Thin and Core workbook without Sharepoint or SSAS

edit : 1/1/2017, another option is described here, the thin workbook connect directly to Power BI desktop, very handy if: your client are still on Excel 2010, or you don’t want to share the data in the data model but just the results.


The concept of thin and core workbook was familiarized by the guys at PowerPivotPro, but they assume, either you have SharePoint installed or a connection to the cloud.

Let’s assume the only resource you have are:

  • Your PC.
  • A local server used for shared folders.

Backend and Front End approach

if you have small data sets then load everything to PowerPivot and do the reports in the same workbook, but if you are dealing with a lot of data sets, and you need to provide tailored reports to different people, typical example your client wants a particular format, the PM want a different format, the construction manager wants something different altogether, we all know what the commissioning guy wants 🙂

Then a sensible approach is to separate the data model from the reports itself, the backend will be used to store the data and a front end to report and visual the data.

Front End:

Excel: natural choice for many obvious reasons.

Tableau: has a killer feature in this scenario.


There are many options, depending on the size and the complexity of your data.

1-MS Access:  is a solid option, but if you have tables that have more than 500 000 rows, then perhaps that’s not really a good solution, I know it depends on filed type, number of columns etc., the other issue there is no ETL for MS Access.

2- MS SQL SERVER EXPRESS: it is a free and a kick ass Database server, probably it will load all your data, but if your data is not well structured then it became a pain to load it, there is no free ETL for SQL express, and Powerquery does not natively load to SQL, you can vote for this idea here .

3- PowerBI Desktop: load the data in PowerBI Desktop and access the data from Excel using this hack. It is highly experimental but very promising, it is potentially a game changer.  You can vote here if you want Microsoft to officially support it.

4-PowerPivot: it is already there with Excel, Powerquery can literally load any data you have, it can clean transform with a simple click, and it is free, and don’t forget PowerPivot is a simple SSAS instance embedded in Excel, ok there is a problem 😦

We cannot access PowerPivot Model from another Excel workbook.

PowerPivot data can only be consumed from the same workbook :), I don’t know the reason but definitely it is not technical, all we can do is just to vote and hope Microsoft will listen

But fortunately there are some workaround.

1- Tableau: tableau can read data from a PowerPivot data model, and it has some very amazing visualisation, (not free)

2- PowerUpdate: Powerupdate can load the data directly from the PowerPivot Model to an SQL Server, and bonus point, it can refresh any workbook automatically no need for manual refresh (not free)

3- Reverse Linked Table: instead of using pivot table to read the data from the Pivot tables, we just used tables to get the same result, the Italians provided a detailed explanation here, and to avoid Excel limitation of 1 Million record, you can split the result in new tabs, you can even create summarized data that feed your different report, the only inconvenient here, the size of the workbook will increase with a lot of data.


a simple option to deals with a lot of data is to load all the data source in one Master workbook, then write back the result in the same workbook using Reverse Linked Tables.

Now you can use that Master workbook as your backend for all your reports.

or use PowerBI Desktop as your backend, officially it is not support but Excel can perfectly connect to a local instance of  PowerBI desktop.




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