Power BI is perhaps the most popular business intelligence tool out in the world, today. Part of that is because of its low price point. But how exactly does Power BI pricing work? In this article, I’ll show you all the different licenses with examples of when you might need one or the other.
Disclaimer: The information in this article about Power BI Pricing was created with the greatest amount of care. However, we may have made typos. Also, Microsoft might decide to change prices at any time they wish. Anyway, the point is that no rights can be derived from the content on this website.
Is Power BI free?
One question we get a lot is is Power BI free to use? The answer, as with so many answers, is, that it depends.
Power BI is free if you only use the Power BI Desktop and/or the Power BI Free account online. There are, however, limitations.
The Power BI Desktop is the authoring application that you use to create outstanding Power BI reports. You can use it to load data and create amazing visuals, but it’s not really suited to your users. With just the Desktop, it will be a pain to distribute reports in your organisation.
The Power BI Free plan is free indeed, but there are limits to what you can do with it.
With Power BI Free, you can create reports and upload them to your own workspace. You can use the Power BI Service to work with your reports and dashboards. Additionally, you can view these reports on your mobile devices. The drawback is that you can’t share reports with other users, nor can you look at content shared with you. This is an important distinction when talking about the pricing of Power BI.
When Do I Need Power BI Pro?
You need Power BI Pro when you have created an awesome report and you want to share that with your colleagues. Or, when a colleague has created a report that you want to use.
You guessed it: the free Power BI licence is quite useless. Yes, you can use it to build a nice dashboard on some data you have at home. But in a business environment, you want to show other people your report! And to do that, both parties (creator and reader) need to pay.
Luckily, Power BI Pro is not that expensive at all!
The list price, according to Microsoft’s website, is $9.99 per month per user (or €8.40 if you’re in Europe). And that is CHEAP! For a product as cool as Power BI, 120 bucks per year is not expensive.
And then, when you have lots of users or are a large Microsoft customer, you might get a discount on the list price. I don’t know. You just might.
Download this cheat sheet to start building awesome Power BI reports.
Power BI and Office 365
If your organisation already uses Office 365 (or Microsoft 365 – seriously Microsoft, stop changing the name so often!), it is possible you already have a Power BI license.
With some of the Office products Power BI Pro is included. That is the case for the following products:
- Microsoft 365 Enterprise E3
- Microsoft 365 Enterprise E5
If you have either of those licenses, you already have Power BI Pro.
If not, you probably have Power BI Free, since it’s included automatically for every Office 365 tenant unless your system administrator explicitly disabled this functionality.
Power BI Premium
You’ve now heard about Power BI Free and Power BI Pro, and you probably know what they can do for you. It’s time to introduce Power BI Premium.
Premium is the more expensive version of Power BI that comes with a lot of additional functionality in return for a lot of money (depending on the specific Premium license).
Now, what do you get when you buy Power BI Premium? That depends. Premium can really be split into two categories, infrastructure and functionality.
Power BI Premium for Dedicated Capacity
The first (infrastructure) is buying a dedicated capacity which means you no longer run your dashboards in a shared cloud environment, but rather you get a nice dedicated cloud capacity just for your company. That means that you could get a more stable performance. Could get. I have had a couple of different projects where a non-dedicated capacity was actually faster than some of the dedicated capacities that come with Power BI Premium.
I like to visualise this as Pro being elastic. You are on shared cloud infrastructure, so many Microsoft customers use the same capacity that you are on. When all those other customers are running very heavy queries, your queries might run slower. But when you are running a very heavy query, it might just take the resources it needs in order to complete it.
Now when you buy Power BI Premium, let’s say a P1 tier, you get a dedicated but fixed, capacity. For a P1, this is 8 vCores and 25 GB of memory. Whether this is enough depends on your usage, but let’s say you run a very heavy query, you might run into capacity issues. The query will then be capped, and possibly executed slower, than when you would have had a non-dedicated capacity.
Power BI Premium for Free read-only users
If you buy a Premium capacity, that allows you to have Free read-only users! That’s amazing. It’s a great hack that allows you to get out of the you-always-need-pro rabbit hole.
Let’s say you have 1,000 report consumers in your organisation. They are happy with their dashboards but they don’t build and publish reports and dashboards themselves.
You could buy a Premium capacity, for example, a P1, and remove the Pro licenses for your 1,000 read-only users. The P1 license costs approximately $5,000 per month (list price), and you’ll save 9.990 (1,000 x $9.99) per month! Mind you: report creators still need a Pro license in order to publish and share reports.
Additional Functionality with Power BI Premium
Besides getting dedicated capacity, with Premium, you also get additional analytics features in your Power BI environment.
One of the most widely used examples is the more frequent dataset refresh. With Premium, you can refresh a dataset up to 48 times per day, with Pro only 8 times per day.
Another one that I personally use in a lot of projects is Power BI Paginated Reports. You can create beautiful, pixel-perfect reports, but only publish them to a Premium workspace.
Last, my third-favourite Premium feature is the XMLA-endpoints in combination with large datasets. It allows you to use Power BI as a true semantic layer in a data warehouse project, replacing Azure Analysis Services.
Power BI Premium Per User
Microsoft received a lot of criticism for making the entry price of Premium as high as it is. Lots of companies were saying that Premium was too expensive for small organisations. Eventually, Microsoft caved and introduced a new license type called Premium Per User (PPU).
This new license grants most of the additional functionality you get with a regular Premium capacity, except that you don’t actually get a dedicated capacity. You can, however, use the large dataset features, Paginated Reports, and the more frequent dataset refresh.
The price of PPU is double the price of a regular Pro license. In the US you pay $20 per month per user, in the EU it works out to €16.90 per month per user.
Buying a Power BI Premium Capacity
Microsoft Power BI Pro and Premium Per User can be purchased in two ways. The first way is directly through Microsoft. You will pay the list price, and usually, you have to pay up-front for the year, using a credit card. The second option is through a reseller. When you buy through a reseller, you can usually pay by invoice, on a monthly schedule. Also, the reseller might be able to give you a discount.
Buying a dedicated Premium capacity will work a bit differently though. The regular Premium capacities can be bought through Office 365, which brings us back to the Microsoft vs. Reseller option laid out above.
Besides the regular Premium capacities (the so-called P-SKUs) you can buy specific Premium capacities through the Azure licensing system (the so-called A-SKUs). The benefit of buying through Azure is that you can pay by the hour. Where a regular P-SKU starts at $4,995 (P1), the corresponding A-SKU (A4) costs $8.06 per hour. And yes, you can script the A-SKUs to be turned off when you don’t need them.
Now, why would you even buy P-SKUs if you can get flexibility through the Azure SKUs? Easy. $8.06 x 24 hours x 30 days = approx $5,800 dollars per month. Used full-time, it’s more expensive than the same SKUs purchased monthly.
Two good use cases of the Azure SKUs are using it during the workday for an Embedded application (they need Premium to work) or for testing and evaluating purposes.
Power BI Report Server
What about the on-premises Power BI Report Server? This is a version of the Power BI Service that you can host on your own servers. Some companies have a no-cloud policy, or simply want to leverage their existing servers.
When using the Report Server you need to have a valid Power BI Premium license. Both the Office SKUs (P), as well as the Azure SKUs (A4 or higher), will work.
Alternatives to Power BI
There are excellent alternatives to Power BI out there. Let’s look at two competing products that are very popular in today’s business intelligence market.
The licensing and pricing for Tableau work a little bit differently than for Power BI.
Now I’m not here to praise Power BI over all else, I do think Microsoft’s offering is quite a bit more competitive than Tableau’s. And after all, you are reading a Power BI blog 🙂
Tableau has three types of user licenses. The most basic one is for read-only users and is called Tableau Viewer. This license is $15 per user per month.
The second tier is called Tableau Explorer and costs $42 per user per month. The third tier is called Tableau Creator and costs $70 per user per month.
The Viewer license lets a user view existing reports. The Explorer license is meant for self-service users that are going to work with existing reports or create new reports on existing datasets. The Creator license is used to create new datasets.
Looking at these functionalities, we see that all of the above can be done with Power BI Pro for $9.99 per user per month. It’s safe to say that Microsoft’s Power BI is quite a bit cheaper than SalesForce’s Tableau.
Qlik Sense Pricing
The pricing of Qlik Sense Business is straightforward. According to Qlik’s website, the cost per user per month is $30.
That’s three times the price of Power BI Pro and double the price of Premium Per User.
Using Plain Old Excel
Instead of using Power BI, you could also revert back to plain old Excel, can’t you? Well, yes, but no.
While Excel is included in practically every Office 365 plan, and yes, you can do reporting in Excel, it’s really not a great substitute for Power BI.
The included PowerQuery and Power Pivot plugins in Excel are similar to Power BI’s Power Query and data model but lack some features.
Also, the sharing of Power BI reports through the Power BI Service is awesome, compared to sharing Excel files. A long time ago, I heard the analogy of sharing Excel files is shooting a wedding video, then burning DVDs and mailing those DVDs. Sharing Power BI is shooting the same video, uploading it to Youtube, and telling people to go watch the video online. Power BI is the Youtube for data.
Frequently Asked Questions about Power BI Pricing
Is Power BI Free?
Yes. Power BI is free as long as you only use the Desktop application or work online with the Power BI Free license. If you want to share reports or consumed shared reports, you need to pay.
How much does it cost to implement Power BI?
This depends. A regular deployment can be as cheap as $9.99 per user per month plus whatever the project cost is of the (external) specialists you hire.
Is Microsoft Power BI expensive?
No. Compared to competitor products, Power BI pricing is very reasonable. Tableau is 1.5 to 7 times more expensive, and Qlik Sense is 3 times more expensive than Power BI.
Is Power BI Desktop free forever?
Yes. I once heard a Microsoft representative stating “as long as you run it on your hardware, it’s free to use. When you want to run it on our hardware [i.e. the Power BI Service], you pay for the license.”
Need Help with Power BI Licensing?
Just ask us to help you. We’re available for consulting calls. Within a single one-hour call we can figure out the perfect Power BI licensing structure for your company.
Bas LandBas is the owner of Analytics on Point (a Microsoft business intelligence consultancy) and DataChimp (a platform for standardised dashboards for accountants). Ever since Power BI Desktop was released, he has worked with it pretty much full-time. With Power BI Heroes, he likes to share his knowledge about Power BI with the rest of the world.
Download this cheat sheet to start building awesome Power BI reports.