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Power BI Licensing & Deployment Options

Emma Zambonini

Updated: December 2019

Licensing is confusing at the best of times, but even more so when the product is constantly in flux, improving and evolving. Coeo has recently been delivering more and more training on Power BI and common questions we get from delegates revolve around licensing and deployment options and requirements. I have tried to consider these and write a post that makes it simpler to understand what is on offer. Thanks to Andy Jones for all his help with this blog.

Deployment options:

There are three main deployment options when considering Power BI.

  • The first is using the cloud Power BI Service powerbi.com, the most common option, which provides a full reporting solution hosted online.
  • The second is using Power BI Report Server, an on-premises solution like the online service but allowing you to manage Power BI yourself, a common scenario for customers with strict security requirements.
  • The final solution is using Power BI Embedded which is used alongside the powerbi.com service to embed reports within applications via APIs.


Power BI Desktop is a free application available for download which allows you to author reports and publish them to the cloud service or save them on your report server. It is also possible to author reports directly within powerbi.com although currently this does not give you the full breadth of functionality.


Power BI gives you the option to either use Shared Capacity or Premium Capacity. As standard the Power BI service is a shared tenant and subject to 'noisy neighbours'. When you purchase Premium Capacity it ensures the company is given an isolated resource pool to avoid other users impacting report performance. It also gives you other features, for example, it allows reports that are in the Premium Capacity to be accessed by free users. More details are found below in 'Company SKUs'

User Licencing:

There are two user licences available.

  • Free - this is a single user licence which can be used in two ways. The first allows you to use Power BI Desktop and the online service to publish reports intended to be consumed by the author, here there is no sharing or collaboration. Businesses cannot run on the free licence alone if they need to share reports, so the second, more useful scenario is when it is used alongside premium. Free users may view content deployed to Premium capacity.
  • Pro - this single user licence allows you to author, consume, share and collaborate, this is included with Office 365 E5 subscriptions or costs £7.50 pcm per user.

On the Power BI website, it also shows a 'Premium' option. In my opinion this is a little misleading as this isn't a user licence but a SKU to be utilised by the whole company. More details are given below in 'Company SKUs'.

 Feature/Capability Power BI Free Power BI Pro
Create datasets and reports in Power BI Desktop x x
Publish datasets and reports to Power BI Service x x
Publish datasets and reports to Power BI Report Server   x
Create dashboard(compilation of visuals from one or more reports) x x
Q&A natural language queries x x
Data alerts x x
E-mail subscriptions (“subscribe”) x x
Export to CSV, Excel x x
Export to PowerPoint x x
Analyze in Excel (connectivity to a published dataset from Excel for creating reports based on an existing dataset)   x
Power BI Service Live Connection (connectivity to a published dataset from Power BI Desktop for creating reports based on an existing dataset-requires )   x
Access to all data sources (unrestricted) x x
Scheduled data refresh via On-Premises Gateway in Personal Mode Up to 8x/day On-Premises Data Gateway Recommended
Scheduled data refresh via On-Premises Data Gateway Up to 8x/day Up to 8x/day
DirectQuery and Analysis Services Live Connection via On-Premises Data Gateway x x
Use of streaming datasets x x
Use of custom visuals from Office Store x x
Sharing read-only dashboard with individual colleagues (peer-to-peer)   x
Sharing read-only dashboard with an external user   x
Create and publish Apps   x
Create and publish Organizational Content Packs   x
Publish to Web (public report distribution) x x
Power BI Mobile Apps x x
Cortana/Windows integration for report rendering x x
Maximum size of an imported dataset 1GB per file 1GB per file
Maximum data storage quota 10GB per user 10GB per user
Multi-tenant service x x
APIs for embedding reports in an internal custom application   x
Third party SaaS Apps (from AppSource) x x
Share queries in Azure Data Catalog   x
Integration with Office 365 Groups   x
Integration with Azure Active Directory x x


Company SKUs:

For companies with larger deployment requirements, the need to run on-premises or embed Power BI content within applications, Microsoft offers three different SKUs.

  • Power BI Embedded A SKU - this is a SKU which is purchased through Azure and allows you to embed Power BI reports in your applications through dedicated capacity. The embedding is achieved via Power BI APIs. Ensure you chose 'Power BI Embedded' in the portal and not 'Power BI Embedded Workspace Collections', this is the legacy version which was 'pay per click' and is due to be deprecated in June 2018. A great feature for customers is A SKUs can be paused when not required to save costs.
  • Power BI Premium EM SKU - this is a SKU purchased through Office (or Volume licencing) which allows you to embed reports in applications but also allows you to share content in SaaS applications, most notably used with SharePoint or Teams. This means that users do not need a Pro licence to consume reports in SharePoint or Teams but can use a Free licence. Unlike A SKUs, it is not possible to pause EM SKUs.
  • Power BI Premium P SKU - this is another SKU purchased through Office which gives you everything in the EM SKU and much more. It allows you to have dedicated capacity (Premium Capacity) in Power BI as well as including the options for an on-premises Power BI Report Server and embedding of reports in applications. It increases a number of limitations including scheduled refreshes (48) as well as individual file size (10GB) and allows for additional features such as incremental refresh and paginated reports. Pro licences are still required for authors, but consumers no longer need one for reports in Premium Capacity. There is a tipping point at around 500 consumer users where Premium licencing is cheaper than the corresponding Pro licences.
  • Power BI Report Server - While this feature is available through Premium P SKU Customers with an existing SQL Server Reporting Services implementation may elect to migrate an SSRS server to become a Power BI Report Server for the benefit of integrating Power BI reports alongside existing report types. This migration is a one-way, irreversible, migration and you purchase this via SQL Server Enterprise Software Assurance.

All these options still require you to have at least 1 Pro user licence to share content.

 Power BI Embedded & Premium Tier Cost

The total cost of Power BI Embedded and Premium depends on the node type chosen and the number of nodes deployed. Node types differ based on number of V-cores and RAM as outlined in the table below:

Capacity Node Virtual Cores Memory Backend
Peak Renders
/ Hour
DQ / live connect /sec Price per Month
EM1* 1 3GB 0.5 0.5 1 - 300 3.75 ~£470
EM2* 2 5GB 1 1 301 - 600 7.5 ~£935
EM3 4 10GB 2 2 601-1,200 15 £1881.40
P1 8 25GB 4 4 1,201-2,400 30 £3,766.60
P2 16 50GB 8 8 2,401-4,800 60 £7,536.90
P3 32 100GB 16 16 4,801-9600 120 £15,077.60
P4 64 200GB 32 32 9,601-19,200  240 £30,158.90
P5 128 400GB 64 64 19,201-38,400  480 £60,321.60
A1 1 3GB 0.5 0.5 1 - 300 5 £558.00
A2 2 5GB 1 1 301 - 600 10 £1,108.56
A3 4 10GB 2 2 601 - 1,200 15 £2,232.00
A4 8 25GB 4 4 1,201 - 2,400 30 £4,464.00
A5 16 50GB 8 8 2,401 - 4,800 60 £8,935.44
A6 32 100GB 16 16 4,801 - 9,600 120 £17,885.76

*Available through volume licencing


Below is a summary of the purchase options and when you would use each

Purchase Option Scope Location Cost PCM Used for
Free Licence User Cloud - Individual exploration or alongside Premium to view business reports and dashboards.
Pro Licence User Cloud £7.50

Authoring and sharing reports
Included with Office 365 E5 subscriptions

Premium P

Company SKU Cloud & On Premise ~£3750 +

When you need dedicated capacity
When you need to use some of the additional features offered.
Large organisations with 500+ users
When you want to deploy a solution on premise (Power BI Report Server)
When you want to embed reports in your application for your organisation or customers

Premium EM Company SKU Cloud ~£470 + Developers wanting to embed reports in their applications and share with the organisation using SharePoint or Teams. 
Embedded A Azure Company SKU Cloud ~£550 + Developers wanting to embed reports in their applications.
Embedded Workspace Collections Azure Company SKU Cloud Pay Per Click Developers wanting to embed reports in their applications.The standalone service is due to be deprecated in 2018. Please refer to Power BI Premium for new deployments.
Report Server Company On Premise Via SQL Server Enterprise Software Assurance Customers with an existing SQL Server Reporting Services implementation may elect to migrate an SSRS server to become a Power BI Report Server for the benefit of integrating Power BI reports alongside existing report types. This migration is a one-way, irreversible, migration. (Also included with Power BI Premium)


Further Reading:

Create visually immersive insights - Power BI Jumpstart

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