Microsoft has just announced the release of Microsoft Fabric and Copilot for Power BI. Fabric's flexible data architecture and Copilot's artificial intelligence capabilities promise to change the experience for Power BI users. However, beyond the hype, what will be the real impact of Microsoft Fabric for Power BI users?
Last Tuesday, May 23, Microsoft introduced two new capabilities for Power BI: Microsoft Fabric and Copilot.
Microsoft Fabric is Microsoft's proposal to create a flexible data architecture around Power BI. Copilot provides Power BI users with advanced artificial intelligence capabilities based on machine learning and natural language processing (NLP).
Microsoft Fabric and Copilot in context
Both Microsoft Fabric and Copilot aim to address the urgent need for organizations to transform their data into value.
The years go by and Big Data is still not all that it first promised to be. The amount of data generated by companies is increasing every year and yet, according to a recent IBM study, 90% of this data is never successfully used for any strategic purpose.
In other words, more data does not mean more value or business intelligence.
Microsoft aims to solve these issues with Microsoft Fabric, a "human-centric, end-to-end analytics product that brings together all of an organization's data and analytics in one place."
Copilot's arrival in Power BI should come as a surprise to no one. The release of ChatGPT put large multi-modal artificial intelligence models based on natural language processing (NLP) in the spotlight.
Since then, the vast majority of technology vendors are developing and integrating 'their own versions of ChatGPT' into their platforms and software and that is precisely what Microsoft has done with Copilot.
Beyond casuistry, Microsoft Fabric and Copilot have one thing in common: both capabilities promise to change the Power BI user experience.
What is Microsoft Fabric?
Microsoft Fabric promises to consolidate itself as an all-in analytical environment: data integration (Data Factory), data engineering (Synapse Data Engineering), data warehouse (Synapse Data Warehouse), data science (Synapse Data Science) and BI analytics (Power BI).
The integration of all the disciplines linked to the world of data in a single environment goes beyond providing flexibility, providing the ultimate opportunity for full collaboration between data engineers, data scientists, data analysts and business users. Greater cohesion between tools can help the entire organization work together to achieve the same goal: transforming data into business value and consolidating, this time for real, a data-driven culture that allows corporations to take advantage of the data they generate, or at least a greater percentage of it.
What does Microsoft Fabric include?
Microsoft Fabric unifies data collection, data integration, data engineering, data science and real-time analytics into a single SaaS solution centralized in a data lake.
- Data Factory (currently in preview): enables integration of hybrid and multicloud data sets to unlock their value.
- Synapse Data Engineering (currently in preview): provides data engineers with a high-performance Spark platform that fosters collaborative work.
- Synapse Data Warehouse (currently in preview): provides industry-leading SQL performance and scale and integrates data engineering, data warehousing and BI analytics in one place.
- Synapse Data Science (currently in preview): enables data scientists to work together with data engineers and BI analysts to create artificial intelligence models.
- Synapse Real-Time Analytics (currently in preview): allows you to explore and analyze data from multiple sources in real time.
- OneLake (currently in preview): comprehensive data lake offered as software as a service (SaaS).
On the other hand, Microsoft is working on Data Activator, a real-time data change detection system.
- Data Activator (currently in private preview): allows users to create a discovery system that monitors data analysis and promotes timely automated and human actions across the organization.
All data in a single data lake: What is OneLake?
Microsoft has taken advantage of the Microsoft Fabric announcement to launch two other new concepts: OneLake and Direct Lake. As mentioned above, Microsoft Fabric is a SaaS platform centralized in a data lake.
OneLake is, as the name suggests, Microsoft's approach to integrating all data lakes into one, in the same way that OneDrive stores all files in one place. In fact, Microsoft describes OneLake as "A data lake that works as smoothly as OneDrive".
According to Microsoft, OneLake avoids companies' dependence on one vendor, reduces the need for data duplication, and facilitates data governance and data exploration: "OneLake Data Hub enables everyone in the organization to centrally discover and explore the data they have that is relevant to their business domain, take new actions or build on those initiated by others."
On the other hand, Microsoft has also introduced "Direct Lake".
Direct Lake is a new model for loading data into Power BI. According to Microsoft, Direct Lake allows data from the data lake, now OneLake, to be loaded directly into the Power BI engine, avoiding data movement.
Microsoft Fabric beyond the hype: How will Microsoft Fabric affect Power BI users?
As a new solution that promises to transform the way so many profiles work, it is normal that Microsoft users are overwhelmed with so much information and wondering how the new ecosystem will affect their work.
Since the announcement of Microsoft Fabric, especially data analysts in Power BI, are wondering if they will have to start working with Synapse Data Engineering, Synapse Data Science or the other solutions that Microsoft Fabric includes.
The answer is simple: they won't.
Beyond the hype, Microsoft Fabric is simply the marriage of Synapse and Power BI. Microsoft Fabric unifies the different types of Synapse workloads with the advantages of the Power BI SaaS platform, which, in practice, translates into a more coherent, integrated environment with better usability for all the profiles involved.
Power BI will continue to work as it does today, but Power BI Premium users will have access to new possibilities for data science, data engineering, etc.
This doesn't mean that data analysts and Power BI developers have to start working with Synapse Data Warehouse if they don't need it. In a similar way to what it did with Office 365, Microsoft intends to integrate all of its data solutions into one: Fabric.
In Office 365, users who need a spreadsheet go to Excel. Users who need to make a presentation come to PowerPoint and those who need to create a document come to Word. The same thing will happen in Microsoft Fabric.
In short, users working in Power BI will continue to work in Power BI as before. They will simply have access to new platforms through the Microsoft Fabric suite.
Copilot: new AI capabilities for Power BI
Finally, Microsoft unveiled Copilot, the new artificial intelligence framework for Power BI.
Copilot is, quite simply, Power BI's large, natural language processing-based multimodal artificial intelligence model. We could call it the ChatGPT —or the DALL-E— of Power BI.
With the introduction of Copilot to Power BI, users will be able to ask questions about data and create visuals and DAX measures by giving a short description of what they want.
In the Copilot presentation video, we see that Copilot acts in a similar way to ChatGPT, using a conversational chat interface. In addition, the video gives us a glimpse of some of Copilot's capabilities.
For example, it shows us how, by giving a short description of what the user wants to see in the report,
"add to my model a table of the top 50 customers in North America by total sales"
the algorithm automatically creates the DAX code needed to create measures and tables.
In addition, Copilot also optimizes data exploration by generating automatic summaries of data-related information.
In short, Power BI users have nothing to worry about. The platform will continue to work as it does now, although it will be better integrated with Microsoft's other data tools.
Beyond introducing some new capabilities and optimizing some existing ones, Microsoft Fabric promises to be what Microsoft said Azure Synpase would be.