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Power BI Premium: What Is It, and Is It a Good Fit for Your Organization?

10 Aug 2017 by Lindsay Pinchot

With the introduction of Power BI Premium, you'll see new features and functionality, as well as changes to the way Power BI will work going forward. As with any change, it has people both excited and nervous. Let's break down the basics to help you examine if Power BI Premium might be a good fit for your organization, and to incite feelings of excitement rather than reservations about the changes.

At its most basic, Power BI Premium is a capacity-based offering, meaning it's dedicated, licensed resources for purchase in the cloud. This differs from the old model of licensing, which only had individual per-user licensing plans. To use Power BI Premium, your organization will still need some users who have Power BI Pro licenses, as this is still where development, collaboration and administration are going to happen. Power BI Premium is designed to complement Power BI Pro.

Previously (and still by default), any Power BI content published to the service uses shared capacity. With Power BI Premium, administrators have the option to assign content to premium capacity, on licensed, dedicated hardware. What are the benefits of premium capacity, you ask? Take a look at this side-by-side comparison:

Side by side comparison chart showing the benefits of Power BI premium capacity

Premium capacity lifts the governance on resources. With dedicated resources, you’ll see better, more dependable performance. You'll also have the option to schedule automatic data refreshes more frequently and store larger amounts of data.

One of the changes accompanying Power BI Premium is that sharing to enterprise users requires the use of either embedded content or apps running on premium capacity. This has people a little nervous, especially those already using Power BI Embedded. Let’s take a closer look at these two ways to share content, starting with the changes to embedding.

Power BI Embedded is now technically a part of the Premium offering. I say “technically” because if you have existing embedded applications, Microsoft will continue to support these for a limited time, but you'll eventually need to migrate them to premium capacity.

The benefit here is that Embedded and Service are now merged, so there's one API surface that keeps features and capabilities consistent and up to date. Unfortunately, it means you need to purchase some form of premium capacity. For more information on this, check out this article from Microsoft.

Next, let’s explore apps. Apps are the evolution and combination of content packs and group workspaces. For those of you currently using Power BI, you may have already noticed this change. Group workspaces are now called app workspaces, and if you’ve tried to create a content pack recently, you probably got this message:

Visual representation of a pop up message asking if you would like to upgrade to App Workspaces

Apps bundle content and keep it bundled. Whereas content packs lose their identity once installed, app content stays together, making everything easier to maintain, navigate and organize over time. Additionally, when content is updated or data is refreshed, these updates are automatically pushed out to the app, so people using the app aren't responsible for keeping it up to date or re-installing it when a change is made.

Unlike content packs and group workspaces, the relationship between apps and app workspaces is one to one — each app needs its own workspace. There are more updates coming to this, and soon the creation of an app workspace won't create additional Office 365 artifacts in the background. You'll also be able to share an app or add users to an app workspace both individually and by Active Directory security groups, making sharing and managing security easier than ever.

So, how do apps work with Power BI Premium? If an app is assigned to run on premium capacity, business users within your organization can install it and consume its content, without needing a Power BI Pro license. Business users simply install these apps from Microsoft AppSource and access them via a web portal or mobile device. Premium capacity app content is easy to share and readily available to help business users make data-driven decisions. Eventually, apps will be able to be shared outside of your organizations with partners via Azure Active Directory B2B.

Power BI Premium also comes with Power BI Report Server, the highly anticipated on-premise Power BI offering. On Report Server, users can create, publish and manage reports — and deliver them to users in a variety of ways. Report Server is compatible with SQL Server Reporting Services reports and can be published to mobile devices. In addition, content within it can eventually be moved to the cloud.

Think of it as the cloud at your own pace, in your own way. It’s a great option for organizations that may not be entirely ready to make the full leap into the cloud, for those already using SQL Server Reporting Services or for those who need to keep some content on premises within the boundaries of their organization’s firewall.

Do you have to get Power BI Premium for your organization if you want to continue using Power BI? The short answer to this is no — the other Power BI licensing options are still available. In my opinion, organizations that will benefit most from Power BI Premium are ones that:

  1. Have large data sets used for reporting and could benefit from the increased storage and performance
  2. Need more frequent automatic data refreshes for some reports
  3. Have a large number of users who only need to consume reports and dashboards
  4. Use and need to continue to use embedding in custom applications
  5. Aren’t quite ready to move all reporting to the cloud, or would like to integrate with on-premise SQL Server Reporting Services reports.

That said, if your organization is interested in exploring Power BI Premium, I encourage you to explore Power BI pricing and offerings. Microsoft also designed a Power BI Premium calculator that will help you estimate the number of Pro licenses and the amount of premium capacity you’ll need.

Power BI Premium makes Power BI more powerful and flexible than ever before. It gives organizations more options for reporting and sharing, as well as a variety of combinations of components to tailor solutions to specific needs. 

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About Lindsay Pinchot
Data Solutions Consultant

Lindsay has experience in all aspects of the business intelligence lifecycle, from data modeling and Extract, Transform, Load (ETL) to report and dashboard creation.

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