Data may be the lifeblood of your organization. However, if it is not managed correctly or shared with relevant users, you may be missing many opportunities and less likely to make the correct related decisions. In this situation, you need a powerful, interactive business intelligence tool like Microsoft Power BI. What is this, and what different versions and licensing types are available?

What Is Microsoft Power BI?

Microsoft Power BI is the leading business analytical tool in the marketplace. It is available in three software versions and provides you with a suite of business intelligence services. You can use these services to model your data, analyze and report to others, and depending on which version you have, create presentations and share with colleagues.

Here are some of its key benefits:

  • Generate real-time data using automatic refresh, so you can identify opportunities and solve problems more easily.
  • Create customizable dashboards based on the needs of your company.
  • Enjoy seamless integration with Excel without needing to learn a brand-new app.
  • Integrate with a raft of other Microsoft applications like SharePoint, Dynamics 365 and Office 365, as well as Google Analytics and others. There are 135+ data connectors to choose from, with more being added each month.
  • Add Power BI apps as needed that you can share with specific groups or across your network.
  • Spot trends or make intelligent predictions by using powerful machine learning capability.
  • Get access to even more advanced features as time goes by, as developers constantly update Power BI through the cloud.

Elements of Power BI

Power BI is made of three elements that all work together:

  • A Windows desktop application called Power BI Desktop. This is free and can be downloaded from Microsoft here.
  • An online SaaS (Software as a Service) service called the Power BI service. You have two types of licenses available: Power BI Pro and Power BI Premium
  • Power BI mobile apps for Windows, iOS, and Android devices. By default, all of Power BI versions – Desktop, Pro and Premium are mobile responsive.

Power BI Desktop

This version of the software is free and is currently available within Office 365 plans. It’s relatively easy to use with minimal skills and has all the basic business intel features at entry-level. You don’t need a subscription to this version, and you can simply download it directly from Microsoft at no cost. It’s compatible with a range of platforms, including:

  • Windows 7
  • Windows 8
  • Windows Server 2008 R2
  • Windows 10
  • Windows Server 2012
  • Windows Server 2012 R2

You can import data from more than 70 different data sources, in-house or via the cloud with this version. It has all the key filters and visualizations found in the Pro version, and you can export reports to Microsoft Excel and PowerPoint in CSV or PDF format.

This version comes with 10 GB of cloud storage per user and has Python support included. The AI will automatically look for or create data relationships, and you can also publish reports to the web.

Still, the free version does have limitations as it doesn’t include App  workspaces, email subscriptions, peer-to-peer sharing or API embedding. You are unable to analyze data within Excel using the free version, and if you want to share created reports with your colleagues or other users, you’ll have to upgrade.

Consider Power BI Desktop as a small business with less data to analyze, or if you are testing out the system to see if it is right for you.

Power BI Pro

This version has a number of additional features, like giving you the option to share dashboards, data and reports with others who have a Power BI Pro licence. You can also generate an app-based workspace and enjoy unlimited viewing, sharing and reports. Each user has 10 GB of storage, and you will find Power BI Pro within Office 365 Enterprise E5.

If you want to use Power BI Pro, you will have to buy individual licences for each member of your team. This will allow them to utilize the full, unrestricted version. They’ll also be able to embed visuals into apps such as Teams, SharePoint and PowerApps.

Pro has native app integration with other Microsoft Solutions like Azure Data Services. It also has an on-premise gateway and more data refreshes than the basic version, so you’ll always have the latest version of your information.

Power BI Pro is ideal for businesses with multiple sites or for small to medium-size companies. It is also ideal for organizations with large data requirements.

Within Power BI, you’ll find features like Workspace. This is where you can collaborate with colleagues on specific pieces of content through various reports and dashboards. You can assign permissions to workspaces or maintain a personal sandbox with just your own content. Capabilities vary depending on your licence.

You can also access Apps, a feature that you create within Workspaces so you can share different types of content at the same time. The app can have various permissions depending on who you want to share with, and it contains a collection of dashboards, reports, datasets and spreadsheets.

Power BI Premium

At the top end of the scale is Power BI Premium. This enterprise-level solution is not designed for individual licenses. Rather, it is a bulk Power BI licensing option for the purchasing company.

Power BI Premium hosts up to 50 GB of data sets, with 100 TB of cloud storage. Your organization will have its own resources and high-capacity servers, so you will not have to share processing environments with others. This enables faster performance and greatly increased data capacity as well as extended deployments. You’ll get more data refreshes, isolation, read-only replicas, pin-to memory and geo-distribution, and extended deployment as a result of the larger storage capacity.

Premium is designed for very large enterprises with significant workloads.

Power BI Licensing/Pricing Options

Power BI Free: This is a free license and provides access to My Workspace and when coupled with Power BI Premium capacity, allows you to view reports shared with them.

Power BI Pro: This is available for CA$12.99 per user per month, although you can “try before you buy” using a 60-day trial.

Power BI Premium: You’ll need to get an individual quote to find the price for your organization. Expect somewhere in the region of CA$6,250 per capacity per month, with further information available here.

Power BI Premium Per User: This is available for CA$25.60 per user per month. If you have M365 E5 (which includes Power BI Pro) you can pay an extra US$10 a month per user per month as an add-on to upgrade the individual’s licensing from Power BI Pro to Power BI Premium Per User.

Which Version of Microsoft Power BI Is Right for You?

If you are just getting started, Power BI Desktop might be a good fit for an end-user who consumes reports or does some analysis without the need to share it with other peers. Power BI Desktop allows you to create customized reports and has the same visualizations as the Pro version.

If you have a small to medium-size organization, you can start with the Power BI Pro version as you can share reports with other users and enjoy a broader use of Workspace and Apps functionality.

Power BI Premium is more suitable for larger organizations and in situations where more users need access to reports or reviews than might actually create them.

How to Get Support

It can be difficult to know what Power BI licensing options are best for your organization. Should you require help getting started, consider working with a certified Microsoft partner like Softlanding who can offer a Power BI service. Softlanding can also provide assistance around data governance, data security, user access and permissioning. Talk to a professional provider of IT services in Vancouver to learn more.

Written By:


Softlanding is a long-established IT services provider of transformation, professional services and managed IT services that helps organizations boost innovation and drive business value. We are a multi-award-winning Microsoft Gold Partner with 13 Gold Competencies and we use our experience and expertise to be a trusted advisor to our clients. Headquartered in Vancouver, BC, we have staff and offices in Toronto, Montreal and Calgary to serve clients across Canada.

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