Power BI Licensing Walk-through Guide

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Licensing in Power BI is not a complicated one, however, understanding that which features are included in which licensing plan is always a question from users. In this post, you will learn about all different licensing plans in Power BI, the scenarios to use the licensing for, and scenarios that you may need to change your licensing. This post intended to help you to decide the most cost-effective licensing plan for your requirement. In this post, you will learn about below licensing options:

  • Power BI Free
  • Power BI Pro
  • Power BI Embedded
  • Power BI Premium
  • Power BI Report Server Only licensing

Power BI Free

If you are new to Power BI, and you’ve heard that Power BI is free, then probably one of your first questions is that; “What features do I get with the free Power BI account?”. Let’s start with answering that question. With Power BI free you get features such as below;

Power BI Desktop

Power BI Desktop is the developer tool for creating and authoring reports. This tool is free to use, and no licensing is needed for that. You can build Power BI solutions with Power BI Desktop as much as you want with any size of data you want as long as it is on the Desktop. Licensing charges usually starts when you start sharing from the service.

Publishing to Power BI

You can use the same Free license of Power BI to publish your reports into Power BI. In the other words; if you want to create a Power BI report yourself, and publish it in the Power BI service and view it from a web browser, it doesn’t cost you anything!

Publish to Web

Sharing Power BI content securely is not a free feature. The only free way of Sharing is using Publish to Web, which is free but not secure. Publish to Web is sharing your content publicly. All other methods of sharing need paid subscription.

Power BI Free is for authoring reports with Power BI Desktop, testing it, publishing it into the service,  but not sharing it securely.

Power BI Pro

Power BI Pro is the per-user subscription for Power BI. at the time of writing this blog post, it costs $9.99 USD per user per month. With Power BI Pro you can get everything that free account has, plus many other Power BI service features as well as other methods of sharing.

Sharing

With Power BI Pro you can use all other methods of sharing except Power BI Embedded (which comes through different licensing option). You can use Simple Sharing, Workspaces, Power BI Apps, and Embed in SharePoint Online. The important thing to know is that even for consuming a Power BI content shared with you, you need to be part of a paid subscription (the only exception is if you have access to a published to web Power BI content which is free).

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Integration

With Power BI Pro you can get some integration features of Power BI as well, such as Analyze in Excel.

Power BI Pro will give you all authoring features and sharing options through the organization.

Power BI Embedded

If you ever want to embed Power BI content in a custom application and use a custom application’s user management, then Power BI Embedded is the licensing plan for you. This licensing plan is not per user because there is no Power BI user required for embedding with a token. This licensing plan is based on page renders.

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Every refresh on the page that has Power BI content in it is a page render, if you select a slicer, that causes another page render, if you click on a column in a column chart and that cause interactivity of other charts, then that is another page render.

With Power BI Embedded you can reserve buckets of page renders per peak hour. here are costs at the time of writing this post:

Node Type Virtual Cores Memory Frontend / Backend Cores Peak Renders per hour Price
A1 1 3 GB RAM 0.5 / 0.5 1 1 – 300 $1.0081/hour
A2 2 5 GB RAM 1 / 1 1 301 – 600 $2.0081/hour
A3 4 10 GB RAM 2 / 2 601 – 1,200 $4.0242/hour
A4 8 25 GB RAM 4 / 4 1,201 – 2,400 $8.0565/hour
A5 16 50 GB RAM 8 / 8 2,401 – 4,800 $16.13/hour
A6 32 100 GB RAM 16 / 16 4,801 – 9,600 $32.26/hour

reference: https://azure.microsoft.com/en-us/pricing/details/power-bi-embedded/

The pricing table above may scare you off and you may immediately think of not going through the embedded path. However, I need to let you know that there are some scenarios which Power BI Embedded can be a much more cost-effective option than Pro. Here is an example:

Assume that you have 100 users for your Power BI solution. And your users are not connecting all at the same time to use Power BI reports. You may have the maximum of 300 page renders per hour for them if you use embedded. In such case, embedded for that scenario would cost you about $700 USD per month, where the Power BI Pro for 100 users would be $1000 USD per month. This means saving of $3,600 USD per year. This is an example scenario that Power BI Embedded can be more cost-effective than Pro.

Important note to consider when you think about Embedded is the hidden cost of a web developer. Power BI Embedded is bringing Power BI content embedded into your custom application, and who is going to do that? a web developer. If later on through the path, you want to make any changes in the way that users are working with the application, then who is going to do that change? a web developer. You will find out that you are in a need for a web developer. The web developer is the hidden cost of Power BI Embedded.

Power BI Embedded gives you the ability to embed Power BI content into a custom application, and share it based on a custom user management through that application.

Power BI Premium

Power BI Pro will be expensive for a large user base, and embedded needs a constant maintenance by a web developer. If you have a large user base (let’s say 10,000 users), then Power BI Premium is the best licensing option for you. Power BI Premium is designed for large user base scenario where the size of data is huge.

Power BI Premium is not per user, it is per node. In Power BI premium you pay for nodes which have dedicated capacity and resources. Here are existing nodes and their costs at the time of writing this post;

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Pricing starts at P1 nodes costing $5K USD per month.

Premium Calculator

It is a bit hard to understand how many nodes, or how big nodes you may need for your Power BI solution. Fortunately, there is a Power BI Premium calculator that can help. Here is an example calculation for 10,000 users;

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If you compare the total costs of $33K per month with $100K per month ($100K per month if all 10,000 users purchase Power BI pro), then you can understand how Power BI premium can be more cost-effective in a larger user base scenario. The whole idea behind creating the Power BI premium licensing is that; users who are only reading a report should not pay Pro pricing.

What do you get as extra features of Premium?

The premium will give you some extra features as well, some of these features are released right now, and some of them are still work in progress and in the roadmap.

  • Dedicated Power BI Resources
  • Huge dataset storage and no user quotas: 100TB storage rather than 10GB per user.
  • More frequent dataset refresh: 48 times a day, rather than 8 times a day
  • Power BI report server: Power BI on-premises
  • Larger Datasets supported (not available at the time of writing this post)
  • Incremental Refresh (not available at the time of writing this post)
  • Pin Dataset to memory (not available at the time of writing this post)
  • Dedicated data refresh Nodes (not available at the time of writing this post)
  • Geo-replica and read-only replicas (not available at the time of writing this post)
  • Geographic distribution (not available at the time of writing this post)

Power BI Premium licensing is desinged for large user base scenarios. This licensing will give you many extra features as well as incremental load.

To read more about Premium, read my other blog post here.

SQL Server Enterprise Edition + Software Assurance

The combination of SQL Server Enterprise Edition and software assurance of that will give you Power BI Report Server. You still need to have Power BI pro account for content creators, but for on-premises sharing of Power BI content, then you can easily user Power BI report server. I will explain more about Power BI Report Server in another post. For the costing of software assurance plus SQL Server Enterprise Edition, you can contact your Microsoft contact for these products.

If you already have SQL Server Enterprise Edition licensing in your organization, and you intent to use Power BI only through sharing on-premises with Power BI Report Server, then buying Software Assurance is a more cost-effective option.

Summary

In this post, you learned about 5 different licensing plans for Power BI. You learned what are features included in each plan, and in which situations they are cost-effective options. Here is a summary of features in each licensing plan;

Freature Free Pro Embedded Premium SQL Server Enterprise Edition + Software Assurance
Developing reports with Power BI Desktop Yes Yes
Publish report to Power BI service Yes Yes
Publish to Web Yes Yes
Export to Power Point or CSV Yes Yes
Basic Sharing Yes
Workspaces Yes
Power BI Apps Yes
Embed into SharePoint Online Yes
Analyze in Excel Yes
Embed into custom application (Power BI embedded) Yes Yes
Refresh Frequency 8 times a day 48 times a day
Power BI Report Server Yes Yes
Dedicated Capacity Yes Yes Yes
Space allocation 10GB 10GB 100TB
Extra Premium Features (mentioned earlier in this post) Yes

 

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Reza Rad
Reza Rad is an Author, Trainer, Speaker and DW/BI Consultant. He has a BSc in Computer engineering; he has more than 15 years’ experience in databases, programming and development mostly on Microsoft technologies. He is a Microsoft MVP in Data Platform for seven continues years (from 2011 till now) for his dedication in Microsoft BI. He is author of some SQL Server and BI books, and also Power BI online book; from Rookie to Rock Star.

7 Comments

  • I must say that this is the best article I have come across for Power BI costing.

    Thank you for putting this across. Really Appreciated.

  • Thanx. Unfortunately our situation doesn’t fit one of the options very well. We have a company of about 900 people. Only a group of 20 people will build reports etc. The other 880 will only read the dashboards/reports. We now have about 100 pro-licenses (mostly for used for only reading). Isn’t there a light version of premium on the way for smaller companies?

  • Always a big fan of your articles Reza! Any chance you can provide additional clarification on two points?
    1) it’s been speculated that the “Share PBI” function (ie. simple iframe share) will be removed in the near future, but I haven’t heard any updates on that initiative. Is the Share functionality still going to be removed?

    2) What about the EM1/EM2/EM3 packages?

    Thank you!!!!

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