Scale Breaks

A nice new feature in SQL Server 2008 Reporting Services is the Scale Break property for a Report Chart axis. Just by checking one box, the report server application will take over when generating a histogram and will adjust the scale automatically so that you can view bars that may have a great variance in values. This is a run-time feature in Reporting Services. Let's take a look...

When defining a Chart Data Region in Report Designer, each axis on the chart has a set of properties. One of them is the Scale Break property. If a chart has a wildly varying set of values, the system will work out the appropriate display using a squiggly stripe that breaks the continuity of the scale but allows a reasonable view of those "short bars" that seem to get lost when one bar has a disproportionate high value. You don't have control over where the stripe is drawn on the chart as the processing is performed dynamically at run time. So just checking the box for Scale Breaks is enough.

I tested this out by building a report using the AdventureWorks sample database. I built a chart based report displaying the number of Employees in each Department. The Production department has 180 employees which is vastly greater than the other departments. When the chart is displayed as a histogram we see one bar for Production and the other bars virtually non-existent because of the continuous scale. A quick update in the new Design tab of the Report Designer, enable Scale Breaks under the Axis Properties sheet and hey presto, the histogram is useful for other departments as well. The scale break stripe appears above the 2nd department (18 employees) and below the top department, as required. The system works out whether a scale break is necessary. Very nice. However, you do not have control over where the scale break appears as it is completely automatic.

As an example of another automatic feature, in Reporting Services 2005, Chart Series colors were generated from an automatic palette. To change them, we had to get into some complex data expressions. Now in 2008 we can choose from a series of provided palettes including one called Chocolate which gives you a varying shade of brown.  I am not complaining, but looks like the developers had some time on their hands.

As with all automatic features, they look good when we first use them but we are always quick to ask for the next enhancement to give us even more flexibility.  We are never happy are we? Give us something new and we will immediately think of a way to make it better. We always forget where we were before.



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