For the world of Power Apps users, the Common Data Services (CDS) might be more understandable, however, in the world of Power BI users, we still have many who don’t know what it is and what is the use cases of it. So I thought better to write about it in this article, and explain what is CDS, what it means for you if you are a user of Power Apps or Power BI? and how you can use it? If you like to learn more about Power BI, read Power BI book from Rookie to Rock Star.
What is Common Data Service?
Common Data Service, abbreviated as CDS, is a data storage service. Like a database. You can use CDS to store data in the form of tables, which is called as Entities. Common Data Service is a service that is used mainly in the Power Apps portal, however, it is accessible through other Power Platform services and Microsoft Dynamics. the data can be loaded into CDS entities through multiple ways, and it can be also extracted from there through different methods. So you can say it this way that; CDS is a data storage and retrieval system, like a database.
Common Data Service (CDS) is a data storage system, like a database.
CDS includes a set of base entities (tables), but you can add custom entities to it. You can access CDS through other Power Platform services (Power BI, Power Apps, Power Automate…) and some other Microsoft services.
Why CDS is important for you if you are using Power Apps?
If you are using Power Apps, then it means you are creating a mobile application. The mobile application is most likely to work with data, capture information from the user through a data entry form or something and it needs to store the data somewhere. You would need to have a database system that you can store your data and retrieve it.
CDS is free storage for you in the Power Apps environment because you are already paying for the Power Apps license, then you can use CDS for free.
Of course, you can go and build your database in other systems, such as Azure SQL database, but then you need to pay for that service separately, or you might prefer to keep it on-prem in a SQL database, which then you would need to set up a gateway to use it. The choice of which database to use for your Power Apps app is up to you. However, CDS will give you a free, and easy-to-use database system to work with, and build your apps using that.
CDS is the free database service that you can use in Power Apps to store and retrieve the data of your apps.
So in a nutshell; CDS stores your Power Apps data at no extra cost, it is easy to manage. You don’t need a database developer to go and build a database for you to load your data into it. It is a data storage system that can be used by a citizen application developer.
You don’t need to know about databases, or be a database developer, to use CDS. It is built for the citizen app developer.
What the CDS database management system looks like?
Like many other database systems, CDS also has a management tool, which you can go and see entities, edit them and manage them. At the moment, you can use Power Apps portal for this management portal, and you will find CDS under the Power Apps portal like below;
What is the point of CDS if you are using Power BI?
There are two aspects of using CDS if you use Power BI. One is to use CDS as a data source system.
In the world of Power BI, we don’t store the data. We do, however, get data from a data storage system to analyze it. And that is why most of the people in the Power BI world, might not be familiar with CDS, because, from their point of view, this is just another database system, just another data source to get data from.
CDS is another data source that you can use when you Get Data in Power BI.
Another aspect of using CDS in Power BI is to use it as intermediate storage. Intermediate storage for your Power Query transformations. I have explained previously that why you might need to decouple your Power Query transformation layer into Power BI dataflows. Using CDS, you can store the output of dataflows into CDS, like a database, or let’s say, like a data warehouse, and use it for further analysis.
CDS can be your data warehouse if you use dataflows.
I highly recommend you to reach the article I wrote about decoupling the data transformation layer, data modelling layer, and visualization layer in Power BI implementation, which explains how dataflows can be an essential part of implementation for multi-developer architecture;
And the concept of dataflow is nowadays, not just for Power BI, but also for Power Apps. It is Power Platform Dataflows;
What is the storage engine behind the scene for CDS?
CDS stores the data, retrieve it and controls it using Azure services. There are a number of Azure services that are involved with this. Azure SQL DB, SQL elastic pools used for relational data, Blob storage for the non-relational data, and CosmosDB for logs. the screenshot below from Ryan Jones session at Microsoft Ignite 2019 explains how things placed together:
Ways to Load data into CDS
Because CDS is a storage system, you might ask how you can store data into it? what are ways? here is the answer:
- Power Apps app. You can build an app using Power Apps that store the data into entities of CDS.
- Power Apps portal using Get Data and Power Query experience.
- Dataflow: In Power Apps portal, you can create a dataflow and schedule it to load data into CDS.
- Other services
Way to retrieve data from CDS
You can extract data from CDS in many different ways, including:
- Power Apps app; You can have forms in your app that show the existing data from entities of CDS.
- Export data from Power Apps portal
- Power BI, Get data from Common Data Services
- Other services
How much does it cost for you?
If you are using Power Apps, then you have a license that covers also CDS, so you don’t need to pay anything extra. However, different licenses have different limitations. here you can find out more about it.
If you just have Power BI license, then at the moment of writing this article, the only way for you to use CDS, is to pay for Power Apps licenses. However, remember, for getting data from CDS, you don’t need the license (because someone already created the CDS and is paying for it). You would need a license if you are writing into CDS (through dataflows maybe, which needs its own blog article, which I’ll explain later in another post).
Common Data Service (CDS) is a database system. this database system stores the data in Azure data lake storage (cloud), and you can work with it through a management portal. CDS is a free database if you are using Power Apps licenses, You can then analyze the data of CDS using Power BI. CDS can be also used as a data warehouse layer using dataflows. In other blog articles, I’ll explain more about that scenario.