Pushdown Filters to Parquet From PowerBI Using Synapse Serverless

TL;DR, we use filepath()  function to get the partition Data which can be passed from PowerBI when used with Synapse Serverless, Potentially Making substantial cost saving when used in Incremental refresh as less files will be scanned.

Edit : there is another Technique to incrementally load parquet files without a Database

This blog is just me experimenting with the possibility of passing the filters from PowerBI to a Parquet file using Synapse Serverless.

when you deal with On demand Query engine Like Athena, BigQuery, Synapse Serverless etc, the less files read, the less cost incurred, so if somehow you manage to read only the files that contain the data without scanning all your folders, you can make substantial saving.

To Be clear, the first time I used Parquet was yesterday, so I have very basic knowledge at this stage.

1- Get the Source Data

I have a csv file with 3 Millions rows, here is the schema

2- Partition The Data

as far as my understanding of Synapse Serverless engine, when you filter by date for example, The engine will scan the whole file, maybe if the column is sorted, it will scan less data, I don’t know and have not try it yet, instead we are going to partition the Table by date, which is simply generating lot of files split by the date values, I imagine generating a lot of small files is not optimal too, it will reduce cost but potentially making the Query slower ( at the last this how other Engine Works).

I am using this python script to generate the partitions

import pandas as pd
import datetime
df = pd.read_csv('box.csv',parse_dates=True)
df['SETTLEMENTDATE'] = pd.to_datetime(df['SETTLEMENTDATE'])
df['Date'] = df['SETTLEMENTDATE'].dt.date

and here is the results, a folder of parquet files grouped by Date

which I can read using the PowerBI Desktop

I just casually read a parquet file, without any Programing Language !!! ( Kudos for the Product team), this is only to test the parquet is properly generated.

3- Load The files to Azure Storage

This is only a show case, but in a production workflow, you maybe using something like ADF or Python Cloud Functions, anyway to upload a lot of files, I am using Azure storage explorer

now we can start using Synapse Analytics

4- Create a View In Synapse Serverless

we are going to leverage filepath()  function to get the partition date, please see the documentation , here is the Query to create a view

USE [test];

 *,convert(Datetime,result.filepath(1),120) as date
        BULK 'https://xxxxxxxxxx.dfs.core.windows.net/parquet/nem.parquet/Date=*/*.parquet',
    )  result

5- Test if the filter Partition Works

Let’s try some testing to see how much is scanned

no Filter, scan all the files, data processed 48 MB

now with filter , only Date 11/04/2018, Data processed 1 MB

6- Test in PowerBI

I build this small model, Date Table is import and Parquet is DirectQuery ( be cautious when using DirectQuery, PBI can be very chatty and generate a lot of SQL Queries, Currently, it is better to use only import mode, until cache support is added)

Case 1: View all Dates

Data Processed : 43 MB

Case 2: Filter Some Dates

let’s filter only 2 days

Note : please use Query reduction option in PowerBI desktop, otherwise, every time you move the slicer, a query will be generated

Here is the result

I was really excited when I saw the results: 1 MB Synapse Serverless was smart enough to scan only 2 files

7- Incremental Refresh

Instead of Direct Query, let’s try a more practical use case, I configured Incremental refresh to change dates only for the Last 3 days

and here is the List of Queries generated by PowerBI

I have only Data for 2018 and 2019, the second refresh (that Started at 3:45 PM) just refreshed the data for the Last three days and because there is no files for those dates the Query returned 0 MB, which is great.

Another Nice functionality is select top 100 which is generated by PowerQuery to check field type scanned only 1 MB !!!!

Just to be sure, I have done another refresh at 4 :24 PM and checked the Partitions using SSMS

Only the last three partions were refreshed and PQ sent only 6 Queries ( 1 select data for 1 day and the other check field type)

I think Azure storage + Synapse analytics Serverless + PowerBI Incremental Refresh may end up as a very powerful Pattern.

Using PowerBI with Azure Synapse Serverless, First Look

Recently I come across a new use case, where I thought Azure Synapse serverless may make sense, if you never heard about it before, here is a very good introduction

TLDR; Interesting new Tool !!!!, will definitely have another serious look when they support cache for the same Queries

Basically a new file arrive daily in an azure storage and needs to be processed and later consumed in PowerBI

The setup is rather easy, here is an example of the user interface, this is not a step by step tutorial, but just my first impression.

I will use AEMO (Australian electricity market Operator) data as an example, the raw data is located here

Load Raw Data

First I load the csv file as it is, I define the columns to be loaded from 1 to 44 , make sure you load only 1 file to experiment then when you are ready you change this line


Then it will load all files, notice when you use filename(), it will add a column with the files name, very handy

USE [test];


result.filename() AS [filename],
        BULK 'https://xxxxxxxx.dfs.core.windows.net/tempdata/PUBLIC_DAILY_201804010000_20180402040501.CSV',
        FORMAT = 'CSV',
    with (
c1   varchar(255),
c2   varchar(255),
c3   varchar(255),
c4   varchar(255),
c5   varchar(255),
c6   varchar(255),
c7   varchar(255),
c8   varchar(255),
c9   varchar(255),
c10   varchar(255),
c11   varchar(255),
c13   varchar(255),
c14   varchar(255),
c15   varchar(255),
c16   varchar(255),
c17   varchar(255),
c18   varchar(255),
c19   varchar(255),
c20   varchar(255),
c21   varchar(255),
c22   varchar(255),
c23   varchar(255),
c24   varchar(255),
c25   varchar(255),
c26   varchar(255),
c27   varchar(255),
c29   varchar(255),
c30   varchar(255),
c31   varchar(255),
c32   varchar(255),
c33   varchar(255),
c34   varchar(255),
c35   varchar(255),
c36   varchar(255),
c37   varchar(255),
c38   varchar(255),
c39   varchar(255),
c40   varchar(255),
c41   varchar(255),
c42   varchar(255),
c43   varchar(255),
c44   varchar(255)
 AS result

The previous Query create a view that read the raw data

Create a View for a Clean Data

As you can imagine , Raw data by itself is not very useful, we will create another view that reference the raw data view and extract a nice table ( in this case the Power generation every 30 minutes)

USE [test];


select [_].[filename] as [filename],
   convert(Datetime,[_].[c5],120) as [SETTLEMENTDATE],
    [_].[c7] as [DUID],
   cast( [_].[c8] as DECIMAL(18, 4)) as [INITIALMW]
from [dbo].[aemo] as [_]
where (([_].[c2] = 'TUNIT' and [_].[c2] is not null) and ([_].[c4] = '1' and [_].[c4] is not null)) and ([_].[c1] = 'D' and [_].[c1] is not null)

Connecting PowerBI

Connecting to azure synapse is extremely easy, PowerBI just see it as a normal SQL server.

here is the M script

Source = Sql.Databases("xxxxxxxxxxx-ondemand.sql.azuresynapse.net"),
test = Source{[Name="test"]}[Data],
dbo_GL_Clean = test{[Schema="dbo",Item="TUNIT"]}[Data]

And the SQL Query generated by PowerQuery ( which Fold)

select [$Table].[filename] as [filename],
[$Table].[DUID] as [DUID],
from [dbo].[TUNIT] as [$Table]

Click refresh and perfect, here is 31 files loaded

Everything went rather smooth, nothing to set up and I have now an Enterprise Grade Data warehouse in Azure, how cool is that !!!

How Much it cost ?

Azure Synapse serverless pricing model is based on how much data is processed

First let’s try with only 1 file ,running Query from the Synapse Workspace, the file is 85 MB, good so far, data processed is 90 MB, file size + some meta Data

now let’s see using the Queries generated by PowerBI, in theory my files size are 300 MB, I will be paying only for 300 MB, let’s have a look at the Metrics

My first reaction was, there must be a bug , 2.4 GB !!!, I refreshed again and it is the same number !!!

A look at the PowerQuery diagnostic and a clear picture emerges, PowerBI SQL Connectors is famous for being “Chatty”, in this case you would expect PowerQuery to send only 1 Query but in reality it will send multiple Queries , at least 1 of them to check the top 1000 rows to define the fields type.

Keep in mind Azure Synapse Serverless has no cache ( they are working on it), so if you run the same query multiple times even with the same data, it will “scan” the files multiple times, and as there is no data statistic a select 1000 rows will read all files even without order by.

Obviously, I was using import mode, as you can imagine using it with directQuery will generate substantially more queries.

Just to be sure I tried to do refresh on the service.

The same, it is still 2.4 GB, I think it is fair to say, there is no way to control how many time PowerQuery send a SQL Query to Synapse.

Edit 17 October 2020 :

I got a feedback that probably my PowerBI desktop was open when I run the test in the service, turn out it is true, I tried again with The desktop closed and it worked as expected, one refresh generate 1 query

Notice even if the CSV file was compressed, it will not make a difference, Azure synapse bill uncompressed data.

Parquet file would made a difference as only columns used would be charged, but I did not want to used another tool in this example.

Take Away

It is an interesting Technology, the integration with Azure cloud storage is straightforward, the setup is easy,you can do transformation using only SQL, Pay only what you use and Microsoft is investing a lot of resources on it.

But the lack of cache is a show stopper !!

I will definitely check it again when they add the cache and cost control, after all it is still in Preview 🙂