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Changes to the Power BI family

Microsoft regularly delivers new functionality for its Power BI data analytics and visualisation services, but rarely does it change how you pay for it or how you deploy it.  In May 2017, it has and some of the changes are significant.

Paying for Power

Power BI has both an easy to understand and low cost charging model.  The desktop client is free and so are most of the features in the cloud based portal that hosts dashboards and reports.  Until now, only when organisations wanted to integrate Power BI with their internal security or data sources did they typically need to pay the $10 per user per month charge for the Power BI Pro service.
Yet while paying for the Pro service bought additional functionality, it could bring cost and deployment problems, and still leave some operational pains on the table.  As an example, even users who just read reports built using Power BI Pro features required a $10 per month Power BI Pro licence – potentially making the publishing of a dashboard to a company’s thousands of staff cost prohibitive.  There were also storage issues which limited how much data reports hosted by the service could analyse.  Functionality wise, the analysts were recently giving Power BI a gold medal but only a silver for operational flexibility.
Enter Power BI Premium.

Designed for “large scale” deployments, the new Power BI Premium tier of service:

  • Removes the need for users of reports to have a Power BI Pro licence
  • Provides significantly more data storage capacity for dashboards and reports to analyse
  • Improves reporting performance by hosting each deployment of the Power BI Premium service on dedicated hardware with customisable levels of resources
  • Significantly increases the amount of data the service can store and analyse, and how often it can be refreshed
  • Integrates with the new on-premises Power BI Report Server software
  • Merges with the Power BI Embedded service to provide a single reporting API interface that developers can embed in their application

More information about Power BI Premium and its pricing calculator can be found here.

 

Not Paying for Power

Power BI has always had a free tier, called just Power BI, and that’s also changing.  The product documentation now refers regularly to this as the tier intended for personal use, although it’ll now have the “same functionality” as Power BI Pro.  The most noteworthy change is that users of the free tier will now have “access to all data sources” – which is being interpreted to mean access to on-premises data using the data management gateway.  They’ll also have increased workspace storage limits – 10GB instead of 1GB, and be able to schedule their data to refresh more often.
What’s the catch?  The catch is that the ability to share dashboards in the portal is being taken away from the free tier and becoming available only in the Pro and Premium tiers.  If there was ever a reason why people wanted to upload their dashboards to a portal, then it was to share them.  Microsoft really does seem to want to make this free tier for personal use only.
More information about the changes to the free tier can be found here.

 

Having My Own Power

Also announced, was a new on-premises component of the Power BI family – Power BI Report Server.  This server software allows staff to create reports, publish them to the server, and then share them – all behind an organisation’s firewall.  If there was ever a common complaint about Power BI, then it was not having a “keep my data in my own data centre” option, but now it does.
But what actually is it?  The announcements so far are limited in detail.  They mention allowing you to publish reports, rather than complete dashboards, and have the enterprise capabilities of SQL Server Reporting Services.  This sounds a lot like the SQL Server 2017 version of SQL Server Reporting Services wearing a different cloak.
Until it arrives we won’t know for sure, but until then, it has its own home page here.

 

Why Why Why?

It’s clear that Power BI is a crowd pleaser and popular with both business and technical audiences who want a modern data analytics and visualisation platform.  The challenge for Microsoft seems to be that they were able to get that for too low a cost, while for large organisations they weren’t able to do what they wanted because of too high a cost.  Changes to the features in the free tier and the creation of a premium tier – along with the announcement of an on-premises variant - should fix quite a few problems, we’ll see.

 

How can I use Power BI?

If you’re interested in understanding how your organisation could use Power BI, then please email Coeo info@coeo.com to see how we might be able to help you.

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