Power BI Licensing Options – What fits your needs best?

Every organization is overloaded with data and challenged to turn that data into the best decisions possible. Power BI is an interactive business intelligence tool that allows any user to build powerful reports and dashboards to provide valuable insights into their data.

Using these insights everyone can then make more informed business decisions. Having the best data can mean seeing market trends before they emerge, spotting issues with manufacturing faster, or selling more of their own solution by building in Power BI into their own product offerings.

Microsoft has a number of different options for Power BI and how it is deployed and licensed. 

Power BI Desktop

Power BI Desktop is a complete data analysis tool that allows for advanced report creation. This software is installed directly on your local desktop, where there is more functionality available than inside of the Power BI Service. Power BI Desktop allows you to connect to many data sources, transform that data, as well as create calculated columns and measures for the data that you pull in. Once you have your report created, you can publish it to the Power BI Service, where licensing dictates who it can be shared with.

Power BI Service

The Power BI Service is the SaaS (Software-as-a-Service) part of Power BI. The Service enables you to publish your reports from Power BI Desktop, create dashboards from the published reports, and share this content with others inside and outside of your organization. The Service supports limited features in report creation, but most of that power is left to Power BI Desktop. Within the Service, you can create apps and workspaces with related content in them so that you have your reports and dashboards grouped all in one location.

Power BI Mobile

Power BI Mobile enables users to securely access and view live Power BI dashboards and reports on any device, with native mobile BI apps for iOS and Android. This brings rich mobility to both your Cloud and on-premises data while keeping it secure through mobile device and application management capabilities from Microsoft Intune. Users with a Power BI free license can also now view and access workspaces where they’ve been added as viewers directly from the workspaces list.

Licensing Power BI Free vs. Pro

The free version of Power BI is designed for a single user to create ad-hoc reporting and data exploration. The dataset size is limited to 1GB per individual dataset and an overall storage quota of 10GB per user.

Power BI Pro enables users to share their dashboards and reports with each other for consumption inside the Power BI Service – which fosters powerful collaboration and distribution of insights. Like the free tier, there is a 1GB per individual dataset limit. There is a 10GB storage limit for each user, and data can be refreshed a maximum of eight times a day. This license enables users to publish their reports and dashboards to a shared workspace in the Power BI Service and utilize shared processing power within Office 365 (you do not get dedicated compute resources). Power BI Pro is included in both the Office 365 E5 or M365 E5 license packages. Microsoft also offers a separate package for $9.99 per user per month.

Power BI Pro is a great solution for small to medium-sized organizations who are looking to gain insights from their data on a small scale. Or when a customer is already licensed for the Office/Microsoft 365 E5 plans and is okay with the limits in data refresh and storage limits of a Pro License/see below for a detailed chart.

List of Features Supported by User Type



Power BI Premium

Power BI Premium is priced based on computing capacity (how much compute power is needed) or by users/month. Both provide dedicated storage for your business – up to 100TB per tenant. It allows Power BI Free users to access and consume the data contained in the dashboards and reports inside of a workspace that is on Premium Capacity. So, only Power BI developers would need to have a Power BI Pro license. Both Power BI Premium per user and per capacity offer mobile app access and provide a maximum of 48 refreshes per day for each dataset.

The main difference between per user and per capacity is that per-user gains a lot of the features and functionality of Power BI Premium per capacity without the organizational sharing functionality; whereas only per capacity allows an organization to consume content without a per-user license and enables on-premises reporting with Power BI Report Server instead of being hosted in the Cloud. Per capacity licensing also brings multi-geo deployment management, bring your own key (BYOK), and Autoscale add-on availability – which is currently in preview for Power BI Premium Gen2.

Customers also have the ability to run a Power BI Report Server on-premises if that is their preference. The license for the Power BI Report Server is offered in two ways. The first is included in the Power BI Premium per capacity. The second is included in the license for SQL Server Enterprise licensing when owned with Software Assurance.

Depending on your performance needs, the prices can range, but Interlink can work with you to find an option that fits your needs. For example, the P1 Node, which is the smallest offered, provides 8 vCores of dedicated processing power within Office 365(4 for rendering, 4 for processing of data), 25GB of RAM, and costs $5,000 per month. Customers can scale their capacities either vertically by upgrading the SKU on the capacity or horizontally by adding another instance of Power BI Premium per capacity.

Power BI Premium is for clients who have a large number of consumers of data who are not report developers and/or those that need the additional processing power and storage to work through their complex and large datasets.

Power BI Premium Generation 2

Microsoft recently released a new version of Power BI Premium, Power BI Premium Generation 2 (Premium Gen2). Premium Gen2 is currently in preview and is available for Premium subscribers to use during the preview period. You can use the original version of Premium or switch to Premium Gen2 at no cost. You'll have to beware that this is a tenant-level setting, so you can only use one or the other for your Premium capacities.

Premium Gen2 provides the following updates or improved experiences:

  • Ability to license Premium Per User in addition to per capacity.
  • Enhanced performance on any capacity size, anytime: Analytics operations run up to 16X faster on Premium Gen2. Operations will always perform at top speed and won't slow down when the load on the capacity approaches the capacity limits.
  • Greater scale:
    • No limits on refresh concurrency, no longer requiring you to track schedules for datasets being refreshed on your capacity
    • Fewer memory restrictions
    • Complete separation between report interaction and scheduled refreshes
  • Improved metrics with clear and normalized capacity utilization data that are dependent only on the complexity of analytics operations the capacity performs and not on its size, the level of load on the system while performing analytics, or other factors. The improved metrics, utilization analysis, budget planning, chargebacks, and the need to upgrade are clearly visible with built-in reporting.
  • Autoscale allows for automatically adding one v-core at a time for 24-hour periods when the load on the capacity exceeds its limits, preventing slowdowns caused by overload. V-cores are automatically removed when idle time is detected. Additional v-cores are charged to your Azure subscription on a pay-as-you-go basis.
  • Reduced management overhead with proactive and configurable admin notifications about capacity utilization level and load increasing.

How Interlink Can Help

Power BI allows your organization to optimize report performance, build customized reports and dashboards, and create customized solutions. Contact us to accelerate business functions and profitability by utilizing data and insights. We can help navigate which licensing options are best for you.

Interested in learning more? View our similar blog: Power BI & Excel: Visualization and Analysis Power with Integration.