Is it possible to use RevoScaleR package in Power BI?

I was invited to deliver a session for Belgium User Group on SQL Server and R integration. After the session – which we did online using web based Citrix  – I got an interesting question: “Is it possible to use RevoScaleR performance computational functions within Power BI?“. My first answer was,  a sceptical yes. But I said, that I haven’t used it in this manner yet and that there might be some limitations.

The idea of having the scalable environment and the parallel computational package with all the predictive analytical functions in Power BI is absolutely great. But something tells me, that it will not be that straight forward.

So let’s start by taking a large (500 MB) txt file and create XDF file:

library(RevoScaleR) <- "YearPredictionMSD.txt"
rxOptions(sampleDataDir = "C:\\Files")

File is available on-line at this address with the zip file.

Getting data with R script

Open Power BI and choose Get Data -> R Script -> and copy/Paste the following slightly changed code:

library(RevoScaleR) <- "YearPredictionMSD.txt";
rxOptions(sampleDataDir = "C:\\Files");

With copy pasting and clicking OK,

2017-03-20 18_56_17-Untitled - Power BI Desktop

You will have to wait for the data to be read into the memory, the data models to be created and after monitoring the memory consumption and patiently waiting, you will notice, that this particular dataset (500 MB or 160 MB XDF), that minimum 3 GB of RAM will be consumed and you will end up with preview:

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By now, you will also notice that after saving this Power BI document, it will take somewhere up to 700 MB of your disk space and all the data visualization will consume additional RAM and time. After you will close the Power BI document, you will notice a lot of RAM being released.

Using R Script in the visuals

When you create a new Power BI document, I will create new dataset by Entering data. I will create three “dummy” variables.

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With these three variables I will try to inject the data returned from XDF data format and have data represented in Power BI.

After selecting the new visual and choosing R visual, I inserted following code:

library(RevoScaleR) <- "YearPredictionMSD.txt";
rxOptions(sampleDataDir = "C:\\Files");

And this time, the result is fascinating. R is plotting histogram in a split of a second, simply meaning it takes advantage of XDF file and inject it to Power BI.

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This is still – an outer file or dataset -, that Power BI does not have a clue about. Meaning, no slicers are available for dynamic change of the user selection.

Let’s try to insert the data into those three dummy variables, where the third one will be a factor that I have to pre-prepare. Since in this case factor is Year, it is relatively easy to do:

Year % filter(year == c("2000","2001","2002")))
grid.table(df_f %>% filter(year == Year))

Once I have this inserted in new R visualize, I just need to add a dummy slicer.

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Now, I can easily change the years for my cross-tabulation (using rxCrosstab function). Since calculation is comprehended in the back on the whole dataset and using dplyr package just to omit or filter the results, it is also possible to use rxDatastep:

rxDataStep(inData=outputFile, outFile="C:\\Files\\YearPredictMSD_Year.xdf", 
             overwrite=TRUE, transforms=list(LateYears = V1 > 1999))
rxCrossTabs(V2~F(LateYears), data = "C:\\Files\\YearPredictMSD_Year.xdf")

In this way, you will be creating new XDF file through PowerBI with the transformation. Bear in mind, that this step might take some extra seconds to create new variable or to make a subset, if you would need. Again, this is up to  you to decide, based on the file size.

Using SQL Server procedure with R Script

This approach is not that uncommon, because it has been proven that using Stored Procedures with T-SQL and R code is useful and powerful way to use SQL Server and R integration within SSRS.  Changing the computational context is sure another way to make a work around.

Creating Stored procedure:

    DECLARE @RScript nvarchar(max)
        SET @RScript = N'

Or by copying the T-SQL Code into the SQL Server Data Source, the result is the same.

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In both cases, you should have a cross-tabulational  representation of XDF dataset within Power BI. And now you can really use all the advantages of Power BI visuals, Slicers and as well any additional R predictions.

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There is a slight minus to this (if not all) approaches like this. You need to have many stored procedures or queries having generated like this. Also rxCube will help you to some extent, but repetitive work will not be avoided.

Using HDInsight or Hadoop?

Using XDF data files stored in HD-Insight or in Hadoop would generaly mean using same dataset and step as for SQL Server procedure. Just that you would need to – prior to executing T-SQL script, also change comptutational context:

# HD Insight - Spark - Azure
HDInsight mySshUsername = USNM,mySshHostname = HSTNM,
mySshSwitches= SWTCH) 
## Hadoop
Hadoop mySshUsername = USNM,mySshHostname = HSTNM,
mySshSwitches= SWTCH)


I have explored couple of ways how to use the Power BI visuals and environment with RevoScaleR XDF (eXternal Data Frame) datafiles. I have to admit, I was surprised that there will be a way to do it in a relatively easy way, but from data scientist perspective, it is still some additional load and work before you can start with actual data analysis. Last two approaches (R script in Visuals and SQL Server Procedures) are by far the fastest and also take the advantage of using parallel and distributed computations that RevoScaleR package brings.

I would very strongly advise Microsoft and Power BI development team to add XDF plug-in to Power BI. Plug-in would work with metadata presentation of the data each time the computations should be used, the metadata would push the code against R Server to have results returned. This would, for sure be a great way to bring Big Data concept to Power BI Desktop.

As always, code and samples are available at GitHub.

Happy coding!


Animated barplot and google map with R

It might happen that you will need a animated graph of any kind. For purposes of plotting demographic data and changes through the years, Google Maps and plotting maps, merging and converting jpg files into a animated gif, sure will give a nice visualization effect.

Here is a sample of changes over the time period of three years on some dataset of my home town and graph can tell little bit more as numbers 🙂


So besides plotting visualizations based on geographical data, additional plots available in any of R packages can be visualized in a similar way.

Playing and goofing around, I created a sample dataset:

# dataset
d <- data.frame(val=c(2,3,4,3,4,3,4,3,2,1), 

Once that, is created, a function would do the trick:

library(dplyr) <- function(df_plot, xvar, yvar, fill)
  #number of steps - based on values in X-axis
  x_unique <- unique(df_plot$xvar)   #xvar = year
  nof_steps <- as.integer(length(df_plot$x_unique))

  for (i in 1:nof_steps) 
    x <- as.integer(x_unique[i])
    d1 <- df_plot %>%
          arrange(xvar) %>%
          filter(xvar<=x) %>%
          mutate(new_val = val) %>%
          select(xvar, new_val)
    d2 <- df_plot %>%
          arrange(xvar) %>%
          filter(xvar>x) %>%
          mutate(new_val = 0) %>%
    dfinal <- union_all(d1, d2)
    dfinal <- data.frame(dfinal)
    colnames(dfinal)[1] <- "x"
    colnames(dfinal)[2] <- "y"
    name <- paste('barplot00',i,'.png',sep="")
    ggplot(data=dfinal, aes(x=x, y=y, fill=x)) + geom_bar(stat="identity") + 

  system("magick -delay 150 -loop 0 *.png GeomBar_plot.gif")
  rm(x_unique, nof_steps)   
}, d$year, d$val, d$year)


A bit more “interactive” or animated graph is created.


In comparison to static graph:


In addition to R code, the ImageMagic program needs to be installed on your machine, as well. Also the speed, quality and many other parameters can be set, when creating animated gif.

Animated gif can be also included into your SSRS report, your Sharepoint site or any other site – like my blog 🙂 and it will stay interactive. In Power BI, importing animated gif as a picture, unfortunately will not work.

As always, code is available at GitHub.

Happy R-coding!

R graphs and tables in Power BI Desktop

Power BI Desktop enable users to use R script visual for adding custom visualization generated with R language – regardless of R package used. Before using R script visual, you will need to enable it by setting path to R Engine on your client in the global options. Once this is done, you will be able to enhance your Power BI reports using R visualizations.


My personal favorite R packages I like to use in Power BI are shiny, plotly, ggplot2, googleVis, ggiraph, rCharts and d3js.  Apart from finding the package for data visualization where you feel home, one of the very great thing I find with Power BI + R is the ability to have visualizations created dynamically (more or less like if you would be using plotly or shiny)  with slicers and selectors. And this makes data exploration, data wrangling so much easier.

With October 2016 Power BI custom visuals got additional 7 R visuals to the family (check Power BI Visuals Gallery and fall in love with your favorite one 🙂 ).


Upon using any of the additional R visuals, Power BI will – prior to importing the additional visualizations – ask for installing all the missing packages, as well as inform you of any incompatibility between R engine and package.

So how easy is to create R visualization in Power BI?  Let us first import data to Power BI from SQL Server. I have generated a sample data-set for this demo. Data and all the samples are available at Github.


With sample data-set I have created a simple data visualization with slicers using Power BI.


Now, the same visualization using R.


Note that I have used same slicers (Year = 2016, Month = 2) and R graph (using ggplot2) was able to dynamically  visualize the numbers. So this mean, that any R visualized graph can be navigated and dynamically updated, which is absolutely great, especially in cases when you do data exploration. Following R code was used:

ggplot(data=dataset, aes(x=Day, y=Value)) +  geom_line(aes(color="red")) + 
ggtitle("Value by day") + theme(legend.position = "none") + 
theme(panel.background = element_rect(fill = "white", color = "lightgray", size = 1))

with additional dataset conversion to data.frame done automatically.


Where it get’s tricky is if you want to return the R data.frame into your Power BI page in form of a table (imagine you want some results to your graph or that you are calculating some statistics). Well, Power BI does not allow returning tables from R script visual. Unless, table is an image (that is, in a “form” of a visualized “graph”).

So I manage to create a table as a graph using R and gplot function from ggplot2 package.


The best part of this table is, that is dynamically changed based on selection on graphs or slicers. The downside is, that it can not be scrolled within the object. So if you end up with bigger table, you have to tweak the font size or show table aggregated or grouped.  In my opinion, I would not change R created table with Power BI table, because Power BI table is simply better and easier to create and maintain. But I would definitely recommend using R tables to support your R visuals. For example: If you are generating clusters using R in power BI, use R generated table to expose additional statistics on clusters.

The code for generating this R table is:


qplot(x=1:5, y=1:5, geom = "blank") + 
theme(line = element_blank(), text = element_blank()) + 

Script generated blank plot, where custom annotation is added with function grob. And this is our data.frame from dataset and is displayed on top of empty graph.In addition to “remove” the background blank graph, blank line and text is added:

theme(line = element_blank(), text = element_blank())


Update #1 (19.12.2016)

After reading the comment to this blog post from reader Baptiste Auguie  (with link to his post on displaying tables as grid graphs), that using grid will return the same result, but very much a simpler solution to plotting / drawing table. Thank you Baptiste! I must have missed this one.

R code is far less simpler without  qplot function.


And the printscreen from Power BI:


As always, sample, code and data-set is available at Github.

Happy PowerBI-Rrrring!