Microsoft's Power BI Desktop Makes Quick Work Out of Big Datasets

The updated desktop client makes working with large datasets less of a waiting game for Power BI Premium customers.

Power BI

Although somewhat overshadowed by the many cloud-focused announcements at this year's Build developer conference, the Power BI group at Microsoft also unveiled some major new updates to the desktop client used to create reports on the cloud-enabled business intelligence and data analytics platform.

In the May 2018 update of Power BI Desktop, Microsoft introduced an incremental refresh feature that enables the software and its users to work better with large datasets stored in Power BI Premium. Currently in beta, the feature offers controls and filters that allow users to set ranges and how long data is stored, among several other options.

"You can define the refresh policy in Power BI Desktop to determine how data is incrementally refreshed when published to the Power BI service," explained Amanda Cofsky, a Power BI program manager at Microsoft, in a blog post. "Refreshes are faster, more efficient and more reliable because only the new data needs to be refreshed."

Initially, users may not notice an improvement in performance since historical data must be loaded first, cautioned Cofsky. Subsequent refreshes will be faster after this early step, she added.

In terms of Power BI's reporting capabilities, Microsoft has added a new conditional-formatting feature that allows users to format a column using colors derived from a different field for richer data mashups. In addition, the May 2018 update includes a number of enhancements that offer users more flexibility in how they present data in their reports, including the ability to synchronize multiple slicers. Also new are enhanced Drillthrough filtering capabilities and two new custom visualizations.

Overall, Power BI can now collect more types of data courtesy of new beta connectors for Microsoft's Common Data Service for Apps and Azure KustoDB, an interactive big data analytics platform. Meanwhile, the Google BigQuery and Azure HDInsight connectors are now generally available and the existing From Web connector, which is used to scrape data from HTML tables, can now extract any type of HTML, Cofsky added. Other enhancements were made to the Adobe Analytics, OLE DB and SAP BW (Business Warehouse) connectors.

The May 2018 version of Power BI Desktop comes on the heels of a smattering of new updates to the Power BI cloud service.

Audit logs are now enabled by default. Previously, users were required to turn on the feature using the admin portal.

When used in personal mode, Power BI Gateway now supports custom data connectors. Personal mode enables users to install and run the gateway on their own PC and connect to local data sources.

Finally, Microsoft has added a Power BI GDPR whitepaper to its online collection of data protection resources. GDPR, short for the European Union's General Data Protection Regulation, is a set of stringent new data privacy rules that goes into effect on May 25. The document "provides high-level guidance on the different options you have in configuring Power BI to meet the requirements of this law across your organization," stated Power BI Program Manager Nikhil Gaekwad in a May 9 announcement.

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez is a contributor to eWEEK and the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Previously, he served as a managing editor for the network of...