Monday, June 20, 2011

What to use for reporting - .NET or SSRS : Application Development Framework / Report Server ?

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One quality that has always helped me in my career till date is that when I come across something technical that I do not know / understand, instantly a huge amount of curiosity gets created in my mind. This has been a virtue / trait since the time I was in my academics. Due to this curiosity, our mind generates lots of questions, and this eventually makes us learn a lot as we try to find answer to those questions. With growing maturity and experience in the industry, we start taking many fundamental level things as granted and ignoring things that we do not know or understand. Our cup of mind becomes so full with the acquired knowledge, that we do not agree to empty this cup for a while to draw another cup of knowledge into the bucket of our brain. For example DBAs would want to ignore BI, BI folks would ignore Application Design Patterns, Application folks would ignore databases, still most professionals want to be a Solution Architect !! One thing that I myself struggle after approximately a journey of a decade in the IT industry, is how to sustain myself to continue thinking like a fresher or even a child who is full of curiosity and keep learning more and more everyday. One fresh member in my team asked me this question about reporting, and her curiosity made me author this post.

Though a very simple question, but the rationale behind this can be very interesting and debatable. In my opinion, you firstly need to figure out if you just intend to display data on a screen or you intend to report data. Though it might sound similar, there is a difference. If you just intend to display data, and surrounding it there would be GUI where user can manipulate data, application frameworks like .NET are best suited. And a huge .NET community would already favor using .NET for reporting any data. The main interest would be in why we should NOT use .NET for reporting data ? Though not a complete list, below are a few reasons in my viewpoint for the same:

1) SSRS Charts, Graphs, Gauges is a very unique capability that is not available with almost any other microsoft tools, apart from the ones like Excel. Visualizations are the ideal platform for reporting data, if the intention of reporting is analysis. Does .NET provide equally rich graphing / charting capabilities?

2) Using .NET one would have to hook into SMTP APIs and program to simulate the functionality of subscriptions, which is readily available with SSRS server.

3) From an architecture design perspective, if you want to follow a component model, you decouple report design from application UI as both are two different elements. It the same philosophy with which .NET came with web pages (.aspx) and code-behind files (.vb / .cs) to decouple UI and application logic. In the similar way report logic needs to be hosted and managed in its own layers.

4) SSRS reports introduces a thorough architecture that can be easily integrated and extended. You can collect SSRS reports output and still display in Sharepoint / .NET, and keep your report server sufficiently decoupled.

5) Finally, just give a thought to how would you simulate functionality of snapshots and other kind of reporting available in SSRS? You might be able to re-invent the wheel, but is it really worth the effort?

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