Microsoft Power BI Versions and Licensing
Power BI is an amazing tool for visualizing data in meaningful ways, allowing business users to make informed decisions. Vast amounts of data can be aggregated from a wide variety of sources, and turned into easily understandable dashboards, reports, and visualizations (charts, tables, maps, etc.). Licensing of the tool can be a challenge for many organizations, but we'll explore a very cost-effective option for providing Power BI to all users, both inside and outside your organization. To see all the options and prices in table form, jump down to the Power BI Licensing Table.
The challenge for many organizations is how to license Power BI for their users. While the service is part of Microsoft 365, it is only included by default in the top license tiers such as the E5 Top Enterprise license package. Alternatively, it can be licensed per user on its own. And another option is to use the consumption model, where your organization purchases computing capacity from Microsoft, and as many users as that consumption level will support can use the service without requiring individual user licenses.
For the per-user licensing, there are a number of options. There is Power BI Free, Pro, and Premium. The Free option causes a great deal of confusion, as it is included with all Microsoft 365 plans, but really doesn't provide much value. It allows you to publish your own reports to the service, but they can only be viewed by you. To share the reports with anyone else, both the report author and anyone viewing the report need the Pro or Premium license. Pro and Premium differ in the features offered. In particular, Premium offers tabular (paginated) reports that are more like traditional multi-page reports built in the past with tools like SQL Server Reporting Services or Crystal Reports.
Per-user licensing also applies to external (guest) users. Unlike Teams, SharePoint, or Yammer, there is no free ride for external users. They either need to have their own license from their organization, or you can purchase and apply a license to them from your tenant.
On the consumption model side, there are two options. One is to purchase through the Microsoft 365 service platform, while the other is to purchase capacity through the Microsoft Azure Power BI Embedded service. The Microsoft 365 service gives the same experience as the per-user licenses, where you have access to Power BI in Microsoft 365 as an app. This includes workspaces, favourites, and the full online experience. The Azure service is intended to be embedded in your own application - there is no built-in portal. Sample code is provided by Microsoft, and at Envision IT we have built support for the service into our Extranet User Manager Portal (EUM Portal).
One of the big advantages of the Azure consumption model is that it is an hourly billed service. Microsoft provides an API to start and stop the service on demand, and it typically only takes 10-15 seconds to start up. The EUM Portal manages this by checking to see if the service is running when someone requests a report, and starts it if needed. After a period of inactivity, it then shuts the service down to conserve costs. Even if an organization needed Power BI to be up 8 hours a day 5 days a week, that is only 40 hours out of 168 hours total, or less than 25% of the cost of having the service running 24/7. In some scenarios the usage could be much smaller, where reporting may be needed for external stakeholders on just a monthly quarterly, or annual basis.
Power BI Licensing Table
Power BI Free
Power BI Pro
Power BI Premium Per User
Power BI Premium Per Capacity
Power BI Embedded
All Office 365 and Microsoft 365 plans
Office 365 and Microsoft 365 E5
$9.95 / month / user
$19.95 / month / user
Starts at $4,995 / month
Starts at $1/hour
Publish reports for your own consumption
Cannot be shared
Publish, share, and view shared reports and dashboards
All Power BI features
100 GB model size limit
48 refreshes / day
Usage based aggregate optimization
XMLA endpoint connectivity
Enhanced automatic page refresh
All Power BI Premium functionality
Can auto-scale to meet changing capacity requirements
Power BI reports on-premises
Supports the same features of Power BI Premium
Report publishers need a Power BI Premium per-user license
Embeds into your own portal product that must be built
Capacity can be turned on and off on demand
No user licensing required
Try It Out
We're planning on demonstrating Power BI Embedded in our upcoming demo EUM Portal. We'll update when this is ready. You'll be able to register as a guest user in our demo tenant, and view a sample report. We're also planning on letting you know that we're starting the service up, so you can see the difference between the service already running, and what the wait is if you are the first user viewing a report.