How is Power BI licensed?

Power BI can be licensed in three different ways: by user, by content workspace, or by server. Specifically, there are 5 different Power BI Licenses:

1.     Free (no license)

2.     Power BI Pro

3.     Power BI Premium

4.     Power BI Embedded

5.     Power BI Report Server

 

The first two options represent user-based licensing, in which the licensing applies to the user itself.  The other three options represent capacity-based licensing, where you are licensing the underlying servers used to host and render the content.

 

In most scenarios, you are going to want to want to go with Power BI Pro, which is a cheap and easy option to get started with. In this blog post, we are going to briefly review each option.


Licensing Options

Free

The first option is to go with a free license. With a free license you can create reports and deploy them to powerbi.com; however, the features of enterprise sharing and collaboration are not available. The only sharing option for free users is Publish to Web, which makes your data public. If you are comfortable with only using public sharing, then you don’t need to license Power BI at all.

A free license is ideal when you just want to play around with Power BI, visualize public domain data, or work entirely by yourself. However, in most business cases, the whole point of using Power BI is to share reports securely and internally. In which case, you need to look at a Power BI Pro license.

Power BI Pro

Power BI Pro is the one-size-fits-all licensing option for Power BI. Most of the time, this is the most popular choice with newer users. A Power BI Pro license is $10 per user, per month and is also included with an Office 365 E5 license. Power BI Pro gives you access to the majority of Power BI features. Some exceptions include paginated reports and incremental refresh. You can easily deploy reports to powerbi.com and share them with your coworkers.

Power BI Premium / Embedded

Power BI Premium and Power BI Embedded are options where you are licensing the content, not the individual users. In this model, you pay for a certain amount of computing capacity and then assign content to that capacity. Power BI embedded is the version designed for embedding in custom applications. Power BI Premium, on the other hand, is designed for corporate use. 

There are actually 3 licensing levels for premium and embedded:

  • A Tier ($725-$23,000 per month).  This tier is for Power BI Embedded. You will have to roll your own UI and security. You can easily pause this resource as needed.
  • EM Tier ($625-$2,500 per month). This this allows you to embed your reports into SharePoint Online and Microsoft Teams. Users do not have access to PowerBI.com. This is ideal for low frequency, low engagement users. 
  • P Tier ($5,000-$20,000 per month). This gives you full access to the benefits of PowerBI.com. You also get other benefits such as paginated reports and incremental refresh.

Based on the pricing available, Power BI Premium only makes sense when you have hundreds of users. Preferably low frequency or low engagement users that wouldn’t take full advantage of a Power BI Pro license.

Power BI Report Server

Power BI Report Server is an ideal solution if you want to stay on-premises, or if your team is heavily invested in SSRS. Power BI Report Server functions very similarly to SSRS but has the added capability of rendering Power BI reports.

In order to license Power BI Report server, you either need to pay for P tier of Power BI Premium, or you need SQL Server Enterprise Edition plus Software Assurance. Either option will easily cost you thousands of dollars per year.

Which is the right choice for you?

Power BI Free is great for getting started but is extremely limited in terms of sharing capabilities. In the vast majority of cases, you will want to go with Power BI Pro licensing. At $10 per month, it’s cheap to start with and it provides most of the Power BI functionality you’ll need.

Power BI Premium only starts to make sense financially when you have hundreds of users. Power BI Report Server is a good choice if you need to stay on-premises but can be expensive as well.