Part I: Configuring the Dynamics AX 2012 R3 Entity Store

by | Updated January 2, 2018 | Development, Dynamics AX, Set Up

This is part 1 of a 3-part series:

Part 1Setting up and Configuring the Dynamics AX 2012 R3 Entity Store

Part 2Publishing a Dynamics AX 2012 R3 default entity

Part 3 – Creating and publishing a custom Dynamics AX 2012 R3 entity

Intro

Microsoft’s update for Dynamics AX 2012 R3 includes a new feature. This feature is called the entity store. And it is a pretty amazing feature!

So what the heck is a data entity store? It’s just a database really, but in this case it’s being leveraged to store data specifically from AX for analytics and reporting. At a conceptual level think of it as DIXF pushing AX data to another database, this image was taken from here – https://ax.help.dynamics.com/en/wiki/data-importexport-framework-user-guide-dixf-dmf/

DynamicsAX2012R3EntityStore_JoshLee1

There are default entities that come with AX as well as the ability to create custom ones to suit your needs. The data coming from AX can be pushed via an incremental method (by the way of change tracking) into the columnstore table in SQL Server.  And with this capability a whole new world of simplified business intelligent reporting can be gained!

Prerequisites

The data entity feature for Dynamics AX 2012 R3 requires the installation of one of the following patches:

AX 2012 R3 Hotfix (KB 3147499) – Provides supports for the Entity DB – https://mbs2.microsoft.com/Knowledgebase/KBDisplay.aspx?scid=kb;EN-US;3147499

AX 2012 R3 CU 11 (KB 3157865) – https://support.microsoft.com/en-us/hotfix/kbhotfix?kbnum=3157865&kbln=en-us&sd=mbs

The entity database store requires one of the following versions of SQL Server:

  • SQL Server 2014
  • SQL Server 2016
  • Azure SQL database

What you need to know

The entity data should be stored on a different server than the AX database server.  There is no need to have the same versions of SQL Server between the AX and the entity store server.  You can run your production AX instance on say SQL Server 2012 and install SQL Server 2014 on a different server and this is a valid configuration.

Please keep in mind that if you want to upgrade your existing version of SQL Server to SQL Server 2016 for your Dynamics AX instance you will need to install the CU 11 update.  This update enables support for Dynamics AX 2012 R3 on SQL Server 2016.

Background

The entity store leverages key SQL Server columnstore index technology. This technology is pretty amazing, it’s an in-memory memory technology with built in compression and batch execution capability (no, not AX batch mode a different type of batch mode). In a nutshell this provides dramatic increases in performance while decreasing space requirements for data storage. To learn more review these little nuggets of information:

SQL Server In-Memory OLTP and Columnstore Feature Comparison

Columnstore Indexes Guide

Condensed Version

Now on to the fun stuff, here is the short list of things to do with.  To keep this blog shorter, I have already performed steps 1 and 2, I leave that to you to perform.  I will be covering step 3 in this blog and 4 and 5 in my next blog.

  1. Install CU11 or the hotfix
  2. Stand up a new server with SQL Server 2014 or 2016
  3. Configure the entity integration
  4. Create an entity
  5. Create a report on the entity

Architecture

Here is my current AX architecture for reference:

DynamicsAX2012R3EntityStore_JoshLee2

Entity Store Configuration

Once you have applied the appropriate update to AX, you will find a new heading on the Data import export framework page aptly named Entity store.

DynamicsAX2012R3EntityStore_JoshLee3

Creating the Entity Database

To create an entity store database on SQL (I’m running 2016 as shown above) here is what I did:

  1. Create a database (I named mine AXEntityStore)

DynamicsAX2012R3EntityStore_JoshLee4

  1. Enable access for the AXAdmin (account under which I will be logged in to the AX client as). This account needs to be able access to the SQL Server instance and AXEntityStore database for configuration in addition to the AOS service account (which executes on behalf of the user).

  1. Create a DSN connection to the SQL database. On the client (in my case I am on an AOS server which has a client installed), I created a DSN entry by doing this: Right click on Start | Control Panel | System and Security | Administrative Tools | ODBC Data Source (64 bit)

DynamicsAX2012R3EntityStore_JoshLee5

    1. Select User, System or File DSN. In my case I selected File (you can use whatever is appropriate). I selected file because if I need to make any modifications to the DSN later it doesn’t matter what user I’m logged in as I just modify the file. System will give you almost the same results but you would still need to be logged in to the server where you created the system DSN. By using file I can store this in a central repository and just reference it when needed.

Here is a quick breakdown of the differences between the DSN types:

DynamicsAX2012R3EntityStore_JoshLee6

Click Add.

DynamicsAX2012R3EntityStore_JoshLee7

DynamicsAX2012R3EntityStore_JoshLee8

Select the location of a file share.

DynamicsAX2012R3EntityStore_JoshLee9

Then name the file and click Save.

DynamicsAX2012R3EntityStore_JoshLee10

Enter the entity store server name.

DynamicsAX2012R3EntityStore_JoshLee11

I accepted the defaults since I had already granted access to the credentials under which I was logged in as.

DynamicsAX2012R3EntityStore_JoshLee12

Select the AXEntityStore database already created.

DynamicsAX2012R3EntityStore_JoshLee13

I accepted the defaults and click Finish to complete.

DynamicsAX2012R3EntityStore_JoshLee14

And here is the summary of the settings I ended up with:

DynamicsAX2012R3EntityStore_JoshLee15

  1. Now it’s time to configure AX. Within the AX client open the Data import export framework page and click on Define entity stores under the heading Entity store. In my setup, I am on the first AOS server in the diagram depicted above (server on the left). This server also happens to have a client installed.

In the Source name column enter a name. You many need to scroll over in the left hand pane to be able to see the Create clustered column store indexes option (checked by default so don’t worry if you miss it).

DynamicsAX2012R3EntityStore_JoshLee16

Then in the right-hand pane change the following as appropriate for your environment:

DynamicsAX2012R3EntityStore_JoshLee17

On a side note, I noticed funky symbols appearing in the WSID parameter.  This really bugged me so I edited the DSN file and removed the registered trade mark symbol which was causing the funny looking ? mark so that it looks like the screenshot above. This is what it looked like before I made the edits:

DynamicsAX2012R3EntityStore_JoshLee18

We now have the DNS connection configured and pointing to the AXEntityStore database.  The next step would be to publish entities and there-in lies the challenge.  Initially I thought it would be pretty simple to get going on building reports but here is what I discovered.

To publish an entity (or entities), click the Publish button in the Entity store window.

DynamicsAX2012R3EntityStore_JoshLee19

Here is a small snippet of the entities available for publishing (image cropped to fit):

DynamicsAX2012R3EntityStore_JoshLee20

DynamicsAX2012R3EntityStore_JoshLee21

Out of curiosity I exported these to Excel and I see that there are 235 Entities I can currently select from (236 – 1 for the header row):

DynamicsAX2012R3EntityStore_JoshLee22

I was interested in creating reports on customers so I selected the Customer entity and clicked Publish:

DynamicsAX2012R3EntityStore_JoshLee23

And was greeted with this error:

DynamicsAX2012R3EntityStore_JoshLee24

Ok, I thought, so the MEMO column is not a data type that can participate in a columnstore index.  “No problem I thought” I’ll just unhook the memo field mapping and publish the entity without the mapping in place that should do it.  I opened up the Customer entity mapping by clicking on Target Entities under the heading Setup in Data import and export framework.

DynamicsAX2012R3EntityStore_JoshLee25

I selected Customer again and clicked Modify target mapping.

DynamicsAX2012R3EntityStore_JoshLee26

I clicked on Mapping details.

DynamicsAX2012R3EntityStore_JoshLee27

Selected the Memo field and clicked Delete and Save.  This removes the mapping but I still need to regenerate the entity with the mapping removed.

DynamicsAX2012R3EntityStore_JoshLee28

If you go back to the target mapping, you’ll see that the memo field has been unmapped:

DynamicsAX2012R3EntityStore_JoshLee29

But even with the Memo mapping removed, no dice:

DynamicsAX2012R3EntityStore_JoshLee30

This means that for any entity that contains the memo field you will need to create a custom entity with that field removed to be able to publish the data over to the entity store. And that my friends will be a blog for another day.

In my upcoming blogs I will cover the remaining topics:

  1. How to publish an entity (that does not contain a memo field)
  2. How to create a custom entity based on the Customer Entity (which contains the memo field)

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