The SSDT Evolution

When you are developing for the Microsoft Business Intelligence stack, you always needed Visual Studio for your business intelligence (SSIS, SSAS & SSRS) projects. If you have a full blown Visual Studio installation, you needed the BI templates; if you didn’t have Visual Studio (or the right version), you would install a shell that could only be used to develop BI projects.

So far so good, until the notorious marketing department of Microsoft decided to fiddle with the names of said software product. Over 2 years ago, I wrote the blog post SQL 2014 CTP1, where is my BIDS? – one of my most popular posts I might add – where I tried to explain the confusion of yet another name change and also point out how you could get the software. At that point in time – the CTP release of SQL Server 2014 – you had to download the software separately (it was no longer part of the SQL Server set-up) and you had to install it as “a new instance”. Anyway, in this blog post I’ll revisit the subject since there is again (some sort of) a name change.

What I think the Microsoft Marketing department looks like
What I think the Microsoft Marketing department looks like

Let’s give an overview of the SSDT evolution:

  • BIDS or Business Intelligence Development Studio. The most non-confusing name of the bunch. This piece of software was delivered to you when you installed SQL Server 2005, SQL Server 2008 or SQL Server 2008 R2.
  • SSDT or SQL Server Data Tools. Introduced with SQL Server 2012. However, you have a tool with the same name for creating database projects, which you had to download and install separately (don’t get me started on which names this tool had before. Mildly schizophrenic to say the least.) This development environment uses the Visual Studio 2010 shell and you use it to build BI solutions solely for SQL Server 2012. So two tools with the same name. One for database projects, one for BI projects. One to download, one that came with the SQL Server install media. Enter confusion. Read more about it on the blog of Jamie Thomson (blog | twitter): More SSDT naming confusion. Also read his blog posts about the database project part of SSDT, they are mighty interesting.
  • SSDT-BI or SQL Server Data Tools – Business Intelligence. In an effort to swiftly put a stop to all this confusion, SSDT-BI was released with Visual Studio 2012. It’s basically still BIDS – or SSDT from the SQL Server installation media – but now with BI appended to make its purpose more clear. This environment uses the Visual Studio 2012 shell obviously, but is still used to create BI solutions for SQL Server 2012. Great deal of fun when you have two developers on the same project: one with SSDT (Visual Studio 2010) and one with SSDT-BI (Visual Studio 2012). In SQL Server 2014, you also had SSDT-BI as a separate download but for Visual Studio 2013.
  • SSDT or SQL Server Data Tools. And we’re back in 2012. But this time, there are no two separate products but rather two products combined into one. This release combines the BI templates with the database projects part. And it’s still a separate download. At the moment of writing, only SSIS is supported however, but since it is still in preview you can expect this to change quickly. SSRS and SSAS will be added soon I hope. More information can be found here.

To be honest, I think the latest change is great since it has the least amount of confusion. There is now only one installer and you have everything you need. Combine this with the fact that in the future you would only need one version of Visual Studio to manage different versions of SQL Server (which has been announced, but not released yet) and we can admit that Microsoft has finally got it right. At least for the BI development environment that is.

Koen Verbeeck

Koen Verbeeck is a Microsoft Business Intelligence consultant at AE, helping clients to get insight in their data. Koen has a comprehensive knowledge of the SQL Server BI stack, with a particular love for Integration Services. He's also a speaker at various conferences.

6 thoughts to “The SSDT Evolution”

  1. Great post, Koen. Thanks for sharing!
    … but, I won’t believe they have it “right” until they bring back colors to the SSIS designer so you can tell disabled boxes from enabled ones! And wow, the limitations here. You have to have Windows 8+ and VS 2015? The SSDT for VS 2013 was not backwards compatible for SSIS in Sql 2008R2 or 2012… is this version?

    If that’s what the marketing dept looks like, what does the VS architecture team look like? They seem to always forget the BI developers when building the next gen VS

    1. The problem with Visual Studio and SQL Server was that both had different release cycles. Now that SSDT is a separate download this will most likely improve in the future.
      They are working on backwards compatibility though, so that’s coming in the near future!

      Regarding disabled vs enabled: you are absolutely right that it is hard to see. However, I believe you can install custom themes in Visual Studio so that it looks like VS 2010 where this was less an issue.

      1. If you find these magical “themes” … let me know. I looked for them once, but all I found was a bit about building your own and … well, I couldn’t figure out which color was controlling the disabled/enabled color … not that I expended much time on it. It is frustrating when things that used to work out-of-the-box, suddenly don’t!

  2. Personally I think the notion that they even *have* to come up with a name is dumb. Why do they insist on giving a name something that doesn’t need a name? When you install SSDT, SSDT-BI, BIDS etc.. all you’re basically installing is an instance of Visual Studio with some project types (SSIS, SSAS, SSRS, SQL Server) in it. That’s no different from installing Visual Studio with the C# project type. I never liked the name BIDS either, for exactly the same reason.

    Call it what it is. Its Visual Studio. Calling it something else just for people who develop using SQL Server technologies is patronizing. We’re all developers, why not treat us all the same?

    As ever Microsoft just treat SQL Server developers as second class citizens:

  3. You’re right Jamie, but I can imagine that in 2005, putting “Visual Studio” as part of the SQL Server set-up might have been confusing to some people. I’ve seen clients turn white once I mentioned they need Visual Studio to develop their BI solutions. “Relax, relax, it’s a free version of Visual Studio…”

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