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 Microsoft 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 Microsoft 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 11
  • 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 Microsoft 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 (For Canada)

When considering Power BI for your business intelligence needs in Canada, it’s critical to understand the various licensing and pricing options available. Microsoft provides different tiers of Power BI subscriptions to cater to diverse organizational sizes and needs. Below are the Power BI licensing and pricing options available in Canada as of the knowledge cutoff date:

Power BI Free:

  • This tier is ideal for individual users needing basic data analytics and visualization capabilities.
  • Users can create reports and dashboards with Power BI Desktop and publish them to the Power BI service.
  • There’s no license cost, but sharing capabilities are limited.

Power BI Pro:

  • Priced at approximately CAD $13.60 per user per month.
  • This tier includes all the capabilities of the free version, plus the ability to share and collaborate on shared data.
  • It enables app workspace creation, distribution of content, and more frequent data refreshes.
  • Suitable for businesses where team collaboration and report sharing are necessary.

Power BI Premium Per User:

  • For users who require advanced capabilities without full Premium capacity, the Premium Per User subscription is available for around CAD $27.10 per user per month.
  • It includes all the features of Power BI Pro, as well as larger data model sizes and higher refresh rates.
  • Provides access to Premium-only features such as automated machine learning, cognitive services, and advanced AI features.

Power BI Premium (Capacity-Based):

  • This is an enterprise-level offering for larger organizations and starts at approximately CAD $6,777.20 per month for the P1 SKU.
  • It allocates dedicated cloud resources and provides greater scalability and performance capabilities.
  • Includes all Pro features and additional benefits like paginated reports, AI workloads, and the ability to maintain datasets of up to 50 GB in size.
  • Users within the organization can consume Power BI content without requiring individual Pro licenses when accessing content hosted on the Premium capacity.

Notes on Power BI Pricing for Canada:

  • All prices are subject to change, and it’s best to refer to Microsoft’s official Power BI pricing page for the most up-to-date information.
  • Special pricing may be available for academic institutions, non-profits, and government organizations.
  • Organizations with Microsoft 365 E5 subscriptions already have Power BI Pro included. There are also options for add-ons to step up to Premium Per User for an additional fee.
  • It’s important for businesses to assess their specific needs—like the number of users, volume of data, sharing requirements, and level of analytics complexity—when selecting the appropriate Power BI version.

Before committing to a subscription, organizations can take advantage of the free trial options provided by Microsoft. This allows users to explore the full capabilities of Power BI Pro and evaluate if it suits their business requirements. For more personalized advice and volume licensing, businesses should consult with a Microsoft sales representative or a certified Microsoft partner.

For the most current information on pricing and features, please refer to the official Microsoft Power BI Pricing page.

Power BI Plans Compared:

Information accurate as of January 11, 2024. To see the latest details visit Microsoft’s Power Bi pricing page.

Feature Power BI in Microsoft Fabric free account Power BI Pro Power BI Premium
per user
Power BI Premium per capacity (includes Microsoft Fabric)
Create reports with Power BI Desktop Included Included Included Included
Publish Power BI reports to share and collaborate Included Included
Advanced AI, dataflows, datamarts, and XMLA endpoint read/write Included Included
All users can consume Power BI content without a paid per-user license Included
Access to all the Microsoft Fabric workloads, including Data Factory, Data Engineering, Data Warehouse, Data Science, Real-Time Analytics, and Data Activator Included
Model memory size limit 1 GB 100 GB 400 GB
Refresh rate for Power BI datasets 8/day 48/day 48/day
Maximum storage (Power BI native storage) 10 GB/user 100 TB 100TB
Data security and encryption Included Included Included Included
OneLake storage, OneLake BCDR storage, OneLake cache, and networking Included

Information in this table is accurate as of January 11, 2024. To find the latest information on Power BI plans visit the official pricing page here.

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.


Can I upgrade from Power BI Pro to Power BI Premium?

Yes, you can upgrade from Power BI Pro to Power BI Premium if your organization requires additional capacity or advanced features that are only available in the Premium version. The upgrade process typically involves purchasing Premium capacity, and it’s advisable to discuss the specific needs and implications with a Microsoft sales representative.

Is it possible to collaborate on reports with external users using Power BI?

With Power BI Pro and Premium, you have the ability to share reports with users outside of your organization. This is known as external sharing and is controlled through Power BI settings and your organization’s Microsoft 365 admin center. Note that external users need to authenticate with a Microsoft account and should be managed carefully to ensure data security.

How does Power BI Premium differ from other cloud analytics and BI services?

Power BI Premium provides dedicated capacity, which means your organization is allocated its own resources that are not shared with other tenants. This results in consistent performance and the ability to handle larger volumes of data refreshes and storage. Power BI Premium also includes advanced AI capabilities, paginated reports, and broader data connectivity options.

Does Power BI have any features to help with data compliance and governance?

Yes, Power BI includes a range of security and governance features, such as sensitivity labelling, data loss prevention, auditing, and compliance capabilities. These features help organizations manage access to data, enforce policies, and meet regulatory requirements. Microsoft frequently updates these features to ensure robust compliance support.

What kind of support can I expect with Power BI?

Microsoft offers various tiers of support for Power BI. Free users can access community forums and documentation. Pro and Premium users have access to additional support options, including support tickets through the Microsoft 365 admin center. Premium users also have access to faster response times and more direct contact with Microsoft support personnel. For personalized assistance, organizations can work with a Power BI partner or use the Premium Support plan, which may incur additional costs.

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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