The Svalbard Global Seed Vault

makingof

Hi all,

OK here we go. Iron Viz competition time. My first viz in a long time, so it’s good to get back using Desktop again. The first competition this year is the Food Viz contest!

1. The Idea

So this one’s all about food. Plenty of potential ideas here but I love to deviate from the norm and go a little bit off the wall, a little bit unusual.

I got thinking about food. But then I thought what would we do if there was NO food? If we had nothing to grow. If all the crops in the world failed overnight. What would we do? That would be a pretty bad situation for sure and someone must have a backup plan. I’m in IT as you might know so I do love a good backup plan.

And it turns out there is one. The Svarlbad Global Seed Vault. Buried 130m into the Norwegian permafrost, this building looks more like a Bond villain’s hideout than a critical storage facility. Once I saw this website my mind started racing with questions and that’s a good sign that you’ve got a decent subject for a viz.

 

Screen Shot 2016-04-19 at 08.36.51

The Svalbard Global Seed Vault

Go take a look at the viz!

 

2. Data

I got the data from 3 main sources.

The main seed stocks data

Plenty of detail in the data which gives some good potential for analysis. The main seed stats xls was pretty tricky to work with. There were a lot of nulls and gaps which I had to exclude from the dataset, and the file was pretty untidy. There were also close to a million rows in the file and that meant my pc struggled at times. All of this made manipulating the data tricker than I would have liked.

 

3. Viz Design

As with last year’s entry I thought I’d use Story Points again. This format has limitations but I think it works well for visualisations that answer multiple questions. In terms of formatting, I’ll be honest. I just didn’t have the time to mess about so I pretty much went with the same style that I used for my Evolution of the Speed Record viz last year.

Screen Shot 2016-04-18 at 22.35.49

Construction stats

I also thought I’d use a lot of images with this viz. The seed vault is an impressive construction and had a load of really good quality images available for use. I found it was useful to use a text box to provide additional commentary on each slide.

 

 

 

Screen Shot 2016-04-18 at 22.39.29

Seed vault funding

Most of the information about the seed vault made a big deal about how this was a big global project. This led me to question who was contributing and supporting the project and who was pretending to? I was pretty sure there would be a big difference in contributions, both in terms of stock and also finance.

 

 

Screen Shot 2016-04-18 at 22.40.21

Embedded Wikipedia page

A technique I learned last year was embedding a contextual Wikipedia page into the viz. This provides more detail for anyone wanting to know more about the data points.  A good tip is to append “?printable=yes” to the URL to display a more cut down page, as well as using the mobile URL (thanks to David Pires for that tip). Some of the links didn’t work as there wasn’t a direct Wiki page – no big deal.

 

So there you go. An interesting story for sure and one that was pretty enjoyable to put together.

 

4. Challenges

This was my first viz in a while. I’ve spent the last year knee-deep in Tableau Server and have a crazy busy job building a Tableau Centre of Excellence, supporting thousands of demanding users.

So my biggest challenge wasn’t data, or thinking of a subject, it was my own lack of ability with Tableau Desktop. I was shocked at how rusty I’d become and even some basic tasks took way longer than they should have. On the plus side it was great to be back on the vizzing horse again! I’m now inspired to get stuck into some of the online training and boost my skills.

Another challenge was actually deciding to have a go. The standards in the Tableau Community have gone through the roof in the last year, and the level of quality out there is absolutely amazing. So for the first time ever I was nervous about even getting my entry out there.

 

5. Analysis & Story

So what can we take from this story? Here are some of the key observations that Tableau has allowed me to glean from the dataset.

  • The Svalbard Global Seed Vault was a decent build. Didn’t cost too much and also only took 20 months. Pretty impressive going.
  • Some unusual crops stored in the seed vault. Rice at the top, and mostly concentrated around the Triticeae tribe of crop – wheat, maize etc. Surprisingly few fruit. I like blueberries so I’d be stuffed without them for my doomsday breakfast.
  • Probably not a surprise to see India top the seed donations chart but it was curious to see several African nations amongst the top donators.
  • I was surprised to see seed donation amounts tailing off big time in recent years. I wonder if that’s down to project apathy or maybe we’ve just got all the samples we need for now?

Wanna know even more? Go check out this Interactive 360 tool.

So that’s it. I hope you enjoy the visualisation. If you do then please consider voting for me in the IronViz competition.

Regards, Paul

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How To Set Up Your Tableau Server Environments

Hi,

Guess what this post is about – yes TABLE CALCULATIONS…. haha. No chance. Talk to Jonathan Drummey about those. This is of course yet more info that I hope will help you guys set up a dream Enterprise Tableau deployment.

Today we are gonna talk about Environments – i.e. what Tableau environments should you create in your organisation to give your team the best chance of success and keep your lovely users happy?

As always, I’m not saying this is THE way to do it. There are tons of great setups out there. I’ll just tell you what we have. Feel free to suggest better methods in the comments.

 

Environments for your users

This section is concerned with environments that you will provide for your Tableau users to do their work. Typically this will follow the standard Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) environment definitions, but there are a few things you can do to add extra options for your users.

These are the environments our users have at their disposal:

  • Production – The main business & user facing environment. Content published here is authoritative, follows best practice (hopefully) and is actively supported.
  • Testing – aka UAT. Generally used for final testing of uploaded content
  • Development – The environment where content is first shared as part of the development process.
  • Scratch – An extra environment for content that doesn’t need environment management. E.g. User wants to temporarily share content with a couple of colleagues.

Providing these environments gives users crucial options and flexibility. Your Tableau service will most likely serve many different business areas and teams, each with different practices for content development and release management. Some teams will rigorously follow Systems Development Lifecycle (SDLC) processes, creating content in development, promoting to User Acceptance Testing (UAT) and then eventually to Production. Other teams are totally happy to change content directly in Production, as and when they feel like it.

Crucially we don’t mandate what our users do, it’s a self-service model and so long as they follow their own due-diligence and governance procedures then that’s cool with me. The important thing is that we give them options to work with Tableau in the way that they want. If they break anything then they know it’s down to them.

The scratch environment is an interesting concept. It started with good intentions but realistically not many people are using it. So it looks like we might bin that.

Note that we use Tableau sites to segregate our environments.

 

Environments for your team

This is different from the above user-facing environments. These are the environments that your team uses for the service you provide. Obviously all this costs money in terms of hardware procurement and usage, depending on the spec you choose.

  • Production – Main environment that serves your users. In our environment this also includes the UAT, Development & Scratch sites for users – but we class it all as production. That might seem odd, but remember that many teams will be development teams, and to them the development site / area is their equivalent of production. So if the development site is down then they can’t work.
  • Disaster Recovery (DR) – For use in the event of a Production outage that can’t be easily restored. Exact same spec as Production. Totally identical, so that config can be restored and this server can be used as Production. You’ll need to make sure this environment gets the same upgrades as your Production environment.
  • UAT – This is UAT for my team. If we want to make a change to Production, it gets final testing here. This environment is also the exact same spec as Production to ensure an accurate test. If it fails here then it’s likely to fail in Production as well. We use UAT for testing maintenance releases, config changes and other potentially disruptive non-Tableau related changes to the server. Additionally, we make this environment available to users for a couple of weeks UAT prior to releasing new versions to production.
  • Engineering – Lower spec than prod & UAT. For testing the latest available release from Tableau. That is likely to be a higher version than production. Is useful for spotting bugs in new versions or confirming that bug-fixes work.
  • Beta Test – We are proud to be part of Tableau’s pre-release testing audience. We use this server to test releases in the Beta programme. Lower spec than engineering. To the point that the server only just meets the minimum requirements.
  • Alpha Test – We use this to test the alpha releases or any extra work we may be doing with developers at Tableau. We love to be involved in the genesis of new functionality.

So that’s what we are lucky enough to have. It’s not perfect but it allows us to give our users a ton of flexibility in how they use Tableau, and also my own team always has a place to test new releases, plan upgrades and help Tableau with their pre-release programmes.

Interested to see what the community has in terms of environments. Let me know in the comments. Remember there are a load of other posts on this blog about Enterprise Tableau considerations.

Cheers, Paul

How To Train Your Tableau Users

Hello there,

More tips coming to help you build that dream Tableau Server setup in your global Enterprise…. This time we focus on training.

Training is a critical subject. It won’t take long before someone asks you about your strategy or what you offer so you’ll need to ensure you have a professional sounding answer. Here’s what I offer my users. Hopefully some of this will be useful.

Screen Shot 2016-01-06 at 16.46.07

Training gets pride of place on our community site

General Considerations

Before I get into the specific offerings there are a few things you need to consider.

 

Branding is Critical!

So before I describe what we offer, you’ll notice that we have snappy names for each of these offerings. It’s not just “Tableau Training”. Much of Tableau’s success is down to stellar marketing and branding – take “Tableau Dr.” for example.

So make sure you think about what you are offering, how it will be perceived and how you can maximise adoption. A memorable and consistent name is key here. Each offering also has a nice-looking one pager in our Sharepoint slide library and an appropriate user-facing page / description on our community site so that we can give people all the info at a moments notice. The more effort you put into branding the better things will be.

You’ll also find that any of these offerings are easily transferable to teams / services that may be related to your area so there are a ton of collaboration opportunities here.

 

Consider the Timezones

If you’re like me then you’ll have users all over the globe. That means timezone aggro. You’ll generally need to double up most of your offerings. We are based in London so we have an early session for Asia/Pacific and an afternoon session for Europe/Africa/USA. Users will really appreciate this extra effort.

 

Don’t Worry About Attendance

It’s important not to get fixated on how many people are attending your sessions. Sometimes we get 3 people, sometimes we get dozens. Don’t worry about it. Training 3 people is better than none. And often the smaller sessions have better engagement.

 

Manage the Schedule, Don’t Let it Manage You!

You’re gonna get a LOT of requests for training. Make sure you control the schedule. Don’t be scared to tell users when the next scheduled session is and that they can join it. Don’t be scheduling things on demand of users or you’ll lose control completely. If training is regular and consistent then users will settle into a pattern and you’ll be able to manage your team’s time much more efficiently.

 

Track your Results

Training gets a lot of focus with senior management. You (or your manager) will get asked plenty about how many people you’re training and from what business area / region they are.

As we are all data people it’s much better to SHOW the execs the data rather than tell them you’re just “doing loads of training”. We have several Tableau vizzes that track the attendance at each of our training offerings. We then blend that with staff / hierarchy data to allow detailed reporting on all of the modules. That makes a much better impression.

For example just checking our viz now I can see that my team has done 545 Tableau Dr. Sessions this year, covering 277 different individuals. That’s almost 550 man hours of training on Dr. Sessions alone. Right there, evidenced and visualised. That makes a much bigger impression with the folks at the top.

unnamed

Tracking our training…

Don’t Get Lazy!

All this training can be a real time-burner. I’m sure some of you are thinking why don’t you just record the sessions and chuck the video online. And we get asked that. But never under-estimate the value of Instructor-Led sessions over videos. Our sessions are interactive, dynamic, enjoyable and make the users feel valued. They can be funny, and go in different directions according to the particular vibe in play. So don’t cave in to laziness, make sure the sessions happen and that they have that human touch.

So those are the general things to be aware of. I’ll now describe the specific options we have for training at my organisation.

 

Specific Training Offerings

Tableau Self-Learning Pipeline

I love self learning. Getting stuck into a manual, book or video. Or just firing up Tableau and seeing where it takes me. And you’ll get a lot of users that are the same. It’s always great to allow the self-learners to flourish, and it has the added benefit of not using your team resources.

You’ll get asked these questions hundreds of times, so make sure that you have all the relevant materials easily accessible on your community page.

  • What is Tableau?
  • How do I get Tableau?
  • How much does Tableau cost?
  • How can I get started with Tableau?

Our 101 page is top of the Community site in a super easy-to-find location. We refer our users to

This is generally more than enough for your average self-learner to get stuck into.

 

Create a Training Hierarchy

Users operate at different levels of ability and interest. So it is important that your training caters for that. It also looks great if you can demonstrate an end to end understanding of training. In addition to the self-learning pipeline, we offer the following.

 

Tableau Desktop Training Syllabus

This is my main training programme for Tableau Desktop users. It consists of 7 modules, each conducted once a month, with a session in the morning to hit APAC users and one in the afternoon to cover EMEA/USA users.

  • Module 1 – Introduction to Tableau
  • Module 2 – Data Visualisation
  • Module 3 – Table Calculations
  • Module 4 – Blending & Joining
  • Module 5 – Creating Effective Dashboards
  • Module 6 – Performance & Troubleshooting
  • Module 7 – Using Tableau at THIS ORGANISATION
Screen Shot 2016-01-06 at 16.41.58

Our training syllabus

Content is self-explanatory from the headings, but module 7 may seem odd. This is actually a pretty important consideration in large organisations where no two Tableau deployments will be the same. There will be organisation-specific nuances or considerations in many aspects of using Tableau and our place is no different. Much of this focuses on purchasing / onboarding, getting started, and change / incident management procedures, often a source of confusion for users.

Tableau Dr. Sessions

images

The Doc is in!

Ok so you all know these. The famous one-on-one consultancy time that Tableau offer at conferences. That’s all this really is, but we find that our users love the dedicated time to discuss whatever Tableau related topics they want. Many often come back for repeated sessions and some are almost data hypochondriacs!

The Dr. Sessions have been a real success. People at high-pressure organisations like Investment Banks, especially senior folk, really understand and appreciate the importance of that dedicated, individual, focused consultancy time. Time is the most precious commodity in such an organisation and you’ll find that you get some serious kudos for these.

When you’re at conference and see people gagging for Tableau Dr. Sessions, imagine what that would be like at your own organisation. Super-cool aint it?

 

Tableau In Focus

This offering is really cool. These are monthly Webinar sessions, again one for APAC timezone and one for EMEA/USA timezone. They are conducted by experts from Tableau, tailored to UBS requirements.

Subjects have included

  • Five Ways to Improve Dashboard Performance
  • Data Blending & Joining
  • Table Calculations
  • Deep Dive into LOD Expressions
  • Advanced Mapping
Screen Shot 2016-01-06 at 16.43.15

Tableau In Focus

Again, the fact Tableau are prepared to conduct these for us not only gives us valuable extra learning offerings but makes my users feel even more special than I know they are! We get great feedback, with users thrilled that we have such a good relationship with Tableau. That all gives them confidence in our service, and that is critical.

 

Tableau Executive Track

OK so this is an interesting one. We get a lot of senior folk asking for Tableau training. That’s very encouraging, obviously, but your average MD isn’t gonna sit through an hour Webex on LOD calcs.

So – what we do is our “Tableau Executive Track”. That’s a 1hr session, ideally in person with my laptop where we plan to cover the following.

  • Overview of the Tableau Service
  • Introduction to the Tableau Server
  • Showcase of current use across the business
  • Demo of custom admin views & introspection
  • How to build basic views in Desktop

In reality we often don’t get 30 seconds into this agenda before it is taken somewhere else, at the subject’s discretion. That’s cool – it’s what senior folk do and you need to be prepared for it. But it’s also important to come armed with an agenda to show you have a plan. Don’t just rock up and say “whadda you wanna know?” – you’ll get eaten alive.

Screen Shot 2016-01-06 at 16.43.24

Tableau Sr. Management Training

This is a really popular training offering, with many seniors having attended or planning to attend. It shows we are putting a great deal of thought into our training and that we are flexible enough to adapt to the variety of users we have.

 

Content Specific Training

Sometimes we get asked, “I’ve been sent this dashboard but I have no idea how to use it”. Well that’s NOT something we assist with. Our service is totally self-serve and it’s the responsibility of the dashboard author to

  • Ensure they have followed best practice
  • Include clear instructions for dashboard use or a link to a page that has such information
  • Ensure that their audience is briefed and aware of the dashboard usage

This is NOT down to us. We spend a lot of time policing content to make sure that authors are mindful of this as a dashboard that is hard to understand can adversely affect perception of the tool / service as a whole.

 

Wrap Up

So that’s what we offer. Aint it a lot? And boy is it important to the success of your service. Training can make or break a service and between you, me and the whole Internet – a lack of training can be used as an excuse for not engaging, or not performing. It’s rare but it happens.

Training your users should be enjoyable. If you find that it is becoming a pain then take a step back, consult some of your power users and modify your offerings.

In the time I was proof-reading this post the excellent Carl Allchin, who implemented much of our training when on site with us, posted some of his own thoughts on the Information Lab blog. Check them out. Also a big thanks to Andy Pick who has delivered dozens of sessions for our users.

As always I’m happy to jump on a call and discuss any of this. Now if you’ll excuse me I have a training session to deliver…

Cheers, Paul

How to PROPERLY Back Up Your Tableau Server

Hello there,

Whadda ya mean you didn't take a backup?

Whadda ya mean you didn’t take a backup?

Time for another post about Tableau Server and how to get the best out of it in a large-scale, enterprise deployment situation.

Today we are focusing on how to PROPERLY back up your Tableau Server installation.

Like many aspects of enterprise services, this is a simple concept, but one that if you get wrong, can spell disaster. It always amazes me how many people / organisations don’t do this properly or even at all.

You know how annoyed you get when your mum tells you she isn’t backing up all her family photos – well that’s what I get like when I see IT systems neglecting backups.

Note this post refers to a standalone Tableau installation with a manual failover to DR. We don’t yet have a clustered environment. I’ll update the post with considerations when we implement that.

 

What’s a backup?

Seems a simple question, and there are a number of different types of backups that you can take, each useful in different situations. Here’s what I’ve got in place:

 

 

Full System Backup

This is a complete dump of the server filesystems to disk (or tape – there’s still plenty of tape backup infra out there). Most likely it will be one of the big vendor products that look like the mothership from Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

Your full system backup should be set up by your server team when you get your machine. However, the principle of “trust no-one” applies here as always and it’s up to you to check the following:

  • Have the backups been set up at all?
  • Are they backing up all the filesystems? – Many times I’ve seen that only operating system partition backups have been set up, and I’ve had to request the application partitions be included.
  • Have the backups been succeeding? – Get your backup team to send you a report every month of backup completion. They don’t always succeed and you probably won’t be told that there has been a failure.
  • If you need to perform a restore, do you know the process and how long does it take?

If you get the okay on that then you’re good. But only as an insurance policy. Full system backups can take a long time to restore, and may only be weekly so you could end up losing data even if these are in place. It’s up to you to ensure you’re covered rather than rely on other teams doing things correctly.

 

 

Nightly Tableau Backup

There’s no excuse for not having this in place. It’s easy to set up and it is a case of when rather than if it saves your ass.

The tabadmin backup command gets Tableau Server to dump all content & configuration to a single .tsbak file. You don’t have to stop the server to do this and it doesn’t seem to impact performance too much while it is running so this should be the first backup you configure.

A simple script like this will do the job.

@echo OFF
set Binpath="D:\Program Files\Tableau\Tableau Server\9.0\bin"
set Backuppath="D:\Program Files\Tableau\Backups\nightly"
echo %date% %time%: *** Housekeeping started ***

tabadmin backup %Backuppath%\ts_backup_ -d
timeout 5

tabadmin cleanup

move "D:\Program Files\Tableau\Backups\nightly\*" \\\tableau_shr\backups\nightly\
echo %date% %time%: *** Housekeeping completed ***

The tabadmin backup command does the actual work here, dumping everything to a file. Always a good idea to run tabadmin cleanup afterwards to remove logs etc.

We run this script at a quiet time for the server (not that there is one in my global environment). We use the Windows Scheduler on the server but I’d recommend using a decent scheduler like Autosys or whatever your enterprise standard is as WTS is pretty poor.

IMPORTANT: You may have noticed the move command at the end there. That takes our newly created backup file and moves it OFF THE SERVER to a share drive accessible by my backup server. Why? Well what happens if you lose the server and your backup file is on it? You may as well have no backup. So move it somewhere else.

Update – this tip actually saved my ass this week when we lost our entire VM cluster (er.. hardware team – *cough* – what’s going on??) . We were able to failover to the backup server successfully. Going forward we will be soon implementing Tableau’s High Availability capability.

Do make sure you rotate your backup files with a script that deletes the old files or your share drive will fill up. I keep 4 days worth, just in case the current file is somehow corrupted – rare but can happen.

 

 

Weekly Restart

You may know I’m not a fan of running enterprise apps on Windows. I prefer Linux for a number of reasons that I’m not going to go into here. I know many users want Tableau Server on Linux, and the amazing Tamas Foldi has only gone and written it himself – so one day we may see it.

Anyway, with Windows apps I always build in a weekly application restart. In our case every Saturday morning. That involves a server reboot (to clean out any OS related temp stuff), application restart and a tabadmin cleanup. The tabadmin cleanup with the server stopped has the added bonus of clearing out the temp files (doesn’t happen when the server is running). These files can get pretty big so worth clearing out.

 

 

Virtual Machine Snapshots

If you’re running on a VM then you may be able to utilise the VM snapshot facility. Contact your VM admins for details. I’ve not needed to implement this but I know some that do. VM snapshots are super handy.

Do be aware that Tableau don’t seem to support this though..

Screen Shot 2015-11-11 at 19.11.48

 

 

Config File Backup

Sometimes it’s handy to just back up your Tableau Server config. I’ve got a script that grabs all the .yml and template files in my Server directory, zips them up and moves them off the server. Pretty useful to refer back to old config settings if you need to. Make sure you include workgroup.yml.

If you’re being really good then you’ll be checking your config files into a revision control repo like SVN.

 

Site Specific Backups

Tableau Server allows you to backup per site. This doesn’t give me much extra but I know in orgs that have lots of sites, or a site per team / business unit it can be very handy.

One thing that isn’t great about exporting a site is that the site is locked and inaccessible as the export is taking place. See Toby Erkson’s blog for more info on exporting a site.

 

 

Backup File Size & Duration

As your environment grows you’ll need to be mindful of the size of your backup file. Mine is around 16GB and takes well over an hour to write. Takes about 25 mins to restore. You’ll need to understand those numbers as your system matures.

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Backup files can get pretty big

Another variable that can affect backup time is the specification of your primary server. If your primary is low spec then you’re gonna get a longer time to write a backup. I don’t have any stats on that but I know it is true. Contact Jeff Mills of Tableau if you want more info on Weak Primaries & backup times.

 

 

Backup Your Logs

Less important this, but handy to do on a weekly basis is to zip up your logs. We have a much better solution for logfile management using Splunk – you’ll see a blog about that in the future.

 

 

The Most Important Bit – TEST YOUR BACKUPS

OK so you’re backing up like a man / woman possessed? Fine. You’re only as good as your last restore. So TEST your backups periodically. Files get corrupted and you don’t want to be discovering that your only backup is broken when you need it.

OK that’s it. Backups can save your life – don’t ignore them. Paranoia is king in IT!

Cheers, Paul

10 Thoughts from Tableau Conference 2015

Howdy y’all,

What a setting..

What a setting..

Yeah it’s 2am and I’m wide awake. Coming down from a great week at Tableau Conference 2015 in Las Vegas. So I thought I’d knock up a post about how the week was for me.

 

 

Thought #1 – “WTF?!”

Er...

Er…

Turning up for registration on the Sunday, the last thing I expected to see was an 8 foot high poster of my ugly mug grinning out at me. I saw some younger children at the event and they would surely have nightmares at such an image. Then there’s the question of my image rights… Tableau we need to talk about that…

Although it did allow people to get their #picwiththepauls

Francois gets his #picwiththepauls

Francois gets his #picwiththepauls

 

Thought #2 – “Wow it’s so great to meet you at last / again”

TC is all about the people. It was great to meet people that I’ve been interacting with all year. Some of these were existing relationships, and others were meeting for the first time. Too many to name but I was really pleased to finally meet George Gorczynski, Steve Fenn, Mat Hughes, Jen Vaughan, Fiona Gordon, Jon Boeckenstedt, Ken Black ( & Jett) & Mike Moore.

It’s great when I meet someone that deals with Server rather than all you Desktop jockeys. See us Server folk have a secret handshake and knowing look in our eyes. We know what really matters in Tableau!

It was also great to see the new Zen Masters. Especially the British contingent – my pals Chris Love & Rob Radburn. Awesome stuff.

 

Thought #3 – “The devs smashed it”

I was delighted at the product enhancements announced this year. Functionality that is really going to make a difference to the ~4000 users I support.

It will be interesting to see which features really capture the imagination of my user base, but I can anticipate cross DB joining, union &  global filters being very popular, as well as the user home page on server.

We're not worthy..

We’re not worthy..

But I kinda gave my position away as to what made my day in terms of new functionality – yes that pic does show me bowing down in homage to Version Control. In front of 11000 people. Hey I’m not embarrassed, it took all of my self-control to prevent myself from storming the stage and giving the guy a hug.

 

Thought #4 – “Isn’t technology great”

My conference experience was massively enhanced by a couple of tech items.

Firstly the hugely useful Tableau Conference app. I love the way the organisers monitor the number of favourites a session gets in order to determine of the room allocation is suitable for thee demand.

Secondly, WhatsApp. Despite having a crappy name, this app was great for keeping in touch with colleagues and friends. My pals at The Information Lab are always super-concerned with the social aspect of events and set up a WhatsApp group to allow us to sync. Before we knew it there were 50 members and it became the prime method of determining what bar everyone was in or what session people were at. Great stuff.

 

Thought #5 – “Las Vegas – oh dear me”

download

Fabulous? Erm…

I’ve been to Las Vegas once before. Just for a couple of days passing through. I recall not being too impressed back then, and this visit just confirmed my earlier thoughts. While I’m undoubtedly amazed at the imagination and brilliance of the designers that constructed some of the buildings, I’m still left with a feeling of disgust and depression at the underlying tone of seediness and corruption. It offends pretty much everything that I stand for.

I hope some of you managed to take a virtual shower by getting out to the Grand Canyon or surrounding areas like Bryce Canyon which are stunning. That’s Las Vegas for me. You can keep your Casinos.

 

Thought #6 – “Why can’t we just have one big global time zone?”

Jet lag sucks. I propose we have one mega time zone (GMT of course) and stick to that. The rest of the world would have to work in perpetual darkness but you’d soon get used to it. Change your goddam date format while you’re at it.

 

Thought #7 – “That’s the best session I’ve ever seen at a Tableau Conference”

I hope some of you went to the talk by Jeffrey Shaffer & Andy Kriebel entitled “Dear Data Two“. Read the abstract if you want to know what it was about but suffice to say I found this talk incredibly engaging. It covered a huge variety of data viz examples, all done with fun and humour. It was also technical enough as the vizzes were also constructed in Tableau. I loved it. Original, brilliant and emotional at times, this was everything a TC session should be. And told by two natural presenters on stage.

Another stand-out session was “The New Tableau Web Data Connector: APIs, JSON & Javascript for Dummies” by Craig Bloodworth. This was a perfectly pitched run-through of the WDC and gave me real confidence that I could go and build one myself.

 

Thought #8 – “Nice one @cheeky_chappie”

Safety first at Paul's talk

Safety first at Paul’s talk

I tend to hang around a lot with Paul Chapman. No I don’t know why either, but it happens. And it was great to see him absolutely smash it with his presentation “A Single Shade of Orange“. He’s a #futurezenmaster for sure.

He has been ably coached by an expert road crew (myself & Tom Barber) so we take some (most) of the credit for his success.

 

Thought #9 – “I wish I was on that stage”

I’ve spoken at the last 3 Tableau Conferences (2 in London & also Seattle). My application was rejected this year to rightly give someone else a chance. That’s cool.

But I was super-jealous of those that did get the opportunity. Speaking at a Tableau event isn’t like other events (of which I do a few). At TC you’re presenting in front of friends, and people that share your mission. They want you to do well. No-one is watching you and judging, or hoping you don’t do well. They all want to learn from you and want you to rock.

It’s a mega buzz to be up on stage and I’d recommend anyone to do it, even if you feel you’re not a natural presenter.

 

Thought #10 – “This whole thing isn’t the norm”

Code. That’s all Tableau is. Computer code. So why has it changed my entire working life in less than 3 years? I think I know the answer. You see in order to achieve this perfect storm an organization needs to nail each of the 3 pillars

  • Application – the tool has to rock. It needs to be easy to use and needs to be able to make your job easier, not harder.
  • Company – The company needs to be solid. Progressive, innovative and approachable
  • Community – You need a great set of users, with a true sense of collaboration and friendship.

In my career I’ve seen many tools, companies and communities. Most organisations nail 1 out of the 3, occasionally you’ll get a really good one that hits 2/3 – but in 15 years of IT, Tableau is the only one I’ve seen that nails each of these pillars and then some.

It sounds almost cheesy to say it but this isn’t the norm. If you’re a 20-something graduate in your first job using Tableau and you think that all tools and organisations are like this then you’d better wake right up now. This is NOT the normal experience. I’m just grateful I found it at all, mid-way through my career. If you’re lucky enough to have discovered Tableau in your youth then WELL DONE! Enjoy it! You’ve hit the jackpot!

So those are my thoughts on another stellar event. See you in Texas everyone!

Paul

How to manage Tableau upgrades in an Enterprise environment

Hi,

Been a while since my last post. Been exceptionally busy at work due to widespread adoption of Tableau at my organisation. Usage has doubled in the last 3 months and we now have thousands of users to keep happy. That takes some doing, hence the blog hiatus.

Anyway, time to continue the series on Tableau as an IT Service, with a subject that I’m asked about a lot – just how do you manage your Tableau upgrades in an Enterprise environment?

This is actually a pretty big subject, especially in an Enterprise setup. There’s no perfect way to do it but hopefully some of these tips will be useful.

 

Section 1 – Pre-Upgrade Considerations

To upgrade or not? That is the question

Obviously you’ll need to make some sort of decision as to whether or not you actually need to upgrade. Each time you upgrade a production system you risk impacting stability, introducing bugs or human error. It also needs testing, planning and eats resources and time. So if there’s no good reason to upgrade, then don’t.

Tableau release new versions at a pretty impressive cadence, generally once a month for ‘maintenance’ releases. So for each newly advertised release, take note of the following in order to make your decision.

  • Compelling functionality –  New features are entering the product all the time. Determine what may be useful to your user base.
  • Key bug fixes – Each new version will squash a few bugs. If there’s one that is affecting your users then it may be prudent to upgrade and quieten the noise. Remember that your upgrade may introduce new issues. Take note of the known issues section in the release notes.

Both of these are fully documented in the Release Notes. Review them carefully each time Tableau announce a new version. There are occasions where bug fixes are not announced in the release notes but your account manager will make you aware of those.

Also be aware that new versions might also introduce new bugs / issues. We have had situations where we have been stable, decided to upgrade and then spent the next few months battling newly introduced issues to the point that we probably should have stayed on the older version.

Be aware of compatibility issues

I hear a lot of complaints about compatibility issues between Server and Desktop. So it’s important to be aware of the behaviour between versions. Get this wrong and you may be in a position where users have overwritten content originally created in an older version and don’t have a back up to roll back to. If you are crossing major versions (8 -> 9) for example, then you’ll certainly need to upgrade the Server and Desktops at the same time.

Top tip – it is possible to hack the xml of a workbook to change the version and rescue the situation, provided no edits have been made to the content. The ever-so-talented Jen Vaughan (@butterflystoryexplains all here.

For more details see this article.

Don’t upgrade to version zero

Most risk averse IT managers (like me) will resist the temptation to jump right into that new shiny Vx.0 release the day it comes out. Version zero releases of any software are notorious for bugs and issues, that’s just the nature of software development. So at my org we always let at least one maintenance release slide by and instead go to the Vx.0.1 or Vx.0.2 release.

It can be hard to resist temptation, especially when your users are clamouring for that shiny new version but if there are major bugs in that zero release, then best let someone else find out about them rather than you.

Caveat: This doesn’t always work of course. We waited for 9.0.2 and that ended up being one of the buggier releases. Oh the irony.

 

Understand the new version resource demands

This is important. You may be rocking away on your existing version, confident that your hardware can satisfy the software. But then you upgrade, and all of a sudden that new version eats up double the RAM or batters your CPU. You didn’t see that coming.

For version 9 Tableau released an updated scalability document. Annoyingly it was released quite a while after V9 went live. I was expecting a comfortable read but noticed phrases like the following, which were pretty alarming.

Screen Shot 2015-09-04 at 23.03.31

Screen Shot 2015-09-04 at 23.05.20

Whaaaat?! That led to some discussions with Tableau tech folks (thanks Meredith!) and some fevered testing and all turned out to be ok. But those figures took us by surprise for sure. Don’t be in a position where you upgrade and then suddenly hit a capacity issue that your older version didn’t have.

 

Test it!

Let’s say you upgrade. And it goes wrong. One of the first questions you’ll get asked is “Did you test this?”. You really don’t want to be answering “no” to that question.

You should have at least one non-production environment that you can run tests on. Due to the complex nature of Tableau it is impossible to test every aspect of functionality but you should at least be able to cover a good number of scenarios. You may also not be able to simulate your production load on your test environment but it will be better than nothing. You may find the load testing utility tabjolt handy here. Check Russell Christopher’s guide to tabjolt.

I have the following environments to play with. This gives me a lot of options.

  • Production – Main user facing environment
  • BCP – Disaster recovery environment in case production fails
  • UAT – A mirror of production. Same spec
  • Engineering – Lower spec, used to test the latest version available from the vendor
  • Beta – Even lower spec, used for testing beta versions
  • Alpha – for testing the alpha versions

Ensure that the tests you conduct are consistent, repeatable and that the outcomes are recorded. We use a tool called Quality Centre and the tests are performed by my level 2 support folks. This gives consistency and frees time for my main analysts.

Verify your licence details

Double check your licence maintenance end date for both Server and Desktop. If you’re out of maintenance then you won’t be able to use the application after you upgrade. I’ve seen licence issues way too many times with many applications after an upgrade. You won’t want to be trying to contact your account manager on a weekend to sort out a licence issue.

Opinion – IMHO I would much prefer it if applications didn’t crap out due to licence expiration. In 99% of cases there’s some paperwork misunderstanding that is easily sorted by your account manager. By all means let the application hit you with some warnings and also alert the vendor, but it shouldn’t mean a loss of service.

 

Your upgrade process & strategy

I’m not going to go into it here as it’s a full on subject in itself but make sure you follow your organisation’s Change Management procedure to the letter. Failure to follow change processes is generally a dismissible offence in most Enterprises.

Make sure you advertise your strategy for upgrades and maintenance to your users. You’ll get asked, so ensure this is specified in your Service Document. You may even have standard maintenance windows (e.g. on a weekend) where you can reserve the right to take down the system. Again, make sure that is documented and your users are aware.

 

Section 2 – The Upgrade

Create a package

Most enterprises will use some form of package deployment tool / team to perform the actual deployment of new software. That’s pretty handy. I have over 500 installations of desktop to support and we need to ensure they all get upgraded at the same time. So I can create a software bundle, send to the packaging team and they will then schedule and deploy.

This gives you the chance to include those little extras in your package to give your users the best experience. Here’s what’s in our Tableau Desktop package.

  • The installer exe file
  • A sample “Getting Started” workbook with tips, best practices & help.
  • Preferences.tps file containing customised colour pallettes
  • Most used drivers (Oracle, MySQL etc)

I would love to be able to customise the “Discover” pane to point to some of my internal resources but it doesn’t seem to be possible. Boo.

We also supply custom instructions for the packaging team, such as running the installer with a flag / registry update to disable the auto-update feature that has been implemented in the upcoming 9.1 release. A really baaaaad idea for Enterprise deployments.

One thing to be aware of with packaging is that it can take a long time. From request to deployment, the typical time at my org is an insane 7 weeks! By which time another version is out. We are hoping to speed that up a bit obviously.

Communicate to the max

You can’t over communicate any potential disruption to your service. Make sure a broadcast message goes to your users via whatever system your firm uses. And it doesn’t hurt to follow-up with your power users / senior stakeholders with a personal reminder that work is planned.

Take a backup

Whadda ya mean you didn't take a backup?

Whadda ya mean you didn’t take a backup?

Tableau is one of the easiest applications to upgrade that I’ve worked with. A simple uninstall / reinstall does the trick. But don’t take that for granted – make sure you take a manual backup prior to your upgrade. If you’re not doing this as a matter of principle then you’ll be getting a visit from the boys. And they won’t have had their dinner.

Handily, the uninstall process takes a backup anyway but don’t rely on that, take your own.

You should also back up all your .yml configuration files and ensure you know what each setting is. Tableau should preserve these settings during the upgrade but just in case it doesn’t then it’s handy to have a copy to refer back to.

Server specific considerations

When you uninstall Tableau Server it backs up the content and the settings in the main yml configuration files. That’s cool, but do remember that if you’ve changed any of the other config files then they will be overwritten and you’ll have to make the changes again. For example we change the webserver timeout settings in the file “\Tableau\Tableau Server\data\tabsvc\config\httpd\httpd.conf.templ” – that gets blown away by an uninstall.

There may also be other settings in the Postgres db that you may have modified using tabadmin. Not all are retained from what I can see. Note I’m still researching this so not 100% sure of the behaviour.

Finally make sure you understand any changes to the Tableau Postgres DB schema in the new versions. It has generally remained pretty consistent but if any tables or fields are renamed then that may well break your Custom Admin Views.

Section 3 – Post upgrade

Test it! Again!

Not all issues come to light immediately. Perform testing, keep vigilant and liaise with your users closely in the next few days to understand if the application is behaving as it should be.

Ask for help!

Tableau Upgrade Assistance

Tableau Upgrade Assistance

If all this sounds a bit daunting and you’d like to get assistance then Tableau offer an “upgrade assistance” programme which might be worth looking at. Talk to your account manager for more information.

There are also other guides around. Have a look at this one from our good friends at Interworks.

That’s it for this post. As I said it’s a big subject so do post comments if you feel I’ve missed anything.

Happy upgrading! Cheers, Paul

The Evolution of the Speed Record

makingof

Hi all,

Oh dear – it’s that time of year again. Time for the Iron Viz competition. The first challenge this year is the Wikipedia challenge. Create a viz, any viz, so long as the data comes from Wikipedia.

1. The Idea

There are tons of data on Wikipedia. Trouble is, much of it is in a nightmare format and takes a lot of tidying up. I wasn’t cool with doing much of that this time so reasonably tidy data was a must. I also wanted something with depth, and an element of competition, danger and heroism. And I love technology so wanted that as well. All in all a tough ask.

But then I stumbled across the perfect topic – how speed records have evolved over time. Ticks all the boxes and could be a nice use of Story Points.

So that was it – “The Evolution of the Speed Record” was GO!

kings

The Evolution of the Speed Record!

 

2. Data

I got the data from 3 Wikipedia pages.

kand

An example of the land speed record data

The data has enough variety and richness to satisfy my requirements. It is also pretty consistent between pages so makes consolidation into Excel a lot easier. I did have to remove entries that referred to record attempts that were not ratified, and I also had to standardise on mph vs kph as well as distance miles vs kilometers. But with those caveats, I’d gotten me a pretty decent dataset.

It was also cool that most rows linked off to pages about the pilot and the craft used, each with some neat images for use in the viz. Plenty of room to supplement this data set should that be required. I also managed to find some clips of some of the drivers on YouTube.

 

3. Viz Design

The evolution of the record featured trials and tribulations, joy and pain, heroes and villains. So all in all this was a great opportunity to try Story Points for the first time.

axisThe overall look and feel took some arriving at and I’d like to thank Kelly & Chris for assisting with the peer review process. My original version made use of custom “speed-style” fonts to give the impression of speed, but we eventually decided that the real ethos of the whole story was the nostalgia and ‘Pathe’ News‘ style of flat capped heroes with handlebar mustaches pushing the boundaries of technology. So we switched to a style that sort of represented a 1930’s newspaper. I was really pleased with the final look and feel of it. Deciding the style really helped the story design of the charts. I tried to be as minimal as possible, removing unnecessary chart ink and distractions.

paper

Operation Paperclip

I wanted to give a feeling of progressing along a chronological timeline, whilst interspersing with ‘infographic’ style information pages. In particular there was a great story to tell about Germany and Operation Paperclip, that made a great infographic.

 

 

wiki

Embedded minimal Wikipedia page

I obviously wanted to use some advanced techniques so used the individual Wikipedia pages for some of the pilots to link off to an embedded web page. A masterstroke was working out that if I added “?printable=yes” to the URL it would give me a stripped back render of the page, that almost looked like a 1930’s newspaper, fitting the theme perfectly. I was really happy with that.

 

 

Screen Shot 2015-03-14 at 12.02.30

Embedded YouTube page

There’s also a page that links off to a YouTube video of the driver. I like that one, as the links are all monochromatic grainy film with appropriately stiff-upper-lipped voiceover. Excellent. I did worry a little about the ethics of including these videos as some of them show the final moments of the driver’s life. I think I’ve been respectful enough in my overall viz to justify inclusion though. I also added an old-school TV border to give a little bit more visual appeal.

So overall I was really pleased with this. A nice style, several good stories and a use of some advanced multimedia techniques.

 

4. Challenges

As mentioned this was my first use of Story Points. Unfortunately it turned out to be a frustrating experience. The feature, whilst undoubtedly useful, is in need of customisation and doesn’t provide a smooth user experience. One for the Tableau dev team to look at for sure.

Another challenge was the fact that the new Tableau Public site has sneakily been changed to https. That only becomes apparent when accessing a published viz using Chrome. Make sure your links to embedded content are https or they won’t work.

 

5. Analysis & Story

So what can we take from this story? Here are some of the key observations that Tableau has allowed me to glean from the dataset.

  • Records are dominated by only 3 nations, with France killing it in early years with their brilliant aviators.
  • It took a while for airspeed to get going, in fact land speeds were higher for a long time.
  • Germany’s poor record really didn’t tell the full story, their brilliant scientists being key to the USA’s great NASA missions in later years. Interesting how their previous misdemeanours were overlooked though…
  • Most record-breaking attempts advanced the speed slightly, with the occasional big jump.
  • The incredible Malcolm Campbell and his son Donald held an amazing 21 records.
  • Oddly, no-one seems to be bothered about records anymore, there hasn’t been a new record since 1997. Or is it too hard / dangerous now?

So that’s it. I hope you enjoy the visualisation. If you do then please consider voting for me in the IronViz competition, should this make the Elite8 twitter vote-off thing.

Regards, Paul