Let us discuss on the most important point, most of the Big Data vendors want to showcase that Tableau can connect to each of their unique database engines which is possible by a simple answer. This can be achieved by building an ODBC driver, which is not a simple process nonetheless. ODBC driver technology has been in this industry for considerably over 20 years and will remain tall, hence the confidence that most of these vendors show in building their own ODBC drivers. Let us now take a look at how these are done, what are the possible options for us to connect with Tableau Desktop software.
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Tableau Desktop version comes with in-built support to connect to various kinds of data sources ranging from excel files to text files, comma separated files, Access and etc. If you are willing to connect to a data source that does not fall in this range, then you have Tableau Server to come to your rescue. Tableau Server is a very powerful tool than Tableau Desktop which comes with data source options more than 40 in number. Tableau Drivers are a part of the Tableau Server installation, where the installers for Tableau Server or Tableau Server Workers automatically installs the required drivers for Oracle and Oracle Essbase databases.
Tableau Desktop already comes in seamless integration with many data providers and Tableau itself provides a list of all the supported drivers that one can use to connect with Tableau from the corresponding data source. The list of data sources and the supported drivers are available for download from the Tableau site. Though support to each of these drivers and the corresponding data sources depends very much on the version of the Tableau product. The product version can be seen on Tableau Desktop (Help -> About Tableau) and on Tableau Server, click on the information icon and then select About Tableau Server.
With that said, what if you are making an attempt to connect to a data source that do not support any ODBC connector readily – there is nothing that you might have to worry about. Tableau provides an ODBC connector that uses and follows all of the ODBC standards. Using ODBC, you can connect with any data source that follows the SQL standards and implements their own ODBC API.
As there are many different varieties of data sources, it is very obvious that each of these data sources would implement their own drivers in a unique different way. Tableau uses the feature-discovery API in the ODBC APIs to question around the database or the data source driver about the functionalities each of these support. By this, it should be understood very well that fewer the limitations on the ODBC driver then more the functions and functionalities that it supports along with Tableau and data sources. Coming to this point, it is very important that you note that the ODBC connectivity is limited only to the Windows environments.
During the initial connection Tableau will request the driver and SQL discovery to provide details in order to determine the number of functionalities or capabilities that it will be able to support. Let us now take a look at some of the capabilities discovery that Tableau performs include:
What kinds of data types are supported?
Which all join kinds are all supported? (outer, inner, full)
Are the TOP and LIMIT queries supported?
Is there a support provided for subqueries?
Is there a support for creation of temporary tables, if so, are the select into statements supported on those temporary tables?
What are the various date and time manipulation functions are available?
Which scalar and aggregate functions are made available and work fine?
The outcome of the features and capabilities above, Tableau distinguishes the current connections into one of the following four categories (which are shown for your ready reference).
A driver that supports all the functions and capabilities that are listed above and also what Tableau uses are considered a fully functional ODBC driver
A driver that a minimal set of non-critical functions that are not supported by the ODBC drivers are categorized into this section. Based on the functions that are not supported, Tableau will automatically modify the behavior to curtail these limitations.
The drivers that don’t support the major sets of capabilities that are critical for Tableau to use are categorized into this section. These drivers might support in extracting the details into Tableau on the first run, but might not be able to run any further filters on the data extracted etc.
These are those drivers which do not support even the most minimal set of capabilities that are required for Tableau to connect, and hence Tableau will not be able to proceed any further with the connection in such cases.
After a successful connection is made, Tableau will let us know about the limitations that are identified with the data source and the ODBC driver that comes along with that type of data source.
An example of one such successful data connection has been shown as below for your reference.
In this article, we have tried to understand what Tableau Desktop and Tableau Server products are used for. We also have tried to understand the use of an ODBC driver while we connect any of our data sources with either Tableau Desktop or Tableau Server products. We have also tried to understand what needs to be done when we are trying to connect to a data source that doesn’t have an ODBC driver available readily.
Having said that all of this, Tableau products will provide reasonable levels of assistance or support to customers in troubleshooting connections with the ODBC drivers and the data sources. This in no way promises to modify or customize connections or the connector itself to work with any specific ODBC driver.
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