What is Power BI and How Much Does It Cost?

Last month Microsoft released its newest Business Intelligence (BI) offering called Power BI. With this offering, Microsoft has made some in-roads in the creation of a coherent BI solution for its customers.  While it is great to see Microsoft making progress trying to unify BI offering, Power BI is in reality an evolutionary rebranding of old components (with an umbrella name “Power BI”) rather than a revolutionary new BI solution.

What is Power BI?

Power BI is a collection of the following components:

Client-Side Components (first 4 are Excel add-ins):

  • Power Pivot – data mash-up tool designed to work with large amounts of data (this tool is available since Office 2010)
  • Power Query – data discovery and data retrieval tool. This is a revision of a tool as “Data Explorer” until mid-2013. Power Query overlaps some data querying functionality with Power Pivot
  • Power View – interactive data visualization and reporting tool
  • Power Map – data mapping tool, Power Map overlaps some geographic visualizations with Power View and includes advanced mapping capabilities, such as 3D graphs and multiple geographic layers
  • Client-side Data Management Gateway – tool that connects cloud-based Power BI with on-premises corporate data. You can download this component when you add a gateway on a Power BI server

The version of Excel that supports Power BI requires “ProPlus,” which comes with certain Office 365 subscription plans: Office 365 ProPlus, Office 365 Midsize Business, Office 365 Enterprise E3/E4, etc. When you install “ProPlus” Office 365 the installation will deploy Power View and Power Pivot add-ins for Excel.

Server-Side Components (Power BI for Office 365) expose some interactive Excel capabilities in a browser and Power BI site management:

  • Power BI Sites – allow users with an internet browser to share, view, and interact with Power View and Excel reports hosted by Microsoft in an Office 365 SharePoint environment
  • Power BI Q&A – allows end-user to type English language query to visualize data
  • Query and Data Management – allows users to share and manage queries and data sources. Allows users to view query usage analytics using a familiar SharePoint interface.
  • Power BI Management – an Office 365 SharePoint integrated experience to manage Power BI
  • Data Management Gateway – a server component that connects cloud-hosted Power BI to on-premises data

Mobile access:

  • Power BI Windows Store App – a mobile application found in the Windows store that is used to share and interact with shared reports  on your Windows powered mobile devices

Power BI Costs

Cost and benefits are major considerations for businesses evaluating potential BI solutions. Cost considerations should include: Power BI software costs, deployment costs, training, and (most likely) consulting fees. “ProPlus” Office 365 already incorporates the cost of client-side software (Excel and its add-ons). Server-side Power BI software has additional costs ranging from $20 (promotional offer for certain type of licenses) to $52 per user per month.

For medium or large businesses, Office 365 Enterprise E3 license is best priced for Power BI (both client and server components). Office 365 E3 license costs $40 (promotional) per user per month and has volume discounts after 250 users.

For small businesses, the standalone version of Excel 2013 is the best option (today) to get client-side Power BI features. Standalone Excel is an interesting oddity of all Office variants that allows client-side Power BI to run in perpetual license. With Microsoft disallowing Power BI updates to be installed on Office 2013 Professional, it is probably only a matter of time before Microsoft closes this “loophole.”