Microsoft's Power BI Premium delivers enterprise-grade features and bulk discounts

Power BI Pro is only $10/user/month, but that can really add up for big organizations, even as performance and capacity can be insufficient for their needs. Enter Power BI Premium, designed to solve both problems.
Written by Andrew Brust, Contributor

Microsoft's Power BI is going gangbusters and everyone in the BI world knows it. One of the things that propelled the product to its current rate of success is that it comes in at the entry-level, providing a very powerful free tier and charging only $10/month (per user) for the Pro subscription. In other words, Microsoft went bottom-up instead of top-down, and it worked.

$10/month with a 10GB storage limit is all well and good for individuals, or lines of business adding Power BI seats on an ad hoc basis, using expense budget monies. But a company that wants 300 of its employees to author Power BI reports and another 3000 people to consume them would need to spend almost $400K/year. If an enterprise of some 30,000 users decided it wanted all employees to have access to Power BI content, the annual cost would be $3.6M. That's a big number, especially considering the storage limit, the maximum of one data refresh per hour and the fact that each user's cloud tenant runs on shared infrastructure.

Premium experience
To address these needs around scale and cost, Microsoft is announcing today a new Premium tier for Power BI. Power BI Premium, officially an add-on to Power BI Pro, will be priced by aggregate capacity, and will allow an unlimited number of users to consume Power BI content.

Premium will run on dedicated infrastructure, using a number of virtual compute cores corresponding to the customer's monthly spend. Microsoft has created a price calculator with which prospective customers can work out exact pricing, based on desired capacity.

Users who need to create content in Power BI will still require a $10/month Power BI Pro seat, but there is no per-seat charge for consumption. Premium can be added to specific Power BI workspaces belonging to the customer or all such workspaces, across the board.

New deployment, developer options
Power BI Premium brings with it more than just a new pricing model; it introduces a new developer layer for embedding Power BI in custom applications, and a new on-premises deployment option as well.

For the latter, Premium customers will have rights to an on-premises Power BI Report Server, licensed for the same number of compute cores as the customer is paying for in the cloud. This will allow customers do everything on-premises, using Power BI Desktop to author reports that they can then deploy to Power BI Report Server.


Look Ma, no cloud!
The Power BI Report Server hosts Power BI reports on-premises.

Source: Microsoft

And if you think having to subscribe to a premium cloud service just to do stuff on-premises seems -- shall we say -- indirect, there is another way, also announced today. Since Power BI Report Server is actually just a superset of SQL Server Reporting Services (SSRS), it turns out that per-core licensees of SQL Server Enterprise Edition who also have Software Assurance (Microsoft's annuity software licensing plan) will be able to host Power BI reports on-premises without a Power BI Premium subscription. Cores used by Power BI Report Server do count against the customer's license, but that would be the case with SSRS anyway.

On the developer side, Microsoft will sunset its Power BI Embedded service that has been an Azure cloud offering, and which had its own API, somewhat distinct from the Power BI cloud service. In its place will come a Power BI API that has feature parity with the cloud service. Existing apps built on Power BI Embedded will continue to be supported.

Free tier wins and losses

The introduction of Power BI Premium will also lead to changes in Power BI's free tier, and here there some gives as well as gets. On the get side, users of the free tier will now be able to connect to all of the data sources that Pro users can connect to; ostensibly, their storage quota will increase, from 1GB to 10GB; the data refresh maximum from once daily to once hourly; and streaming data rates from ten thousand rows per hour to one million rows per hour.

On the give side, users of free tier will no longer be able to share their reports and dashboards with other users. The rationale for this is that if the scope of a user's needs are limited to personal use, then no fees should apply, but if the user wishes to share or collaborate with others, those are capabilities that need to paid for.

Changes to the Power BI free tier become effective on June 1st. Power BI premium will be available sometime in the 2nd quarter of calendar 2017, meaning by the end of June.

The "grow up" story
Microsoft was smart to start at the personal level with Power BI. It made it easy and relatively risk-free for users to experiment and get hooked on the product. It also made the love spread, virally, and got larger customers interested in buying Power BI "in bulk." With Power BI Premium, such customers can get the bulk discounts that they expect, as well as Enterprise-grade features and scale that they need.

Now Power BI hits the three bases that Microsoft BI has targeted for more than a decade: personal (with Power BI Desktop and Power BI free), departmental (with Power BI Pro) and Enterprise (with Power BI Premium). The exciting part is that the same product is being used in all three scenarios. The old hodgepodge of Excel, Analysis Services and SharePoint is gone. Instead, Power BI Desktop and PowerBI.com are used together, in all implementations.

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