SQL Server Reporting Services and Crystal Reports:
A Competitive Analysis

Copyright 2005, Brian Bischof

Reporting Services Overall Impressions

Microsoft is promoting SSRS as the native reporting tool for SQL Server. With every new version of SQL Server Microsoft is trying to push the product further into the Business Intelligence space. Having a built-in reporting tool makes it much easier to promote SQL Server as an all-in-one BI platform. Microsoft also hopes that SSRS will sell more SQL Server licenses. After you build your apps using SSRS as a free add-on, you will most likely have to buy an additional SQL Server license to run Reporting Services in a production environment. SSRS is targeted primarily at the .NET developer who is comfortable with writing Transact-SQL. This is validated by the fact that it is only available as an add-on to the Visual Studio .NET IDE and the only people who can design reports with SSRS are .NET developers. There is no end-user application that makes it easy for non-developers to create reports.

My impression of Reporting Services is that when Microsoft designed it, they realized that it wouldn't be possible to implement a fully functional report writer for a 1.0 release. So they designed it to have two goals: 1) Cover the largest spectrum of reporting needs in the easiest possible way and 2) Make it extensible so that either the developer or third parties can fill in the gaps. I would estimate that it handles 75% of the common reporting needs. This may not be enough for developers who need to write new reports on a regular basis or have users who are critical of the report output.

For the features that SSRS doesn't provide, you can write custom extensions to fill in the missing pieces. The biggest question this evokes is how much code will have to be written? For example, SSRS doesn't report from DataSets. Although this is a serious limitation, it isn't much of an obstacle to research how to build a custom data extension and pass the DataSet to the report. At the other end of the spectrum is the fact that SSRS doesn't export to Microsoft Word. Although I've seen people say that you can build a custom rendering extension to export to Word, considering that Microsoft's team of programmers haven't been able to do this yet then I think the assumption that a single programmer could do it is a pretty unrealistic statement.

Considering that SSRS helps you produce 75% of your reporting needs, you have to examine your reporting requirements and determine how much functionality is included and how much are you are willing to do without.

Let's look at different aspects of Crystal Reports and SSRS and see how they compare. One thing to note throughout this paper is that even though Crystal Reports and SSRS differ in respect to the report design architecture, each has its own pros and cons. You have to evaluate how each aspect impacts your business.

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Table of Contents
1. Executive Summary
2. Reporting Services Overview
3. Reporting Services Overall Impressions
4. Product Offerings and File Formats
5. Licensing Details
6. Connecting To Data
7. Securing Sites with Forms Authentication
8. Designing Reports
9. Passing Parameters
10. Exporting Reports
11. Subreports
12. Conclusion