What is new since the official launch of MS Fabric
In May of this year, Microsoft Fabric made its debut in preview. At the initial unveiling, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella hailed Fabric as the most significant new data product since the SQL server. Fast forward to the Ignite conference on November 15, 2023, and Microsoft has officially launched Fabric into General Availability. In this blog post, we will begin by providing a short overview of Fabric’s core value statements by discussing four pillars. Subsequently, we will look into the new additions in the last six months since its preview release such as Microsoft Copilot and Mirroring. Following, this blogpost looks into governance and MS learning and tries to answer the question: “What with Microsoft Synapse, will Fabric replace the relatively new analytics service?”
Four pillars of Microsoft Fabric
To begin this blogpost, a small recap what Fabric is about. Microsoft Fabric is an all-in-one data analytics platform that combines already existing platforms (like Azure Synapse Analytics, Microsoft Power BI and Azure Data Factory) into one platform. The goal of Microsoft with Microsoft Fabric is to create a single software as a service platform (SaaS) that is user-friendly for both data professionals and organizations. In other words, Fabric wants to be the complete analytics platform, this is the first of four ‘pillars’ (or value statements) where Fabric stands for.
The second pillar is Lake centric and open, this means that every compute engine (including Spark, T-SQL, KQL, and Analysis Services) uses a unified storage solution (Onelake) and the data is stored in the same standardized format (Delta), creating one central location where all your data resides.
The third pillar is AI powered, Fabric tries to include AI solutions in every layer of Fabric, launching the Copilot functionality which is addressed later in this blogpost.
A fourth and final pillar is that Fabric is a platform accessible for every business user. A specific example is that Fabric is using Direct Lake mode which allows users to create a real time connection from your data to your reports in Power BI, followed by a connection to Office 365 applications like Excel, Outlook and Teams.
Following the Fabric launch, Microsoft Copilot is now available to the public in its preview stage. Although certain features are currently accessible, the copilot’s full deployment will unfold across various stages.
The Copilot will enable users to use conversational language for code generation, Power BI report building, data pipeline development and the creation of AI and machine learning models as well as other data-driven products. For now, Copilot is only enabled within Power BI. Think about the already existing AI visuals, such as Q&A.
The Copilot can easily make reports when you ingest data. It creates possible measures, calculated tables, and visuals. If you already built a report, the Copilot also summarizes reports in a single dashboard. Microsoft also announced a future update where DAX expressions can be written using Copilot. To explore the capabilities of Copilot, users must have either Power BI Premium or a Fabric license. To make it work at the tenant level, the tenant administrator must activated the Copilot feature. In the Power BI admin portal. If “Enable Copilot” is an available option, the Copilot is accessible.
A second new feature announced with the GA of Fabric is mirroring. Mirroring is a way to add and manage existing cloud data warehouses and databases in Fabric’s Synapse Data Warehouse system. Microsoft’s definition of mirroring is the following: Mirroring replicates a snapshot of the external database to OneLake in Delta tables and keeps the replica synced in ‘near real time’.
Once the source database is attached, features like shortcuts, Direct Lake mode in Power BI, and the universal security model work instantly.
From OneLake, users can create shortcuts to allow other Fabric workloads – connectors, data engineering, building AI models, data warehousing – to use the data without moving or duplicating it again.
Expansion Direct Lake mode
We already talked about the Copilot in Power BI but that is not the only new thing. In May Direct Lake mode in Power BI was announced, now it is generally available. On top Microsoft made an expansion to Direct Lake mode to support Power BI semantic models on Fabric Warehouses. Direct Lake mode can now load Delta files directly from OneLake without having to import or duplicate the data, which makes it very fast without moving or duplicating data.
Explore and DAX Query view
Another new feature in Power BI is called Explore that will enable anyone to quickly familiarize themselves with a new semantic model. Explore can be used to learn about a new semantic model before building a report, or a business user could answer a specific question they have without building an entire report. Another functionality in Power BI that is available in public preview is DAX query view, DAX queries help the user quickly explore and analyze your semantic model.
MS Fabric is a complete Software as a service platform, so governance and data protection also need to be included in Fabric. In September 2021, MS launched Purview. Microsoft Purview provides organizations with a platform for governing and securing data across multiple platforms. Fabric integrated Purview already within the preview version but adds new features such as protection sensitivity labels (the same labels as in Office 365) and audit logs to capture user and system operations.
The central point for overseeing governance and security is referred to as “the portal”. Through this central hub, users can reach various solutions related to data governance, security, and compliance. Microsoft Purview portal has undergone a redesign aimed at enhancing its ease of use and overall efficiency.
There will be a new exam and certificate available for Fabric: “DP600-Microsoft Certified: Fabric Analytics Engineer Associate”. The exam covers the following subjects: scenarios using Microsoft Fabric, like implementing lake houses, data warehouses, and real-time analytics solutions.
What with Microsoft Synapse?
A commonly asked question is: What’s the path forward for Synapse? Microsoft announced the following: “Customers can continue to deploy, operate, and expand the PaaS offering of Azure Synapse Analytics. Rest assured, should these plans change, Microsoft will provide you with advanced notice”. Nevertheless, it’s noteworthy that Microsoft’s communications about Synapse (not that) subtly guide users toward exploring MS Fabric. This strategic nudging stems from the fact that, while Microsoft will continue investing in and updating Synapse, Fabric is still undergoing refinement. For now, will Fabric completely replace Synapse? In my opinion; no, not at this time.
Still new kid on the block, Microsoft Fabric, officially launched on November 15, introduces innovative features such as mirroring and Copilot. Mirroring aligns with the platform’s lake-centric and open pillar, while Copilot aligns with its AI-focused pillar. The expansion of direct lake mode aligns with the third pillar, accessibility for every business user. These new additions collectively reinforce Microsoft’s commitment to establishing Fabric as a complete analytics platform.
Data & analytics consultant @ Lytix