What on earth is the Tableau Server?

by Tom Pilgrem

What’s Tableau Server, I hear you ask?

Today in the Data School we had a crash course 101 in the ins and outs of Tableau Server with Jonathan MacDonald (JMac as he likes to be known!). He took us through the basics from how to sign in right through to how to actually use Tableau to interact with and build vizzes on the server itself. If you feel in the dark about Tableau Server, you don’t need to be. I had no idea what server was this morning, and let me now tell you what it is and how it could help you.


Tableau server is essentially an online hosting platform to hold all your tableau workbooks, data sources and more. All you really need to know is that it works like any other server, you can store things here and they will safe from fires and pesky hackers. Tableau server is a product from Tableau, it means you can use the functionality of Tableau, without needing to always be downloading and opening workbooks to open with Tableau desktop. You can set permissions to different bits of work, to allow you as an organisation to determine who can access and interact with what. For example, today we set up an imaginary company. Two people were marketing research analysts, who had access on server to upload and edit work in a project containing test documents. The rest of the marketing team could interact with the production quality documents the analysts then provide. Finally, the management could access but not edit the final presentation documents.


The main advantage to this approach to using Tableau server shouldn’t need me to explain. COLLABORATION! After all, isn’t the feedback and collaborative working environment that Tableau promotes a reason we all got into using Tableau in the first place? But just how does server allow us to collaborate more effectively? What I mentioned briefly earlier was the functionality of using Tableau in the browser window. This means no links to dashboards that management staff need to download and open, no slowing down of computers whilst you wait for Tableau desktop to open, and an easy way to comment on or even edit dashboards online. It all means that a company can see what the analysts are working on so much easier, which can only be a good thing for all involved.

Some another neat points

There are some quite handy functions in Tableau server that we came across today, here are my favourite.

Scheduling – Let’s say we have a dashboard showing our KPIs. By using Tableau Server I can set up an email which will send a message to whoever may be interested showing a snapshot of that dashboard at any particular time. This could be really useful for managers who want to see where particular KPIs are at certain intervals (at the end of the week, for example)

Alerts – Similar to scheduling, we can set up an alert to notify selected people when a certain critical threshold is reached. For example, I can use Tableau Server to send an email to the Sales manager when we hit x amount of sales over a given period. Pretty handy, eh?

Custom Views – Finally, have you ever been left frustrated after choosing multiple fields from filters and actions? Got to the point where you’re looking at what you came here to look at, before you close the dashboard and your lovely view is gone in an instant? Yeah, me too. Well, with Tableau Server that can be a thing of the past. After creating a view that they like, a user can save that view in their custom views, or even make it their default display for that dashboard. Pretty useful. And these custom views can also be made private, so that others can use the views that you find useful.

More Server to come

This was our intro to Server day, so we will be having more training in Server in the near future. Keep an eye out for more posts about how Tableau Server could help you out then. In the meantime, if there’s anything more you want to know, then feel free to reach out to me on twitter.