As a leading technology guru, Microsoft has given the world the best of technologies to accelerate their businesses. A popular one amongst the many, Microsoft SQL Server offers multiple tools for effective data management and utilization. As its relational database engine, SQL Server along with its addon services handles a variety of aspects like business intelligence, data integration, analysis, and reporting.
The three value-added services, SQL Server Integration Services (SSIS), being one of them, are highly competent to augment the capability of SQL Server, to its finest, and are an integral part of Microsoft SQL Server. The other two are the SQL Server Analysis Services (SSAS) and SQL Server Reporting Services (SSRS). Each one of the three has its own significant service areas to offer and holds its own importance in the world of business intelligence.
In this article, let us have a look at SSIS and everything pertaining to its working, benefits, features, architecture, etc.
What Is SSIS?
“SQL Server Integration Services is a platform for building enterprise-level data integration and data transformations solutions. Use Integration Services to solve complex business problems by copying or downloading files, loading data warehouses, cleansing and mining data, and managing SQL Server objects and data.” – Microsoft
SSIS is an important component of the SQL Server family with which professionals can design and implement multiple workflows, modernizing the progression of data consolidation from disparate data sources. The main USP of SSIS is its competence to efficient data transformation and migration. Yes, a good knowledge of SQL Server is required and so are relevant SQL Server data tools. Microsoft’s SQL Server Management Studio is also integrated into SSIS for better management and monitoring.
While a data warehouse/data mart is being constructed, data must undergo Extraction, Transformation, Loading (ETL) from various data sources/files/systems. The ETL process is what forms the crux of the data warehousing aspect of SSIS.
Listed Below Are Certain Characteristics That Offer A Multi-view Of SSIS:
- Apt for building complex data integration packages/applications
- Executes a broad spread of data migration activities
- Quick and adaptable for effective ETL process
- Uses a huge variety of data sources like Excel files, XML, flat files, Oracle, DB2, SQL Server database, etc.
- Perfect for doing data organization and cleaning processes
- Strong, configurable, and simple to implement
- Automatic upkeep of SQL Server database and relevant update for multidimensional cube data
- Consists of graphical tools for workflow functions like FTP operations, email messaging, etc.
A Brief History About SSIS
It was all about ‘Data Transformation Services (DTS)’ earlier, a component of the SQL Server 7. After this, Microsoft came up with SSIS to replace DTS. SSIS came with Microsoft SQL Server 2005. DTS was a part of all versions of SSIS whereas SSIS is present in the standard, BI, and enterprise editions only.
Key Features Of SSIS
- Data cleansing and profiling for a better quality of data
- Smooth data integration from disparate data sources
- Seamless integration with other components of Microsoft SQL products
- Enriched studio environment and graphical tools/wizards
- Workflow functionalities like file transfer protocol etc.
- APIs for SSIS object modeling
- Efficient implementation of high-speed data connectivity/integration
- Packaged data source connectors
- Organized data mining query and lookup transformation
- Master and metadata management
How Does SSIS Work?
The commons sources that are utilized in the SSIS package implementation, for establishing connections between SSIS and the varied data sources are Source Assistant, ADO .NET source, Excel source, OLE DB source, FTP/File/SMO/Cache connection manager and Flat file source.
Components/Packages Of SSIS
A package is an organized collection of connections, control flow elements, data flow elements, event handlers, variables, parameters, and configurations, that you assemble using either the graphical design tools that SQL Server Integration Services provides, or build programmatically. – Microsoft
As essential blocks of coding and designing in SSIS, the three major components/packages in SSIS are the
- SSIS Designer – An integrated element of the BI Studio
- Import and Export Wizard – Transferring data from source to destination
- SSIS API programming – Coding of SSIS packages with any programming language
Of the three, the most significant one is the SSIS Designer, which further includes the following components:
- Control Flow
Considered to the brain behind SSIS, it comprises workflows, tasks, containers, structure, and preference restrictions that are performed during execution. It assists in arranging the order of execution for all involved components.
- Data Flow
Considered the heart of SSIS, it extracts and transforms data from disparate sources, transforms it, and carries it forward to its relevant destination/server’s memory. There are certain tasks that can execute without data flow, with the help of database connections.
- Event Handler/Containers
Creates tasks as against event at actual runtime in the form of containers. Facilitates users declare variables and event handlers that lie in the scope of the relevant container. These containers could be a sequence container, For loop container, or Foreach loop container.
- Package Explorer
Offers a complete view of package components
- Connection Manager
Creates a link between the main data source and the package, connecting all defined components and data sources of the entire setup.
The SSIS Architecture can be represented as below:
SSIS developers will need certain additional tools installed on their devices to execute/install SSIS via routine SQL Server install.
SQL Server Data Tools (SSDT) is one such tool that is a lighter version of Microsoft Visual Studio and is mostly encountered while creating or testing SSIS packages. As you setup your SSIS development environment, it is vital to have the SSDT version of Visual Studio installed. SSDT utilizes the logic of multiple document interface (MDI) to open/close packages individually, open multiple ones, and use them as required.
Yet another addition to the toolset is SQL Server Management Studio (SSMS). It is widely used for testing deploying ETL processes that are created in the SSIS cycle. It may not be needed while creating the packages but at a later stage, it is an essential toolset.
SSIS Work Environment
There are certain important components for the SSIS work environment. Here is a glimpse of those:
- SSIS Toolbox
Contains available operational tools for either control flow or data flow
- Properties Window
Showcases the properties of the selected component
- SSIS Package
Shows the exact package being currently used
- Solution Explorer
Simple browsing of existing solutions and all files within
- Connection Manager
Shows the existing active connections
SSIS Integration Task List
The different tasks that can be configured in the control flow are:
- Analysis Services Processing Task (Processing of one or more objects at a time)
- Send Mail Task – Sending emails with results of package workflows
- XML Task – Working with XML files and merging multiple sources into a unified one
- Execute Package/Process Task (Execution of a package from another package or breaking down of complex packages)
- Execute SQL Task (Executing SQL statements from a package)
- Data Flow Task (ETL of data from disparate source with cleaning and modification of data)
- FTP Task (uploading/downloading of files with FTP)
- Script Task (Adding code for one or more tasks that are not a part of SSIS)
Why Use SSIS?
If you are wondering why is SSIS so popular amongst the Microsoft BI services family, the following reasons would be sharp enough to assure of its key benefits:
- Merging data from various data stores and loading of data to multiple destinations, in parallel, with great speed and effectiveness
- Versatile and flexible lessens the requirement of dedicated developers
- Seamless and tight integration with Microsoft family of products
- Cost-effective, robust error handling, and smart programming style with lesser code
- Offers business intelligence output with data transformation procedure
- Effective population of data warehouses and data marts
- Automation of data loading and other administrative functionalities
- Widely covered documentation and community support
- Real-time competencies with support for the distribution model
- Analyze, cleanse, load, transform, aggregate, merge, and extract data with ease
- Easy to configure, manage and handle
When To Use SSIS?
SSIS is of most use when
- Data from a variety of diverse data sources need to be integrated and analyzed
- There is a need to infuse business intelligence into the entire data transformation process
- You have different business workflows from which information is to be obtained by passing a different set of parameters
- You need to analyze popular data marts and data warehouses
- There is a need for automation of administrative responsibilities like backup and restore, copying SQL Server objects, loading integration packages, etc.
- You need to automate the maintenance of SQL Server database
How Easy Is Installation of SSIS?
There is a single step program for the installation of SSIS and its components. It is easy and well directed but you must ensure setting up of necessary hardware and software requirements as well as security considerations. You can install SSIS independently or along with an earlier version of the same
- Firstly, install Microsoft SQL Server if you don’t have it
- Have a look at the installation needed and ensure your device matches up to the expectations
- Have a dedicated server for ETL procedures
- Select additional components that are needed for your setup. For e.g., database engine, SSDT, integration services feature pack, Microsoft connector for SAP/Oracle/Teradata, etc.
SSIS – What Lies Ahead?
- SSIS DevOps Tools (SSIS Build, SSIS Deploy, SSIS Catalog Configuration) extension is accessible in Azure DevOps Marketplace
- Shifting your on-premise SSIS processes to a modern cloud architecture
- Newer ways of seamless integration of SSIS with other Microsoft family products
A Word Of Caution For SSIS
Though SSIS has been a proven, robust technology, certain points come up as a limitation and need to be handled with care. Here are they:
- Limited support to only Microsoft Windows and not to another non-Windows OS comes up as a hurdle
- There are lesser integration options especially when the OS is not Microsoft Windows, there are extensions that can help but not always. Hence, alternative data integration mechanisms do not work well.
Best Practices To Be Followed For SSIS
Well in advance, it is best to have proper planning for capacity by studying and realizing the resource consumption. Developers must ensure important transformations happen in memory since SSIS is an in-memory pipeline. There must be appropriate scheduling and distribution, with thorough optimization of SQL lookup data sources and transformation.
An Interesting Read: All About SQL Server Analysis Services (SSAS) In An Easy Manner
Here is a sneak peek into certain straight forward questions and answers on SSIS:
What are the key SSIS components?
SSIS architecture consists of the following key components:
Control Flow, Data Flow, Event Handler, Package Explorer, Connection Manager
What is the difference between SSRS and SSIS?
SQL Server Integration Services (SSIS) is for movement and transformation of data while SQL Server Reporting Services (SSRS) is for reporting of information in different formats.
Is SSIS an ETL tool?
SSIS is an ETL tool but there is a lot more to it than mere ETL process. It also takes of various data integration services and workflow functionalities pertaining to data.
Is SSIS easy to learn?
Yes, it is easy to learn, especially if you have a basic knowledge of SQL Server.
Is Microsoft SSIS free?
No, it is not free. It comes with the paid versions of SQL Server – the Developer, Enterprise and Standard versions.
What is an SSIS package?
An SSIS package consists of an arranged assembling of parameters, configurations, connections, event handlers, data/control flow elements.
On A Parting Note
Microsoft SSIS is an indispensable ingredient in the world of data and business intelligence and analytics services. This wonderful technology is apt for organizations looking to integrate a single data source or many, be it any type or size of data.
SSIS comes up as a handy solution when you want to have your data in your own way, at your own desired time. Yes, it does need some groundwork learning to be done but offers a lot more benefits in return. Worth the time and effort investment isn’t it!