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How to securely harness the power of microsoft bi

A few years ago the world seemed set on moving their data into the cloud. Yet, serious security concerns for ‘’big players’’ that house sensitive data have tilted the scales back in the on server favour.

On premise Microsoft Power BI offers organisations with complex data requirements a real opportunity to harness the power of big data.

It also addresses the safety and security concerns that come with sharing information with the organisation or internet wide.

Ultimately, Power BI can help an organisation view their data in handy, easy to read format.

In addition to this, if implemented successfully with an on server database, the data can be used to push a business forward. All while maintaining a safe distance between the world wide web and any sensitive information.

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Data security in the cloud

From the smaller guys to the big players like LinkedIn, data security is now a hot topic. LinkedIn, for example, suffered a huge data breach in 2016 with a whopping 167 million email addresses and passwords being exposed to hackers.

It’s the era of General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and tightening data protection laws around the world. How you can be entirely sure that the data you transfer to and from the cloud is safe?

Using cloud based reporting tools may offer a solution. Some will require you to place your entire database within the cloud. While others will simply want access to your network.

Either way you need to think long and hard about the implications of opening up your most sensitive information to the cloud.

Once your data is in the cloud, there’s no guarantee that you know exactly where that data is or who can get access to it. For some, that’s an acceptable risk. For others, particularly those that hold sensitive information (such as the medical sector) it’s a risk they are unwilling to take.

After all, every company is vulnerable to being targeted. Without knowing where your data is, or who is accessing it, it’s hard to say for sure whether it’s safe.

Is your data safe?

Huge breaches (such as LinkedIn case) are becoming commonplace. So it’s no surprise that large organisations with sensitive data are looking again at where they store their information.

Even in the event that their data remains on their own servers with cloud analysis tools, serious questions are being raised as to the security of cloud based tools.

Especially given they often have an open line straight into a secure on premise network. After all, what’s the point in housing your data securely if the people you let analyse it don’t treat your security with the same level of care and attention?

Microsoft is a huge cloud fan, so why do they offer on premise?

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Microsoft have moved the vast majority of their software into the cloud in recent years. So it seems at odds with their current strategy to offer on premise data analysis tool.

The truth is even their power BI started out as a cloud based software. In fact, on premise variant aside, it still is investing heavily in the cloud. Why? The answer is simple. The cloud is cheap, everywhere and in general much easier to set up and maintain.

Microsoft Cloud BI, for example, offers low entry costs and an easy way to analyse your data. Provided you have it set up and ready to access. Let’s set the record straight though. There is nothing particularly wrong with any Cloud BI other than the security worry. In fact, the basic tool kit offered is the same on premise as it is in the cloud version.

Cloud BI, along with several other market alternatives is actually a great tool for small to medium sized organisations with low level data security requirements. If you’re a trucking company, or an online store, there’s no reason you can’t use power BI to push your business forward.

Cloud BI, risks vs benefits

But there is a slight twist. All that power comes with the concession and that is… You need to open up your network and data to the cloud in order to publish or build your reports.

To some, an open connection to an external piece of cloud software is too big of a risk to take. In FinTech organisations, for example, data security is top of the agenda. So most IT directors worth their salt will maintain that if they are to be held liable for an organisations data security, then they must control who accesses their network and where that data is housed.

Unfortunately that means publishing reports to the cloud is often a step too far. By its very nature the cloud is ambiguous as to where and who is actually is having access to it.

For this reason, Microsoft launched on premise Power BI. A server based version of their powerful cloud data analysis tool. With it you get all the features that make Cloud BI great but without the need to use the cloud to share reports or house the data, instead allowing you to publish them on your own network.

In fact, there is only one real downside to Microsoft’s on premise solution, it’s the price, which is considerable (more on that later).

Harness the power of your data safely without compromising your toolkit

Microsoft has openly stated that it is committed to giving on premise the same great functionality as its cloud sibling. Whilst competitors have shunned on premise model, Microsoft ticks a huge box for anyone looking for an on server data analysis tool. Simply because it doesn’t hinder the on premise versions reporting power or capability.

With threats to cloud computing growing, on premise Microsoft Power BI not only keeps clients’ data safe, it also gives you the opportunity to create the same powerful reports that make it super easy to understand your business at a glance as the cloud does.

So we’ve established on premise isn’t any worse than its cloud rivals.

The next logical question is, can being on premise actually make Power BI an even better tool?

It’s time to cut through the noise and strip back the clutter.

In this blog we’ll clearly explain the benefits of on premises Microsoft Power BI versus its generic cloud alternatives.

Better the server that you know, than the server you don’t.

We’re guessing that your businesses data security is pretty important to you. We know it is to us.

As we’ve mentioned, any company’s data is vulnerable to being targeted. Whether you’re a small start-up, international conglomerate or somewhere in between. It doesn’t really matter whether your data is on premise or in the cloud. If a hacker wants to target you, they will.

Having your data or reporting on your own servers doesn’t reduce your risk of being targeted. However, it means that in the event that you’re targeted, your response is largely up to you.

Don’t be fooled though. Simply having your own server doesn’t make you more secure. You need to protect that server. But if you do, then you have knowledge on your side. You know exactly who can view your data/reports. You know exactly what security measures you have in place.

Cloud isn’t the solution to everything

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With a cloud server you can never truly be sure, even if their shiny website says they’re based under an impenetrable mountain.

In recent years large organisations have learnt this lesson the hard way. With companies like wrestling organisation WWE coming under attack despite their belief that their data was secure. In fact, despite reassurances over 3 million customers’ details were leaked from their “secure” cloud servers, including residential addresses, earnings and ethnicity.

The moral of the story is simple. The cloud services, storage related or not, aren’t always as secure as sector giants make out. Let’s look at a few of the reasons why:

Security risks

  • Cloud providers load both application program interfaces and user interfaces. This means that clients are able to manage their services. It also means that they are not necessarily able to protect against attempts to circumvent access to them or how they operate.

Cloud services are often multi-tenanted

  • This means that your information will be on the same servers, protected by the same security as up to 100 other clients. So, if a hacker is able to break through one client’s defences, your data is at a heightened risk to theft.

Detecting intrusion

  • It may come as a surprise that much data theft comes from within a business or organisation. This poses another problem with cloud BI. The consensus amongst security experts is that it’s far harder to detect unauthorised intrusion into a cloud system than it is to a private network. So, if the problem is from within your business, a cloud-based system will make it difficult to detect this.

Don’t take our word for it

  • Want to check out some further reading on what cloud providers don’t want you to know? Read this chilling article from Bob Violino to find out more.

On premise data analysis is a long term investment that can pay off

Every business has a budget. But, sometimes spending more up front means saving more in the long run.

It’s true, the initial investment in on premises reporting is higher. Especially if your systems aren’t up to scratch. Worried about counting the pennies and tightening the purse strings? Then you’ll probably be interested to know that the on-going investment in on premises tools is actually lower once you’ve got your ship in top shape.

By the ninth year, the capital expenditure costs of investing in on premises reporting will be roughly the same as the operating expenditure that your company will have spent (and will continue to spend) on maintaining a cloud infrastructure.

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In short, on premise tools seem to cost more at first. Worth remembering that you’re really just buying the tech that you would otherwise need to rent in the cloud. Are you serious about reporting now? Then there’s a good chance you will still be doing it in nine years time.

The cloud reporting may be appealing due to the plug-and-play implementation coupled with lower upfront costs for sure. But in the long run on premises BI does pay off. Let’s say you wouldn’t be reading this blog if you weren’t in this for the long term.

When you control all the pieces, your reports get better

One of the greatest benefits of on premises Power BI is the ability to control both your data and reports within your own firewall.

Many popular third-party analysis apps and software are suitable for some companies. But, as businesses often restrict the level of data they pass up to the cloud to limit the risk of a leak, the reports they generate sometimes don’t provide the insights required to improve the efficiency of a business.

Imagine you want to produce a report on customer billing. If your data analysis tool is in the cloud, you might wish to anonymise your data before sending it to the tool (via the internet) for analysis in order to protect the client. This means that once you’ve spotted a problem, it’s quite hard to work your way back down the chain to find the customers you need to work on.

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Power BI on Premise

With on premise Power Bi, you don’t need to annonymise your data because it never leaves your safe and secure network. You also don’t need to worry about the rabbit hole that is third parties accessing a client’s private data and what you need to tell the client under the new GDPR regulations.

This means that with on premise you can make your reports go further and have a greater impact upon your business by allowing you to dig deep with every piece of data at hand.

By hooking your unfiltered data up to Power Bi, it’s not only easier to understand your data, it’s easier to visualise that data and work back through it too. This means you can see your business at a glance, helping you drive efficiency and improvements without much effort.

So how did we use on premise Microsoft Power BI to build epic reports?

Here at Report Central, we stumbled on Microsoft Power Bi after using several other cloud reporting tools like Tableau and Google Data Studio. That’s right, we’re recent converts to the on premise data storage and reporting cause.

With the introduction of GDPR, we worked with a financial services client to find a suitable secure way to pull together their multiple data sets into one secure reporting suite. Power BI was by far the winning option.

Now at this point you’d expect me to launch into a technical spiel about how we built the most beautiful reports ever known to man. However, I won’t because that wasn’t the first task.

The first step was actually to work with our clients IT department.  First, we needed to establish virtual desktops on their network for our team. We would then remote onto these desktops using Citrix licences from our offices.

This meant that any of the work we did remained on their network at all times. With a secure connection to their network established we undertook a number of projects to cleanse their data and then translate it into powerful reports that could transform their business.

This is how we did it:

Step 1:

  • Build a great SQL database: The client primarily used two systems to handle their financial transactions. One was relatively modern and well indexed. But the second (and more predominant of the two) was a legacy software built in the early 00’s which had evolved over time. As the client was a group, it actually had multiple versions of this software running at any one time.
  • Our first task then was to collect all of this data from all nine of their active software versions. Pulling it into a bespoke SQL database that refreshed every five minutes, looking for duplicates and maintaining single records across all the software portals. Once this was built, we indexed the data according to industry best practices.

Step 2:

  • Create specific views for each report: With the organisations multiple data sources pulling into one on server indexed SQL database, we created dedicated views for different departments (e.g. finance & sales). These views allowed each department to access only the data they needed.

Step 3:

  • Build and publish the reports: We then built custom Power BI reports for each department. Pulling from their view in real time and publishing them on the internal intranet with restricted access.

You’ll notice from the above that building the report is only one part of the puzzle. In fact with reporting the biggest challenge is often organising and maintaining the integrity of the data at hand. This is a challenge even those using cloud analysis tools face.  It certainly represents a significant portion of the upfront development costs of any large scale-reporting project.

With this client for example, before we could built them a new SQL database, we had to start from scratch. Their systems were that poorly designed that the data they housed could not be used for cloud reporting other than to pull information manually and upload it.

That’s why when considering which reporting tool to use, it’s important to first understand where your data will be housed and the condition that it’s in.

Your next steps – keep your data protected & go build some awesome reports


Whether you’re going to go on premise or in the cloud, it’s important that you keep your data safe and secure.

Perhaps the data you hold is basic. Therefore, the cloud is ok. But maybe it’s not and you need something a little bit more secure in order to push your business forward.

Hopefully this blog post will inspire you to think a little more about how you’re going to build your new reporting suite. But above all it’s time to give it a go yourself and see how big data can improve your business.

If you want to find out more about how we can help with both your cloud and on premise reporting then get in touch with the Report Central Team today.

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