Excel CUBE-Functions and MDX UniqueNames

Two weeks ago at the German SQL Server Conference 2015 I was at Peter Myer’s session about Mastering the CUBE Functions in Excel. (PS: Peter is also speaking on our upcoming SQLSaturday #374 in Vienna next week and at PASS SQLRally in Copenhagen the week after). After his session we had a further discussion about this topic and our experiences on how to use Excels CUBE-functions in order to build nice Dashboards with native Excel functionalities that also work with e.g. Excel Services. Its always great to exchange with people that share the same passion on he same topic! One thing we both agreed on that is missing currently is a way to get the MDX UniqueName of something that is selected in a slicer, filter or simply in a cell using CUBEMEMBER-function. I once used a special Cube Measure which was created in MDX Script which returned the UniqueName of a given member that was selected together with this special measure. For this to work with Excel you need to know how Excel builds the MDX when querying cube values using CUBEVALUE-function. Here is a little example:
This produces the following MDX query:

  2. {
  3.     (
  4.         [Measures].[Internet Sales Amount],
  5.         [Product].[Category].&[1]
  6.     )
  7. } ON 0
  8. FROM [Adventure Works]

So it basically creates a tuple that contains everything you pass into the CUBEVALUE-Function as a parameter. Knowing this we can create a calculated measure to get the MDX UniqueName of this tuple using MDX StrToTuple()- and MDX AXIS()-function:

  1. MEMBER [Measures].[Excel TupleToStr] AS (
  2. TupleToStr(axis(0).item(0))
  3. )

Replacing the [Measures].[Internet Sales Amount] of our initial CUBEVALUE-function with this new measure would return this to Excel:

  1. ([Measures].[Internet Sales Amount],[Product].[Category].&[1])


Ok, so far so good but nothing really useful as you need to hardcode the member’s UniqueName into the CUBEVALUE-function anyway so you already know the UniqueName.
However, this is not the case if you are dealing with Pivot Table Page Filters and/or Slicers! You can simply refer to them within the CUBEVALUE-function but you never get the UniqueName of the selected item(s). Well, at least not directly! But you can use the approach described above, using an special MDX calculated measure, to achieve this as I will demonstrate on the next pages.

Calculated measures can only be created using the Pivot Table interface but can also be used in CUBE-functions. So first thing you need to do is to create a Pivot Table and add a new MDX Calculated Measure:

!Caution! some weird MDX coming !Caution!


You may wonder, why such a complex MDX is necessary and what it actually does. What it does is the following: Based on the example MDX query that Excel generates (as shown above) this is a universal MDX that returns the MDX UniqueName of any other member that is selected together with our measure using the CUBEVALUE-function. It also removes the UniqueName of the measure itself so the result can be used again with any other measure, e.g. [Internet Sales Amount]
The reason why it is rather complex is that Excel may group similar queries and execute them as a batch/as one query to avoid too many executions which would slow down the overall performance. So we cannot just reference the first element of our query as it may belong to any other CUBEVALUE-function. This MDX deals with all this kinds of issues.

The MDX above allows you to specify only two additional filters but it may be extended to any number of filters that you pass in to the CUBEMEMBER-function. This would be the general pattern:

  1. MID(
  2.   IIf(axis(0).item(0).count > 0 AND
  3.         NOT(axis(0).item(0).item(0).hierarchy IS [Measures]),
  4.     "," + axis(0).item(0).item(0).hierarchy.currentmember.uniquename,
  5.     "")
  6. + IIf(axis(0).item(0).count > 1 AND
  7.         NOT(axis(0).item(0).item(1).hierarchy IS [Measures]),
  8.     "," + axis(0).item(0).item(1).hierarchy.currentmember.uniquename,
  9.     "")
  10. + IIf(axis(0).item(0).count > n AND
  11.         NOT(axis(0).item(0).item(n).hierarchy IS [Measures]),
  12.     "," + axis(0).item(0).item(n).hierarchy.currentmember.uniquename,
  13.     "")
  14. , 2)

After creating this measure we can now use it in our CUBE-functions in combination with our filters and slicers:

You may noted that I had to use CUBERANKEDMEMBER here. This is because filters and slicers always return a set and if we would pass in a set to our CUBEVALUE function a different MDX query would be generated which would not allow us to extract the single UniqueNames of the selected items using the approach above (or any other MDX I could think of). So, this approach currently only works with single selections! I hope that the Excel team will implement a native function to extract the UniqueName(s) of the selected items in the future to make this workaround obsolete!

Once we have our UniqeName(s) we can now use them in e.g. a CUBESET-function to return the Top 10 days for a given group of product (filter) and the selected year (slicer):

And that’s it!

So why is this so cool?

  • It works with SSAS (multidimensional and tabular) and Power Pivot as Excel still uses MDX to query all those sources. It may also work with SAP HANA’s ODBO connector but I have not tested this yet!
  • It does not require any VBA which would not work in Excel Services – this solution does!
  • The calculation is stored within the Excel Workbook so it can be easily shared with other users!
  • There is no native Excel functionality which would allow you to create a simple Top 10 report which works with filters and slicers as shown above or any more complex dynamic report/dashboard with any dynamic filtering.

So no more to say here – Have fun creating your interactive Excel web dashboards!

Download sample Workbook: Samples.xlsx

Note: You may also rewrite any TOPCOUNT expression and use the 4th and 5h parameter of the CUBESET-function instead. This is more native and does not require as much MDX knowledge:Excel_MDX_CUBESET_TopCount_Native
However, if you are not familiar with MDX, I highly recommend to learn it before you write any advanced calculations as show above as otherwise the results might be a bit confusing in the beginning! Especially if you filter and use TOPCOUNT on the same dimension!

Universal Quantiles Calculation for PowerPivot using DAX

In my last post I showed a new approach on how to calculate the median in PowerPivot using DAX. In the comments the question was raised whether it is possible to make that calculation universal for all kind of Quantiles like Median, Quartiles, Percentiles, etc. and that’s what this post is about.

Lets analyze the final Median calculation from the last post:

Median SA Months:=CALCULATE([SumSA],
2-MOD([Cnt_Months], 2),
([Cnt_Months] + 1) / 2,
(2-MOD([Cnt_Months], 2))


The Median defines the value in the middle of an ordered set. To get the first half (+1 to handle even and odd sets) of the whole we are using TOPN function:

([Cnt_Months] + 1) / 2,

The important part here is the “divide by 2” to split the set in the middle to start our Median calculation. Instead of dividing by 2 we could also multiply by 0.5 where 0.5 would be the separator for our quantile (in this case the Median). This expression can be made dynamic. For the first Quartile we would use 0.25 for the second Quartile (=Median) we would use 0.5 and for the third Quartile we would use 0.75.

I created a little linked table to demonstrate the dynamic approach:

Quantile SortOrder Percentage
Median 1 0.5000
Quartile 1 401 0.2500
Quartile 2 402 0.5000
Quartile 3 403 0.7500
Sextile 1 601 0.1667
Sextile 2 602 0.3333
Sextile 3 603 0.5000
Sextile 4 604 0.6667
Sextile 5 605 0.8333

We also need to add a calculated measure that returns the percentage-value of the currently selected Quantile:



Now we can change our old Median-calculation to be dynamic by using the measure defined above:

Quantile SA Months:=CALCULATE([SumSA],
2 – MOD([Cnt_Months], 2),
ROUNDUP(([Cnt_Months] + 1) * [SelectedQuantile], 0),
(2 – MOD([Cnt_Months], 2))

We also need to explicitly add ROUNDUP() as “([Cnt_Months] + 1) * [SelectedQuantile]” may return any decimal places whereas the previous divide by 2 could only result in a x.5 which was rounded up automatically. And well, that’s all we need to change in order to make the calculation universal for all different Quantiles! The rest is the same logic that I already described for Median calculation.


Download Final Model (Office 2013!)

Calculating Median in PowerPivot using DAX

I just came across this blog post by Bill Anton where he discusses several approaches to calculated the Median of a given set in T-SQL, MDX and DAX. In the end of his post when it comes to the DAX calculation, he references several post by Marco, Alberto and Javier (post1, post2) that already address that kind of calculation in DAX. But he also claims that non of the solutions is “elegant”. Well, reason enough for me to try it on my own and here is what I came up with. Its up to you to decide whether this solution is more elegant than the others or not 🙂

In general, the median calculation always varies depending on the number of items and whether this number is even or odd.
For an even population the median is the mean of the values in the middle:
the median of {3, 5, 7, 9} is is (5 + 7)/2 = 6
For an odd population, the median is the value in the middle:
the median of {3, 5, 9} is 5

In both cases the values have to be ordered before the calculation. Note that it does not make a difference whether the values are sorted in ascending or descending order.


In this example, our set contains 12 items (=months) so we have to find the 2 items in the middle of the ordered set – December and February – and calculate the mean.

So, how can we address this problem using DAX? Most of the posts I mentioned above use some kind of combination of ranking – RANKX() – and filtering – FILTER(). For my approach I will use none of these but use TOPN instead (yes, I really like that function as you probably know if you followed my blog for some time).

In this special case, TOPN() can do both, ranking and filtering for us. But first of all we need to know how many items exist in our set:



This value will be subsequently used in our next calculations.

To find the value(s) in the middle I use TOPN() twice, first to get the first half of the items (similar to TopCount) and then a second time to get the last values that we need for our median calculation (similar to BottomCount):


As the median calculation is different for even and odd sets, this also has to be considered in our calculation. For both calculations MOD()-function is used to distinguish both cases:

Items_TopCount:=IF(MOD([Cnt_Months],2) = 0,
([Cnt_Months] / 2) + 1,
([Cnt_Months] + 1) / 2)

For an even number of items (e.g. 12) we simply divide the count of items by 2 and add 1 which gives us a (12 / 2) + 1 = 7 for our sample.
For an odd number of items (e.g. 5) we first add 1 to our count of items and then divide by 2 which gives us (5 + 1) / 2 = 3

Items_BottomCount:=IF(MOD([Cnt_Months],2) = 0, 2, 1)

For an even number of items we have to consider the last 2 values whereas for an odd number of items we only have to consider the last value.


These calculations are then used in our median calculation:

Median SA Months:=CALCULATE([SumSA],
[SumSA] * -1))

As DAX has no built-in BOTTOMN()-function, we need to “abuse” the TOPN() function and multiply the OrderBy-value by “–1” to get the BOTTOMN() functionality. As you can see most of the logic is already handled by our [Items_TopCount] and [Items_BottomCount] measures and this pattern can be reused very easily.


Of course all these calculations can also be combined and the use of IF() can be avoided:

Median SA Months v2:=CALCULATE([SumSA],
2 – MOD([Cnt_Months], 2),
([Cnt_Months] + 1) / 2,
[SumSA] * -1))
(2 – MOD([Cnt_Months], 2))

Note: for an even population ([Cnt_Months] + 1) / 2 returns X.5 which is automatically rounded up when it is used in a function that expects a whole number. In our example this is what happens: (12 + 1) / 2 = 6.5 –> 7

These are the final results:



Additional content:

We could also use AVERAGEX() to calculate our median but I think that it is some kind of overhead to use AVERAGEX() just to divide by “1” or “2” depending on the number of items that our TOPN-functions return:

Median SA Months AvgX:=AVERAGEX(
2-MOD([Cnt_Months], 2),
([Cnt_Months] +1) / 2,
[SumSA] * -1),


As you can see there are various approaches to calculate the median, its up to you which on you like most. I have not tested any of them in terms of performance over bigger sets – this may be topic for an upcoming post.


Download Final Model (Office 2013!)