Microsoft Power BI and (license)options | COMPAREX

There is a lot to discuss about Microsoft Power BI. It is a powerful tool that allows you to visualize data and to easily access this data. Since you can use Microsoft Power BI to report data in a visual, clearly laid-out way, you will now gain new insights that had previously remained hidden. Many organizations started using this tool as soon as it was released in 2015. The recent changes made to this platform has put Power BI center-stage again, with us having to deal every day with queries regarding licensing options and other issues. Time for a blog then!

By Chris van der Zwan, Software Licensing and Cloud Solutions Consultant

 Reading time: 5.00 minutes

The various Microsoft Power BI licenses

From the first release onwards, Microsoft has received a lot of feedback about this platform, especially about how organizations want to visualize their data. This may include publishing reports for your clients, partners and the entire in-house organization. Many powerful solutions can be devised to improve the quality of the service that you provide to your clients. You may also discover that your data now contains information that you have never seen before in your Excel reports.

On 1 June 2017, Microsoft implemented a number of changes in Power BI. For example, you can no longer use the free-to-use version to open a shared dashboard. On the other hand, the functionality offered by this free version has now been increased significantly.

In order to give users more options for creating dashboards, Microsoft has introduced Power BI Premium. Unlike the Free and Pro versions, this Premium license does not use a ‘per user’ licensing model - instead, you buy licenses based on the number of cores you need.

Microsoft uses the following Power BI licenses:

  • Power BI Free per user
  • Power BI Pro per user
  • Power BI Premium EM series per core
  • Power BI Premium P series per core
  • SQL Server Enterprise per core, including Software Assurance (Power BI Reporting Server)

Which Microsoft Power BI license do I need?

Before we can answer this question, we first have to ask the question ‘what is it that you want to achieve?’. This is because the license you need depends on the goal you want to achieve. A user who can set to work himself visualizing his Excel sheets or Excel data from a SQL database will do just fine with the Free version.

In contrast, in a situation where a user visualizes data and then shares the dashboard with ten colleagues, it would be better to acquire ten Pro licenses. And if a user creates a dashboard for clients or for the whole organization then it is better to acquire Microsoft Power BI Premium. This is because with this edition, it is only the person who creates the dashboard who needs a Pro license.

The persons who view or open the dashboard will be able to do all they need with the Free version. This is straightaway one of the major differences compared to the Pro version. In addition, with the Premium version you will deliver improved performances and will be able to work with larger volumes of data.

Microsoft Power BI

How does the Microsoft Power BI Premium licensing model work?

Microsoft Power BI Premium is a hybrid license that can be deployed both in the cloud and on-premise (or with both at the same time). Unlike the two versions mentioned above, Microsoft Power BI Premium uses a ‘per core’ licensing model in which the cores are divided into front-end and back-end capacity.


The front-end cores are responsible for such tasks as webservices, dashboards, reports, access rights management, planning/scheduling, APIs, uploads and downloads etc. In short, everything that relates to the user experience.


The back-end cores are responsible for the background tasks that require greater computing power. These tasks may include query processing, cache management, running R servers, data refresh, natural language processing, real-time feeds and server-side rendering of reports and illustrations. In addition, large amounts of memory are reserved for the back-end cores. This is especially important if you are dealing with large-scale data models or with a large number of active data sets.

Two different series

Microsoft Power BI is supplied in two different series: the P series and the EM series. The P series (Premium) are the full products, whereas the EM series (Embedded) are stripped-down versions of the P series. The EM series’ name already indicates what its purpose is, namely to link Power BI to specific applications.

Who is Microsoft Power BI Premium especially suitable for?

Premium is especially suitable for those organizations who want to start using Power BI right across their organization. The designer who creates the dashboard must be in possession of a Microsoft Power BI Pro license, with the Premium version purchased being based on the number of cores that are needed.

What is the Microsoft Power BI Report Server?

The most recent addition to the Microsoft Power BI family of products is the Microsoft Power BI Report Server. Report Server is an integral part of both the Power BI Premium license and SQL Server Enterprise. An important point as regards the latter is that you can only use Report Server if you are using Software Assurance and the license’s core model.

There are two ways to license Report Server:

  1. SQL server with SA per core (on-premise) + Power BI Pro per user
  2. Power BI Premium per capacity (hybrid) + Power BI Pro per user

Would you like more information on Micrsoft Power BI?

Wpuld you like to know more about Microsoft Power BI, or do you need advice on which license is the best one for you to buy? Then feel free to get in touch with me!

Please contact us

Chris van der Zwan

Chris van der Zwan


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