For years, I’ve carried around with me many different high-level data flow diagrams of what and end-to-end BI solution using the Microsoft stack would look like. Come to think of it, I was able to use essentially the same diagram in SQL Server 2005 and SQL Server 2008. Some of the rendering tools changed like Proclarity, PerformancePoint and SharePoint added more BI features. But there was always SSRS, SSIS and SSAS, so I would use something like this below:
When SQL Server 2008 R2 came to market and introduced PowerPivot, I still stuck with this general architecture because PP was still on the uptake / heavy-lift portion of the curve and the majority of production-ready BI solutions were using SSAS for the semantic modeling and cube building.
SQL Server 2012 has changed the game enough such that I’ve started a new data flow diagram in Visio, albeit not as detailed or fancy as the one that I show above. A big reason for that is (1) I just created this new diagram this week! And (2) it has to evolve over time. As SQL Server 2012 BI solutions using Tabular Model databases and techniques becomes more mature and builds up a larger set of best practices and lessons-learned, then I will update these diagrams and share them here on my blog as well as over at SQL Server Pro Mag.
Now that SQL Server 2012 fully embeds and supports columnar compression through the Vertipaq engine in SSAS, you can build semantic models with Visual Studio or with PowerPivot. To use the Power View visualizations such as I am depicting in this diagram, you will need to have a BI Semantic Model, so I’m now shifting to this guidance in many cases. Using PowerPivot for data modeling, IMO, is very advantageous because it expands the data analyst community to Excel users and data experts and allows for easy trail-and-error style of data modeling whereby Excel becomes the design surface to test your models through Pivot reports.