Ultimate Guide to Mastering Power BI Licensing for Enterprises

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    • SudhaData & BI Addict
      When you theorize before data - Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.
    • Strategy Consulting
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    Editor’s note: Remember being confused about the type of Power BI license to choose? P, EM, A type and the size needed and so on. With the introduction of Microsoft Fabric, it has become a little easier to choose between the types of Power BI licensing for enterprises. Let’s simplify that for you, what’s the scenario to choose one, parameters of selection, and also the effect of Microsoft Fabric in all this.

    Power BI Desktop is free: So why do you need to pay?

    Of all the questions we answer as Power BI implementation experts, the most asked one is that why should we upgrade if Power BI desktop is free? While it is true that creating reports is free with Power BI Desktop (Now Microsoft Fabric free account), Microsoft charges for:

    - Publishing and sharing reports with other users

    - Better Infrastructure wrt data model sizes, capacity, refresh rates, and access to workspaces

    - Integration and access to other applications like AI,ML, data marts, real-time analytics

    - Access to One Lake storage, networking, One Lake cache, and more..

    So, if you want to leverage Power BI beyond personal use i.e. create dashboards for larger datasets, use their robust tools, and share it with others, then you might have to choose between Power BI Pro, Power BI Premium, Power BI Embedded or Microsoft Fabric SKUs (which has Power BI included in it).

    But before we get into the details of the power bi license and Fabric, we want to highlight some terms like capacity/ storage, refresh rates, and Fabric SKUs. If you know about them, you can skip to the next section.

    Key concepts to understand Power BI licensing cost and pricing

    After the addition of Fabric SKUs, there are now 3 types of SKUs, you might come across while dealing with Power BI namely: A, P and F type. You might need to select an SKU based on the type of you solution you want deployed out of Power BI Pro, Power BI Premium, Power BI Embedded or Microsoft Fabric.

    For the sake of simplicity below is a brief overview between them.

    SKU Type Range Usage Billed
    A: Power BI Embedded A1-A8 Data owned within app (ISVs), Embedding Hourly
    P: Power BI Premium (decommissioned) P1-P5 Enterprise features Monthly
    F: Fabric F64-F2048 Create, collaborate, and distribute on Fabric Per second
    Power BI Pro - Create, collaborate, and distribute on Power BI service with small data sets Per user per month
    Power BI Pro - Create, collaborate, and distribute on Power BI service with large data sets Per user per month

    *For F type F64 and above has Power BI

    For now, you need to understand that, to share and collaborate on Microsoft Fabric, you might need to have an F64 license, and at least one per-user license. We will come back to Microsoft Fabric at the end of this article, so in case you are looking for something specific about upgrading to Microsoft Fabric from Power BI, you can go to the end!

    Now, back to Power BI.

    Types of Power BI licensing

    Though we’ve kind of spoken about the types of Power BI Licensing till now, let’s look at them in detail once. We’ve established the fact that Power BI charges you for its capacity and share ability. So, the licenses are:

    • User-based – paid as per the number of users
    • Capacity-based – paid as per the capacity nodes needed

    Based on user and capacity, the types of licenses in Power BI can be listed as:

    License Type User/Capacity Based
    Power BI Free User-based
    Power BI Pro User-based
    Power BI Premium per user User-based
    Power BI Premium per capacity Capacity based
    Power BI Embedded Capacity based

    In addition to this, there is also Microsoft fabric, which along with the pricing of these types we’ll talk a little bit later, so bear with us till then.

    What’s your Power BI driver?

    Based on our experience, this is how we see most users get started with Power BI. Each of these scenarios deals with a different driver and cause. We’ll elaborate on the best scenarios to choose between them after a short comparison.

    Baseline: Scenario Zero

    - Melanie, an Inventory analyst, creates a comprehensive inventory report using the free Power BI Desktop.

    - The report provided valuable insights into the demand and helps identify potential stockouts.

    - Though they were able to create visually stunning dashboards, they were not able to share it with their team.

    - The only way to view reports with Power BI Free is with a premium workspace or application.

    - So, they decided to take the advantage of Power BI Pro trial for 30 days and shared the dashboards with the team.

    Outcome achieved with Power BI Free Desktop: The ability to create dashboards with existing data and generate insights.

    Scenario 1: Power BI Pro

    • Now, Melanie’s team shared the report to the Sales heads for EMEA markets: Daniel, Taylor, Emma, and Michael.
    • They loved the reports and wanted to share their insights with their sales team, which comprised of 10 people each.
    • So they’ve procured Power BI Pro at $10 each and started creating their own dashboards for Sales too.
    • Melanie and Micheal now want to create applications for their data, but the data storage capacity is limiting their analytics capabilities, and they are also unable see their huge historical data available.

    Now their bottom line is the cost driver of adding more users while expanding their storage.

    Outcome achieved with Power BI Pro: You can share certified datasets, perform ad-hoc analysis within Excel, access to 1 GB semantic models, 8 report refreshes per day, and maximum storage of 10 GB/user.

    Scenario 2: Power BI Premium per user

    • The data set that Melanie and Micheal have started using is now more than 1GB.
    • They’ve decided to shift to Power BI Premium per user (PPU) licensing where they can access 100 GB model memory and 48 refreshes/day.
    • This enabled them to gain access to additional features like scorecards and deployment pipelines.

    Please note: It is to be noted that Power BI Premium per user is Workspace-specific and can’t be mixed with other consumption-based models or Pro models. It is also advisable at this junction to understand why you have large model sizes (it might be because you lack effective data warehousing capabilities). Buying more storage might not help if you have poor performing reports or scattered data.

    Now their bottom line is the try to embed higher data-volume of reports within their applications.

    Outcome achieved with Power BI Premium per user: You can create reports for larger datasets with maximum storage of 100 TB, at a higher refresh rate (from 8 to 48/day) and with Advanced AI, dataflows, datamarts, and XMLA endpoint read/write which is useful for DevOps approaches.

    Scenario 3: Power BI Premium per capacity

    • Now take the same scenario in a different way. In addition to having larger datasets Melanie and Micheal want to share the reports with 350 people.
    • The PPU license would cost them: 350x$20= 7000$ per month, whereas Premium per capacity starts at $4,995 per month – which might be a more feasible option for them.
    • They’ll not only get access to the functions in PPU but also permits access to all users to all the Microsoft Fabric workloads, including Data Factory, Data Engineering, Data Warehouse, Data Science, Real-Time Analytics, and Data Activator.

    Outcome achieved with Power BI Premium per capacity: You can create reports for larger datasets with maximum storage of 400 TB, at a higher refresh rate (48/day) and with OneLake storage, OneLake BCDR storage, OneLake cache, and networking.

    But one of the complications of working with capacity plans is that you’ll have to compute your capacity needs. Some of the parameters you’ll have to consider are:

    • Data volume
    • User workload (concurrent users)
    • Quantity and complexity of your reports
    • Power Query transformations
    • Calculation complexity within reports
    • Desired performance
    • Acceptable latency
    • Infrastructure type (on-premises vs. cloud-based)
    • Interactivity within reports

    Based on the SKU chosen you’ll be assigned the Capacity units and v-cores for your usage.

    Capacity Units: These are the dedicated set of resources reserved to handle various workloads. It denotes the computational power available for your chosen capacity. More capacity units mean the availability of:

    • Larger and more complex data models.
    • More concurrent refreshes of datasets.
    • A higher number of active users querying reports.

    This can be treated as a relative indicator of resources available and based on your general workload you might need to scale up as you go.

    V-cores or Virtual Cores: Changed after 2022, the unified v-cores represents the virtual cores assigned to the capacities in both front and back end.

    These metrics are usually tracked and managed by the capacity administrators in Power BI.

    Here is a snapshot of the CU and Power BI v-cores assigned based on Fabric and Power BI SKUs.

    Computing power between F & Power BI SKUs

    Computing Power Between F and Power BI
    The difference between the capacity units & v-cores of different Power BI SKUs. Note that it is only a difference in computational capacity but not pricing

    Please note that after the introduction of Fabric, Microsoft has decide to retire their Power BI Premium per capacity (P-type) SKUs.

    Scenario 4: Power BI Embedded

    • Back to Melanie’s story.
    • They now want to share with 3rd party partners and distributers
    • They want to make life easy for sales team and roll out till the on-field sales force, hence they’ll need, and free users can also see it.
    • But giving them all licenses would be very expensive. That’s why they’ve procured Power BI embedded to make share their reports without buying licenses to everyone.

    Outcome achieved with Power BI Embedded: The data ownership resides with your custom built application, and users don't require individual Power BI Pro or PPU licenses to view the reports. The application build within Power BI uses a single service principal Power BI account and the dashboards can be embedded with row level security and other features which are managed by the application and your developers.

    Now, let’s complete this with the pricing details:

    License Type User/Capacity Based Price
    Power BI Free User based Free
    Power BI Pro User based $10 Per user/month
    Power BI Premium per user User based $20 Per user/month
    Power BI Premium per capacity Capacity based $4,995 Per month for P1 SKU
    Power BI Embedded Capacity based Depends on capacity chosen

    P.S. As Microsoft Power BI partners, we can help you identify the right SKU and type of license you need based on your requirements, so feel free to reach out to us!

    For both Premium per capacity and Embedded users (i.e. all the SKUs we mentioned above), the pricing is usually dependent on the number of cores and capacity units you need. One such example can be seen below, where you can see the pricing of Power BI embedded first three SKUs.

    License Type Node Type Virtual Cores Memory Price
    Power BI Embedded A1 1 3 GB RAM $735.913/month
    Power BI Embedded A2 2 5 GB RAM $1,465.9130/month
    Power BI Embedded A3 4 10 GB RAM $2,937.666/month

    Sounds simple(r) now? Hopefully you have a better understanding of Power BI licensing types now. To make it more feasible here is a comparison between them.

    How to choose between Power BI licensing types:

    By now, we’ve given you some explanation about when and how companies leverage versions of Power BI i.e. Free, Pro, PPU, Premium per capacity, and Embedded – here is a snapshot with the differences and what’s ideal for you.

    Power BI Free Power BI Pro Power BI Premium/user Power BI Premium/ capacity Power BI Embedded
    Ideal for Individual data exploration Report creation and sharing within a team Individual with advanced needs or sharing with external viewers (with Pro license) Large-scale deployments, high performance, and sharing with Free viewers Embedding reports in custom applications for internal or external users
    User workload Individual use Low to moderate user concurrency Low to moderate user concurrency High user concurrency Integrates with various user volumes
    Model memory size limit - 1 GB 100 GB RAM 400 GB Application memory
    Refresh rate for Power BI datasets Manual refresh 8/day 48/day 48/day Managed in app
    Maximum storage (Power BI native storage) - 10 GB/user 100 TB 100TB Application Memory
    Collaboration Limited (static reports) Share reports with other Pro or PPU users Share reports with other Pro or PPU users Share reports with Free viewers (limited access) Integrate reports into custom apps

    Things to note while selecting one of these licencing types and SKUs:

    • You’ll have to check in the billing and the commitment too as some of these have yearly commitments.
    • Understand your capacity needs based on the list mentioned above like user base and data volume needs.
    • Consider how your needs change in the future and scale for them accordingly.
    • Factor in Total cost of ownership like the cost of training, administration, and infrastructure.
    • Get a partner like Polestar Solutions, who understand the technicalities and can help you find the right license for you!

    Microsoft Fabric & Power BI Pricing

    Finally! We know it was long journey till now. But here is what you need to know about Microsoft Fabric. We’ll try to keep it short.

    Microsoft Fabric, as Microsoft defines it, is an all-in-one analytics solution for enterprises that covers everything from data movement to data science, Real-Time Analytics, and business intelligence. It combines Data Factory, Synapse Analytics, Data Explorer, and Power BI into a single, unified experience, on the cloud.

    If you are looking for more details about it, check out our other blog about Fabric and its components, but today we’ll stick to the pricing of Fabric w.r.t. Power BI.

    Microsoft Fabric Pricing
    Snapshot of Fabric and Power BI premium per capacity pricing

    If you are someone who are already using Power BI, and want to get a trail for Fabric, all you have to do is:

    - Sign in to app.fabric.microsoft.com with your Power BI account information to access the Fabric app.

    - Then, sign up for a free trial using the account manager tool in the app (no need for a credit card)

    - Simple!

    - This trail would include one 64-capacity unit (CU) trial capacity, which will give you full access to every Fabric experience and feature—and, up to 1 TB of OneLake storage.

    With the help of Fabric and the obvious addition of Co-pilot which is included with Fabric, you can not only create visually stunning, intuitive reports but also think about the shared workloads and have a service foundation with the help of OneLake. You can see it with this very well-explained GIF from BI Polar.

    Saas Platform
    Explaining Power BI & Fabric SaaS foundation by BI Polar

    Source: Where does Power BI end and fabric begin?

    For now, if your question is “This ‘X’ feature on Power BI will it be available on Fabric?” then the answer will most likely be that if the feature is shared across multiple Power BI artifacts, it’ll most likely be there. Since Fabric and Power BI share the same SaaS workloads there would be improvements and benefits to them too.

    Want to get started with Microsoft Power BI or Fabric?

    If you still have questions about Power BI license cost or pricing or want to upgrade to Fabric, then as Microsoft partners and Power BI experts, we can help you not only choose the right license for you but also help you optimize your costs. So, feel free to reach out to us for a having a free discovery workshop.

    P.S. We also conduct training and workshops around Microsoft Fabric and Power BI so if you’re interested in that we can help out too!!

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    When you theorize before data - Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.

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