Updates about Multidimensional vs Tabular #ssas #msbi

I recently read the blog post from James Serra Tabular model: Not ready for prime time? (read also the comments because there are discussions about a few points raised by James) and the following post from Christian Wade Multidimensional or Tabular. In the last 2 years I worked with many companies adopting Tabular in different scenarios and I agree with some of the points expressed by James in his post (especially about missing features in Tabular if compared to Multidimensional), but I strongly disagree in others.

In general, Tabular is a good choice for a new project when:

  • the development team does not have a good knowledge of Multidimensional and MDX (DAX is faster to learn, not so easy as it is sold by MS, but definitely easier than MDX)
  • you don’t need calculations based on hierarchies (common in certain financial applications, but not so common as it could seem)
  • there are important calculations based on distinct count measures
  • there are complex calculations based on many-to-many relationships

Until now, I never suggested to migrate an existing Multidimensional model to a Tabular one. There should be very important reasons for that, such as performance issues in distinct count and many-to-many relationships that cannot be easily solved by optimizing the Multidimensional model, but I still never encountered this scenario.

I would say that in 80% of the new projects, you might use either Multidimensional or Tabular and the real difference is the time-to-market depending on the skills of the development team. So it’s not strange that who is used to Multidimensional is not moving to Tabular, not getting a particular benefit from the new model unless specific requirements exist. The recent DAXMD feature that allows using SharePoint Power View on Multidimensional is a really important one, even if I’d like having also Excel Power View enabled for this scenario (this should be just a question of time).

Another scenario in which I’m seeing a growing adoption of Tabular is in companies that creates models for their product/service and do that by using XMLA or Tabular AMO 2012. I am used to call them ISVs, even if those providing services cannot be really defined in this way. These companies are facing the multitenancy challenge with Tabular and even if this is a niche market, I see some potential here, because adopting Tabular seems a much more natural choice than Multidimensional in those scenario where an analytical engine has to be embedded to deliver one of the features of a larger product/service delivered to customers.

I’d like to see other feedbacks in the comments: tell your story of choosing between Tabular and Multidimensional in a BI project you started with SQL Server 2012, thanks!