May 17, 2021

I have been working with Microsoft's Power BI since 2016. Ever since I started working with it, I could tell it had a lot of potential. Like most Microsoft products, it was geared towards business users and giving them a way to gain insights into data. It is a great stop-gap between using Excel for analyzing data and a full-on custom data solution.

For me as a developer who wasn't fond of building front ends, it was a way I could work with data and quickly be able to present my data in flashy visuals without having to write a bunch of code.

Power BI over the years has offered multiple different products. The most common ones are Power BI Desktop, Power BI Mobile, and Power BI Service. Power BI Service is their online offering. They later offered other products such as Power BI Paginated Reports which is similar to SQL Server Reporting Services reports, as well as an on-premise version of their Power BI Service called Power BI Reporting Server. Power BI Mobile can be used with both their Power BI Service as well as their on-premise Power BI Reporting Server. Power BI Reporting Server requires special licensing in order to be able to use.

In order to use these products, you need to sign up for a Microsoft account if you do not have one. For most organizations, you can simply use your work email. From here you have a few choices. Power BI Desktop can be downloaded and used for free. This allows you to connect to many different data sources for pulling in data and gives you access to all the free visuals that come with Power BI Desktop. Once you have created reports and want to share them with others, you can either send your report around in a pbix file, which is not recommended, or you will need to start looking into subscription options for Power BI Service.

Microsoft offers some pretty affordable options here as well as some enterprise level options. We will take a look at their offerings to get an idea of what you should go after. The prices I am listing below are the standard prices. These prices can vary though based on things such as your organization having an Enterprise Agreement with Microsoft. Some license subscriptions from Microsoft also already include Power BI Pro licenses for every user. As of the time of the writing of this article, Microsoft 365 E5 contains the licensing for Power BI Pro.

Check Microsoft's site here for up-to-date pricing information.

Power BI Pro

Power BI Pro license is the most basic paid subscription Microsoft offers and it is great for new companies starting to work with Power BI. This subscription normally costs $9.99 a month per user. With this subscription you can upload Power BI Desktop reports to Power BI Service and share those reports by creating Power BI Apps. It is important to note that each person who consumes reports will need to have a Power BI Pro license as well.

Power BI Premium Per User (PPU)

Power BI Premium Per User (PPU) is a new licensing model for Microsoft as of early April 2021. This new tier is also a per user per month subscription similar to Power BI Pro. The cost of Power BI PPU is $20 per user per month which is around double the cost of Power BI Pro. While double the cost of Power BI Pro, it has much more to offer as far as benefits go.

Some of the main added benefits I find make the extra cost worth it is XMLA endpoint, Dataflows, and Paginated Reports. I'll do a quick breakdown of these real quick. It is worth noting that there are other benefits that this licensing level gives you, but these are the main ones I have found to be the most noteworthy for many companies.

XMLA endpoints allow you publish OLAP cubes from SQL Server Analysis Services to a workspace in Power BI Service. This means you no longer need to pay for having a cube on-premise nor is there a need for Azure Analysis Services for most cubes. You may want to still look into these larger servers for massive cubes, but most cubes I have worked on can be handled easily by Power BI Service now. In the future I will write an article as of why I am fond of using Analysis Services with Power BI.

Dataflows in Power BI Service allow you to connect to many different data sources, both on-premise and in the cloud. You can then flow this data into a Power BI Dataset. This then can be used as a data source for reports you are building. This is a great self-service type of model of getting data for those power users who know how to work with Power BI.

Paginated reports are exactly what they sound like. If you have ever seen a SQL Server Reporting Services (SSRS) report, they are very similar. There reports are used for point in time reporting as opposed to visual dashboards like you get with Power BI Desktop. Paginated Reports require a different design tool to build them. While working with Paginated Reports in the past, it really just seems to be a modern version of SQL Server Reporting Services reports.

Beyond the above features, Power BI PPU also offers greater capacity per workspace and more frequent refresh rates of data sources.

The last thing to note about Power BI PPU is in order to consume Premium Per User level content, each user will need to have a PPU license. However, if you have a PPU license and create non-Premium content, users will just require a pro license to consume that content.

Power BI Premium

Power BI Premium is the top tier licensing for Power BI. The licensing for Power BI Premium is at an organizational or capacity level and costs normally around $4,995 a month. In addition to the Power BI Premium costs, you will also need to purchase Power BI Pro licenses for users who will be publishing reports. Similar to Power BI Reporting Server, you will not need Power BI Pro licenses for those consuming reports.

Power BI Premium offers all the bells and whistles that the Power BI PPU has, but more. This subscription focuses more on large enterprises so it has more features around data governance and security. Power BI behind the scenes is ran on Microsoft's Azure cloud service. This means that it has great integration into the Azure echo system when it comes to reporting and security.

Beyond the data governance and security features, this subscription level also gives you the licensing to run Power BI Report Server on-premise. This report server is similar to having your own Power BI Service installed on-premise. The other way to get access to the Power BI Report Server is by purchasing SQL Server Enterprise Edition with Software Assurance.

Similar to Power BI Premium, you will also need a Power BI Pro license when working with the on-premise Power BI Reporting Server for anyone who is publishing content. Everyone else who is just consuming content can just view the reports as long as they have access to them.

The information above is not a comprehensive list of information about Power BI subscriptions. Power BI is ever changing and receiving usually multiple updates a month. You can find out the most up to date information about Power BI by visiting

I don't have a comments section yet, so feel free to send me feedback on this blog.

Kevin Williams

Kevin is a data engineer and is the Business Intelligence Practice Lead at Software Design Partners specializing in data warehousing. He is a father, an occasional gamer, and lover of many different types of music.

The opinions expressed on this site are my own and may not represent my employer's view.
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We will take a look at what kind of licensing you will need for getting started with Microsoft Power BI.


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