The Power BI Pivot

This week we had quite a bit of Power BI content appear on various blogs and sites. Some of this was normal traffic, with Power BI gaining popularity and more data professionals writing about the topic. There are always quite a few blogs from The Guy in a Cube, including a look at how to better use colors, but I also see more and more posts from others. We had others about R in Power BI and custom visuals.

The big news this week was the announcement of the Power BI Report Server from Microsoft. This is coming late in the second quarter of 2017, according to the SSRS blog, which I assume means in the next month. The second quarter is almost over, and with Microsoft ending their fiscal year in June, I’d expect this to release sooner than later. There is also a Power BI Premium, which apparently allows an enterprise to purchase capacity in the cloud and then concurrently deploy Power BI reports on-premises.

Many people have been looking forward to this. I’ve been hearing from some reporting authors that we were going to get Power BI rolled into SSRS as an option for SQL reporting. Apparently we are, but there are some new costs here. This may change your calculation of whether this is a good move for your organization, but certainly I think that Power BI is one of the better reporting engines I’ve seen.

The licensing is confusing, and I liked in a few other thoughts on the announcement from others, such as Dan English and James Serra. Both note that the free tier gets to connect to the same data sources as the Pro previously could (including on premises data), which is good. The storage quota increases to 10GB, up to 8 refreshes a day and a bit more. Pro is still $10/month, and apparently is still needed for those that spend the money on Premium if they author reports or export to Excel, even if you have Enterprise Edition. At least, that’s what Mr. English notes in the license terms. Alternatively you can spend a few thousand dollars a month for the cloud version and let all your employees access reports in the cloud or from a local report server.

Power BI has been one of those amazing products that I’ve been very impressed with in the technical sense. I can build amazing reports, and get great interactivity, allowing me to analyze data in a way that hasn’t always been possible in a visual tool. Almost every time I see a new type of report or some demo, I’m impressed with what’s possible. I love the desktop tool for my own use, since it’s a nice, responsive and easy to understand interface. However the deployment method (originally just with PowerBI.com) and the licensing have always struck me as a bit strange, and perhaps somewhat crippled. It certainly felt that many features didn’t cost me money directly, but there was a cost. With this latest change, it feels like another pivot to try and increase revenue, but not in a way that’s attractive to me.

Microsoft wants to make money, and they’ve certainly invested money in the Power BI platform, so they get to make the rules. I do like Power BI, and if the costs make sense to you, and there’s enough value, this is certainly a very powerful visualization and reporting tool that I can only imagine will become more and more useful over time.

Steve Jones

About way0utwest

Editor, SQLServerCentral
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