By Jim Rapoza  |  Posted 2004-03-15 Print this article Print

For many companies, creating useful reports from databases and enterprise applications is only the first step. The more pressing problem is getting these reports into the hands of those who need them. And thats where eWEEK Labs found the main benefit of Microsoft Corp.s SQL Server 2000 Reporting Services, which provides a flexible, simple means for businesses to deploy interactive and attractive reports to the Web and as Web services and which doesnt limit itself to data in SQL Server. Despite the confusing nomenclature, SQL Server 2000 Reporting Services is a brand-new product, released in January. And although the product requires SQL Server 2000 to run, it can create reports from any database because SQL Server 2000 Reporting Services has native support for Oracle and support for ODBC and OLE/DB.

SQL Server 2000 Reporting Services is licensed as part of the standard SQL Server 2000 license. For instance, if its running on the same system as a licensed SQL Server, there is no additional cost. However, if SQL Server 2000 Reporting Services is run on its own system, an additional SQL Server license is required.

Pricing for SQL Server 2000 starts at $4,999 per processor with no client licenses required or $1,489 with client licenses.

SQL Server 2000 Reporting Services Report Designer runs as a plug-in to the Visual Studio .Net 2003 development environment. We really liked the graphical tools included in this designer. They made it very simple to access data sources, perform queries, and create complex and interactive reports without having to write code (see top screen). In fact, the user-friendliness of these tools made us wish that they were not part of Visual Studio .Net 2003. In many companies, developers who would usually have Visual Studio on their systems might not be the workers creating reports; conversely, the business-intelligence experts who would be creating reports would have no other need to use the massive Visual Studio. Because of this, we would prefer to have a stand-alone Report Designer client, which could be deployed to nondevelopers.

SQL Server 2000 Reporting Services report information is output in an XML-based format called RDL (Report Definition Language). Because RDL files are XML-based, it is possible to create reports without the designer, and it is easy to integrate with them. We appreciated the ability to access different database types through ODBC, although we would have liked more native connections.

In addition, the very capable standards-based API made it possible for us to access enterprise applications and other types of data sources.

Once reports are created, they can be published to the SQL Server 2000 Reporting Services server directly from the Report Designer tools, or they can be deployed from a command line using scripts.

Although reports can be delivered via e-mail, the real strength of SQL Server 2000 Reporting Services lies in its Web-based report-viewing features. From this interface, users can dig deep into reports to find relevant information.

The product also makes it possible for users to export reports in a variety of formats, including HTML with Office support, PDF, XML, Excel, text or an image.

We were also able to use a variety of security models to make sure users saw only the information they had permission to see. These models include applying user security to the final report and database-level security that returns only permitted data based on user information.

Report Management

In addition to the products handy interactive tools for accessing and analyzing reports, we liked the Web-based interface for SQL Server 2000 Reporting Services, which provides nice tools for enabling users to organize and manage the reports that they regularly access.

SQL Server 2000 Reporting Services makes it possible for managers in addition to the report creators to have a great deal of control over how reports are distributed, accessed and stored.

For example, we could define a number of properties for each report, including its security rights; use report snapshots to create a history; see how or if the report used cached data; and link reports that use the same data but have different rights settings.

SQL Server 2000 Reporting Services includes an effective subscription model, which makes it possible for specific users to receive updated report snapshots based on a number of criteria, including simple schedules, refreshes or specific data parameters.

Labs Director Jim Rapoza can be reached at jim_rapoza@ziffdavis.com.

Jim Rapoza, Chief Technology Analyst, eWEEK.For nearly fifteen years, Jim Rapoza has evaluated products and technologies in almost every technology category for eWEEK. Mr RapozaÔÇÖs current technology focus is on all categories of emerging information technology though he continues to focus on core technology areas that include: content management systems, portal applications, Web publishing tools and security. Mr. Rapoza has coordinated several evaluations at enterprise organizations, including USA Today and The Prudential, to measure the capability of products and services under real-world conditions and against real-world criteria. Jim Rapoza's award-winning weekly column, Tech Directions, delves into all areas of technologies and the challenges of managing and deploying technology today.

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