run the lab exercises in this self-paced training kit, you will need at least two computers or virtual machines. One must be a server running Windows Server Enterprise 2008, and it must be configured as a domain controller. The book provides a link for obtaining an evaluation copy of Windows Server 2008 Enterprise from Microsoft’s download center. The other computer or virtual machine must run Windows Vista (Enterprise, Business or Ultimate).

“You can complete almost all practice exercises in this book using virtual machines rather than real server hardware,” the authors state. But you must be aware of the minimum hardware requirements for running Windows Server 2008:

1. Processor: 1GHz (x86), 1.4GHz (x64) – But 2GHz or faster is recommended.
2. 512MB RAM, with  2GB recommended.
3. 15 GB of disk space, with 40 GB recommended.

The book also explains how to set up networking and how to install and use (and later uninstall) the practice tests.

The 572-page Windows Server Enterprise Administration training kit is organized as follows:

  • Introduction
  • Planning Name Resolution and Internet Protocol Addressing
  • Designing Active Directory Domain Services
  • Planning Migrations, Trusts, and Interoperability
  • Designing Active Directory Administration and Group Policy Strategy
  • Designing Network Access Strategy
  • Design a Branch Office Deployment
  • Planning Terminal Services and Application Deployment
  • Server and Application Virtualization
  • Planning and Designing a Public Key Infrastructure
  • Designing Solutions for Data Sharing, Data Security, and Business Continuity

The chapters generally have two to three lessons each, as well as lesson summaries, lesson reviews, chapter reviews, chapter reviews, chapter summaries, suggested practices and a practice test.

The remaining sections of the training kit include answers to the practice tests, a somewhat modest glossary, and a hefty and well-detailed index.

The supplied CD provides more than 275 practice and review questions, a “fully searchable” eBook version of the training kit, case scenarios, best practices, and exercises. 

– Si Dunn

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Solzhenitsyn’s ‘Apricot Jam and Other Stories’ – #bookreview

Apricot Jam and Other Stories
By Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
(Counterpoint, $28.00)

A major literary work is now available for readers who relish the works of modern Russian writers, particularly the ones who rebelled against communism’s restrictive censorship and social, legal and economic rigidities and achieved international acclaim during the final decades of the Soviet Union.

Apricot Jam and Other Stories,  an engrossing collection of eight short stories by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, is now available from Berkeley, Calif.-based Counterpoint.

Solzhenitsyn was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1970, primarily on the strength of three novels, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, In The First Circle (better known as The First Circle), and Cancer Ward. These books shone glaring, shocking spotlights on the Gulag, a USSR government agency that operated a brutal, sprawling system of forced labor camps for political prisoners, criminals and others who ran afoul of  Soviet laws, officials, informants and secret police.

Significantly, the eight short stories in this 352-page collection are making their first appearance in English. They were initially published in Russia in 1994, after Solzhenitsyn ended years of exile in the West and returned to his native land. He died in 2008.

The title story provides an excellent example of the unusual “binary” writing style that Solzhenitsyn employed in these eight works of short fiction. In “Apricot Jam,” the son of a kulak (a relatively affluent peasant) has almost lost everything in his life except the memories of the apricot jam his mother used to make for him before communism and collective agriculture destroyed his family and his farm. He is now nearly starving to death while serving internal exile and doing hard labor in a distant town. In desperation, he writes a letter to a famous Russian writer who has published a book touting that the “meaning of life is labor in a communist society.”  He humbly begs the famous writer to send him a food parcel, because he is working hard to try to stay alive, yet now nearing death from lack of nourishment.

In the second part of the “Apricot Jam” story, the exile’s letter has arrived at the famous writer’s elegant dacha outside Moscow. There, the famous writer entertains a professor of cinema, as well as a neighbor, the head of the literary department in the State Publishing House, a man who “held the reins of the whole of literature in his hands….”

In the posh dacha, the men also enjoy some apricot jam, but it is just one minor trapping amid the surrounding opulence as they speak in praise of Comrade Stalin, socialist realism, and how “Creating an art of world significance–that is the task of the writer today.” The apricot jam briefly figures into their discussion as a symbol for a type of  “amber transparency” that “should be present in literary language, as well.” 

Soon, the famous writer mentions the unusual letter he has received from the exiled, starving worker. And, as they discuss its text, their final analysis of it is devastating.

In the story “The New Generation,” a principled and disciplined engineering professor finally gives in to pleadings by a failing student and hands him a passing grade. The professor is, after all, under orders to “make allowances” for the students now being sent to him from factories, some of whom would be “better off making pots and pans” rather than being forced to become engineers.

 Two years later, in the second part of the story’s binary structure, the engineering professor is arrested, and his interrogator from the GPU (the State Political Directorate) is none other than the failing student who had talked him into a passing grade. The ex-student cannot undo the professor’s arrest, yet he can and does, as a sort of return favor, offer him three grim choices of fates. 

Solzhenitsyn served with distinction as a captain in the Red Army during World War II, but was arrested after he wrote a letter that included disparaging remarks about Josef Stalin’s leadership of the war effort. The writer spent the next eight years in Soviet labor camps and another three years in internal exile.

Much of his fiction in Apricot Jam and Other Stories draws its creative spark from his grim wartime and Gulag experiences. Yet some of the stories also deal with post-Soviet issues in the times of Yeltsin and Gorbachev. For example, in the concluding story, “Fracture Points,” characters face the difficulty of trying to adapt to new freedoms and new economic structures at a time when “[t]he word ‘privatize’ was as frightening as a sea monster.”

If you have never before read any Solzhenitsyn, Apricot Jam and Other Stories can be a good introduction that may inspire you to also delve into his earlier works of fiction, particularly the ones that brought him the Nobel Prize for Literature 41 years ago.

This new book, translated by “TK” and published by Counterpoint, demonstrates once again why Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn continues to deserve his ranking as one of the world’s great writers.

 — Si Dunn

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Captain John R. Hughes: Lone Star Ranger

 

Captain John R. Hughes: Lone Star Ranger
Chuck Parsons

(University of North Texas Press, $29.95)

 John R. Hughes is often considered one of the Texas Rangers’ “Four Great Captains,” alongside William Jesse McDonald, James A. Brooks and John H. Rogers. (Chuck Norris, as Walker, Texas Ranger, figures nowhere in this equation.)

Before Hughes became a Ranger in 1887, he tracked down and killed several thieves who had stolen horses from his ranch and and some neighbors’ ranches.

This well-written biography by Western historian Chuck Parsons describes how Hughes intended to be a Texas Ranger for just a few months after he signed up. But he stayed on and eventually served almost 30 years, chasing horse thieves, sheep thieves, fence cutters, train robbers, bank robbers and others.

Hughes also helped provide security for three presidents who visited Texas: William H. Taft, Theodore Roosevelt and Porfirio Diaz of Mexico.

The Ranger tried to keep a low profile, but writers hailed him in newspaper and magazine articles, particularly after he retired. And novelist Zane Grey dedicated a novel, The Lone Star Ranger, to Hughes and other Rangers.

Chuck Parsons has written several other books, including The Sutton-Taylor Feud: The Deadliest Blood Feud in Texas.

Si Dunn

Will Rogers: A Political Life

Will Rogers: A Political Life
By Richard D. White Jr.
(Texas Tech University Press, $29.95)

Oklahoma’s Will Rogers was at the peak of his international fame as an entertainer when he and pilot Wiley Post were killed in a 1935 Alaska plane crash.

Yet, as this intriguing political biography shows, Rogers was much more than a popular homespun humorist, radio commentator and media celebrity.  He was also a political commentator with virtually open-door access to the White House and Capitol Hill.

A strong isolationist, Will Rogers wanted America to stay out of foreign wars. Yet, he also was an ambassador without portfolio and sometimes was sent to foreign countries to help repair troubled diplomatic relations or observe and report on military conflicts.

When President Franklin D. Roosevelt launched his famous Sunday night radio “fireside chats” to sell his New Deal to a Depression-ravaged America, Will Rogers’ show aired first, and the entertainer often previewed what the President was about to say.

Richard D. White Jr.’s other books include Kingfish: The Reign of Huey P. Long and Roosevelt the Reformer: Theodore Roosevelt as Civil Service Commissioner, 1889-1895.

The author is a professor of public administration at Louisiana State University. 

Si Dunn