Power BI Licensing

One of the most discussed topics with my customers and partners is Power BI licensing. Typical questions are

  • I want to create a report for my own use do I need a Power BI Pro license?
  • Does a report viewer also need a Power BI Pro license?
  • What if we have like 1000 Users does everybody need a Pro license?
  • What are the costs?

In this post I try to explain the different licensing options for Power BI. Further I’ll discuss some various scenarios and what kind of license would fit best.

First things first. We need to understand what kind of products Power BI has in his portfolio.

Power BI Products

Power BI Desktop

The Power BI Desktop is a client application in which you can author modern and interactive reports. You can save those files as a PBIX format. I’ll highly recommend to install and use it as you have the full flexibility to create your report and data model, and modify it as needed. For more information please visit https://powerbi.microsoft.com/en-us/desktop

Power BI Service

The Power BI Service is a cloud-based modern business analytics solution in which you can publish (PBIX files) or even create reports. Creating reports in the service is – as of today – limited comparing it to Power BI Desktop. For example you can’t use DAX to enhance your model in the browser. You can find more information on https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/power-bi/service-get-started

Power BI Premium

Power BI Premium is a dedicated capacity for your organization. It has the same functionality as the Power BI Service but it gives you more consistent performance, larger data volumes, and the flexibility you need. See also https://powerbi.microsoft.com/en-us/power-bi-premium

Power BI Report Server

Instead of going to the cloud Power BI offers a on-premises Report Server on which you can publish and distribute your Power BI reports in-house. It does not have all services & features like the Power BI Service – like the natural Q&A – but most of it. Further information can be found here https://powerbi.microsoft.com/en-us/report-server

Power BI Embedded

If you would like to embed Power BI Reports in your own application then Power BI Embedded is the right choice. It’s designed for Independent Software Vendors (ISVs) and developers. More information can be found here https://powerbi.microsoft.com/en-us/power-bi-embedded

Power BI Mobile

Power BI Mobile offers you to connect to your data and see your reports on the go for any device. You can download the app from Microsoft, on the App Store, or Google Play. For more information please visit https://powerbi.microsoft.com/en-us/mobile

After we have clarified what kind of products are available let’s deep-dive into the different licensing options.

Power BI Licenses

Power BI Free

Power BI Desktop and Power BI Mobile are free for all users! Regardless of what other product (Power BI Service, Power BI Report Server, etc.) you are using those two are totally free. Further there is a limited Power BI Service free edition in which you can use following features: All Connectors, Publish to Web, and Export to PowerPoint, Excel, CSV. This means if I would like to create a report for myself I can download the Power BI Desktop, create a report, publish it to Power BI Service and use e.g. a Dashboard to combine different Reports. Further I can connect with my mobile device to Power BI Service and see my dashboard on the go. Awesome! The Power BI Free license is still required so an user can log in into the service. With the Power BI Free license Microsoft makes sure that the org admin has allowed access to Power BI Service in general for the specific user.

Power BI Pro

As mentioned Power BI Desktop and Power BI Mobile are free for all users but the Power BI Service free edition does not have all features covered. One of the most asked one is the “Peer-to-peer sharing” feature which allows me to share my Dashboards, Reports, and Datasets with other users. To be able to do so I, the author, have to have a Power BI Pro license regardless if my organization uses Power BI Service, Power BI Premium, Power BI Embedded, or Power BI Report Server. For the viewer of the report it depends what the company has decided to use. If Power BI Service is the chosen one then the viewer has to have a Power BI Pro License as well. If Power BI Premium or Power BI Report Server is in use than a consumer needs a Power BI Free License. Even if the License itself is free an administrator has to assign it to the user. For more information and a comparison between Free and Pro please visit https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/power-bi/service-free-vs-pro

Power BI Premium

Power BI Premium is a capacity pricing variant. There are different sizes (cores) available. The Whitepaper can be downloaded here. Capacity pricing means that not all users need a License. Only the author has to have a Power BI Pro License. All viewers / consumers do not need a Pro License but the admin has still to assign a Free License to all needed users.

Power BI Premium per User

Power BI Premium Per User allows organizations to license Premium features on a per-user basis. Premium Per User (PPU) includes all Power BI Pro license capabilities, and also adds features such as paginated reports, AI, and other capabilities that are only available to Premium subscribers. More information can be found here: https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/power-bi/admin/service-premium-per-user-faq

Power BI Report Server

An organization can purchase Power BI Report Server in two different ways: By using Power BI Premium you are also allowed to use Power BI Report Server or you have a SQL Server Enterprise Edition incl. Software Assurance. In both cases an author still needs a Power BI Pro License to share Power BI Reports. Viewers don’t need a license at all.

Power BI Embedded

With Power BI Embedded you are allowed to embed Power BI Reports into your own application. Depending on which License type (A, EM or P SKU) you are using viewers need a Power BI Free License assigned (EM or P SKU) or you have to manage authentication within your application (A SKU). In both cases an author still needs a Power BI Pro License to share reports. For more information please visit https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/power-bi/developer/embedded-faq

Phu! That has been a lof of information! Let’s discuss now some various scenarios and see which Product would fit best and which License is needed.

Scenarios

Luke testing for himself

Let’s imagine Luke would like to build some Reports for himself. He would like to connect to different data sources like Excel, CSV, SQL Database and Google Analytics. Further he would like to build a Dashboard and connect to it with his tablet and mobile device.

In this case he will use Power BI Desktop to create and publish reports, Power BI Service to build Dashboards and Power BI Mobile to connect with his mobile device or tablet to his Dashboards. Everything is possible with the Power BI Free License.

Obi-Wan would like to see Luke’s Dashboard

Luke is so excited about Power BI and his Dashboard he would like to show it to Obi-Wan. Obi-Wan shouldn’t be able to change anything in the report therefore Luke wants to share it within the Power BI Service with him.

Luke and Obi-Wan will both use the Power BI Service and both need a Power BI Pro License to share and view the Dashboard.

Luke would like to leverage some Premium features and share it with Obi-Wan

Luke would like to enhance his report with some out-of-the-box AI capabilities that Power BI Premium offers. But just for the two of them it doesn’t make sense to purchase Power BI Premium. Therefore Luke decided to leverage the Power BI Premium per User license to get the Premium features like AI, paginated reports, and other capabilities.

Because Luke would like to leverage Premium features he need a Power BI Premium per User (PPU) license. Because he wishes to share it with Obi-Wan, he also needs a PPU license due to the fact that Premium features are used and a Pro license is not sufficient. The matrix below will clarify which license type can view / access what kind of content.

Chart of which users can see content based on license types

The Rebels are interested in Luke’s Dashboard

Luke and Obi-Wan are both so excited about the possibilities of Power BI that they are telling everybody about it. Therefore the interest is growing and nearly every Rebel would like to see Luke’s Dashboard. Because of the growing interest, the huge number of viewers, and the more and more complex Dashboards Luke thinks a dedicated capacity would make sense.

In this scenario Luke would go for Power BI Premium. This means he has to republish his report from Power BI Desktop to the Premium capacity (or assign the existing workspace to a Premium node) and make it available for all Rebels incl. Obi-Wan. Because the Rebels are now using a Premium capacity non viewer needs a Power BI Pro License but Luke has still to assign a Free License to each user. Instead of doing it for each user separately he decides that every user can sign up individually for Power BI (Settings in Power BI admin portal). This reduces the burden for Luke.

The Senators pass a new galaxy data protection regulation (GDPR)

The Galactic Senators pass a new law which strictly forbid to use and show personal data without the approval of the person itself. Luke doesn’t want to take any risks and decides to go on-premises instead of the cloud until the Rebels clarify if they are allowed to use all personal data.

Luke installs a Power BI Report Server on which he publish his Report from Power BI Desktop. Further he added all users to the Report Server, shares his Report, and deletes the Dashboard, Report and Datasets in Power BI Service and Power BI Premium to make sure everything is by law. In this case Luke needs a Power BI Pro License to share his report while all other users as viewers need only a Power BI Free License. Further because they already purchased Power BI Premium the Rebels are allowed to use the Power BI Report Server as well.

R2D2 should show Power BI Dashboards

Luke would like to enable R2D2 to show his Dashboard. To do so he goes for Power BI Embedded.

Because Luke would like to show his Dashboard on his own application (or android 🙂 ) he needs to have Power BI Embedded. Further he doesn’t need any Power BI Service graphic user interface (GUI) therefore the A SKU is enough. But Luke still needs a Power BI Pro License to be able to share his Dashboard with others while all viewers do not need any License at all this time.

Now that we clarified what kind of products and Service Power BI offers as well as how to license them properly let’s have a look at the cost. I’ll use list prices publicly available from the Power BI website. Keep in mind that the prices can change.

Power BI License Cost

Power BI Desktop

As mentioned during the post Power BI Desktop is absolutely free and can be used without any cost.

Power BI Mobile

The Power BI App for your mobile device is also free.

Power BI Free License

The Power BI Free license is, as the name says, as well free and has no costs.

Power BI Pro License

The Power BI Pro License costs $9.99/User/Month. This means if you have for example five users and everyone will require a Pro license your monthly cost will be $49.95$ for the five users.

The Pro license can be purchased as stand alone or through E5 as Power BI Pro is included in E5.

Power BI Premium per User

The PPU License costs $20/User/Month. If you already have a Pro License you just need the add-on which is $10/User/Month. Imagine having seven users with a Pro License and ten users with a Free License and all of them require now a PPU. In this case you would need to purchase the add-on for seven users (7x$10) and ten PPU stand alone Licenses (10x$20) which means you’ll have a total cost of $339.93 (7x$9.99 Pro License + 7x$10 Add-on + 10x$20)

Power BI Premium

If you’re interested in Power BI Premium the smallest SKU (P1 with 8 v-cores) costs $4’995.- per month. From a purely cost perspective this makes sense if you have 500 or more users. This 500 users break-even-point can be easily calculated by dividing the Premium costs by the Pro License costs: 4995 / 9.99 = 500. Keep in mind that there are more reasons to go for Premium than just cost!

Imagine if you have to share a report with 600 users. In such a scenario every user would require a Pro License if you share it through Power BI Service. Therefore the total cost for these 600 users would be $5’994.- per month (600x$9.99). As we see it would make more sense to purchase Power BI Premium and assign a Pro License just to the developers of the report (let’s say 10 developers). In this case the total cost would be $5’094.90 (10x$9.99 + $4’995) and we saved roughly $900 per month!

Power BI Report Server

Power BI Report Server is included in Power BI Premium or through SQL Server Enterprise Edition with SA. In the first case, included in Premium, the minimal cost is therefore $4’995.- per month (P1 SKU with 8 v-cores). Just to point out that if you purchase Power BI Premium P1 you can use Premium and install a Power BI Report Server on top of it 8 cores in-house and use in total 16 cores!

If you’re interested in SQL Server Enterprise Edition with SA best would be to contact your Microsoft representative.

Power BI Embedded

Power BI Embedded is a Microsoft Azure Service and will charge you as long as it runs. Once you stop the Service there are no costs at all. The smallest SKU A1 is roughly $740 per month if it runs 24/7. A detailed price list can be found at https://azure.microsoft.com/en-us/pricing/details/power-bi-embedded/

Conclusion

I think the most important information is regardless of which product you are using (Power BI Service, Premium, Report Server or Embedded) as soon as you would like to share a Report you will need a Power BI Pro License. For the viewer it depends on which product the report is published. In Power BI Service a viewer also needs a Power BI Pro License, in Premium and Report Server a Free License is enough. For an embedded scenario a Free (A SKU) or non License (EM or P SKU) is required. Lastly, if Power BI Premium per User license is used by the author all viewers will also require the PPU license.

To get a better overview of the estimated cost I created a Power BI Report which you can use to calculate your cost based on the number of Power BI Developers and Viewers. Keep in mind Power BI Premium offers more features and could be useful not only to save cost! Check it out here.

Please let me know if this post was helpful and give me some feedback. Also feel free to contact me if you have any questions.

If you’re interested in the files used in this blog check out my GitHub repo https://github.com/PBI-Guy/blog

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