Put to the Test: Microsoft Report Builder

This ad hoc query tool is a free component of SQL Server 2005 and part of Microsoft's evolution from providing infrastructure to offering a complete BI platform.

Evolving The Platform

Microsoft has long had a strategy of incremental improvement, and with Report Builder, it's a clear start to addressing the needs of both power users and business query authors. Given that Report Builder is bundled with SQL Server 2005 at no additional charge, it's a module that Microsoft customers should evaluate and continue to monitor for future improvements. However, it cannot be called a best-of-breed product at this point given the inflexibility in report layouts, limited data access and limited Office integration.

These drawbacks will drive sophisticated customers who wish to use more mature parts of the Microsoft BI solution (such as Analysis Services) to supplement with more flexible and capable ad hoc query tools from BI pure-play vendors. With many enterprises attempting to reduce the number of different BI tools they use, such a jig-saw approach is fraught with trade-offs, risks and cost implications.

For SQL Server customers who are on a tight budget and who lack a self-service reporting environment, Report Builder offers a low-cost introduction to ad hoc query and reporting. The question is, will you outgrow the capabilities more quickly than Microsoft can enhance the product?

Microsoft Report Builder is an ad hoc query component for Reporting Services and is bundled with SQL Server 2005 at no charge.

The Microsoft BI Platform consists of the following products: SQL Server 2005: Server platform Reporting Services: Reporting component of SQL Server Analysis Services: OLAP component of SQL Server Integration Services: ETL component of SQL Server

BI tools include: Report Builder: Ad hoc query component of Reporting Services Report Designer: Design module within Visual Studio for Reporting Services Excel 2007: Front end to Analysis Services Business Scorecard Manager: Scorecards and strategy maps ProClarity 6.2: Dashboard and visualization for MS Analysis Services/P>

Cindi Howson is the president of ASK, a BI consultancy. She teaches The Data Warehousing Institute's "Evaluating BI Toolsets" and publishes in-depth product reviews at Write to her at [email protected].