Residents of the United States are lucky; then get free US maps, with lots of US-specific information, which are loaded easily into reporting software. Tableau provides the US maps by default, and Microsoft have released this functionality in SQL Server 2008 R2 so you can display your data efficiently using the new geometry and geography data types.
However, what about the case where you don’t want to see United States data?
This question was posed to Microsoft team members at last weekend’s SQLBits. Namely, when can we get free maps for the rest of the world? Unfortunately, Microsoft have no plans to provide us with non-US specific information at this point in time. The reason is that US borders and boundaries are very well-defined and there are no conflicts regarding territory. However, for the rest of the world, it isn’t that straightforward. In some countries, it is possible that you may even go to prison for drawing incorrect borders, which are perhaps being fought over. So, drawing maps is much more contentious than you might think. Microsoft quite like their users, and decided it was less contentious to provide maps, preferring instead to allow you to make and create your own.
In the meantime, you can load your own ESRI shapefiles to both Tableau and SQL Server 2008 R2 Reporting Services. I saw the latter at SQLBits last week at a presentation by Andrew Fryer, and I was very impressed with the mapping capabilities that Microsoft now offer.
If you would like to use WMS Servers in Tableau, this is also easy. Here are some publically accessible WMS Server URLs listed here. Please note that you should check the servers’ usage policy before using it; just because it is publically accessible does not mean that we’re automatically allowed to use it!
This URL belongs to NASA, but be aware that your connection may be refused if it is too busy! http://wms.jpl.nasa.gov/wms.cgi
It is also possible to use the World Mineral Deposits service:
In Tableau, it is easy to load in the background maps. Here are some images to help you: