A complete guide to Power BI pricing and capacity management

By Abhay Jadhav, Analytics team CloudMoyo

As business intelligence programs are becoming more sophisticated and nuanced, Power BI has found a unique position in the market as a go-to BI tool. As an increasing number of organizations are adopting Power BI, they face critical questions regarding capacity management and pricing. We thought of sharing some insights into how to identify which solution fits your enterprise BI needs. This blog will also give you an overview of dedicated capacities, supported workloads, content sharing, and other features that will be helpful in making these decisions.

Capacity management

Power BI offers three tires of service – Free, Pro, and Premium based on their usage and pricing. Let’s take a quick look at each one of these offerings:

  • Power BI Free for content creation: Use the free Power BI Desktop tool to author reports and prepare, model, and create data visualizations.
  • Power BI Pro for content publication: Collaborate with colleagues, model data, author content, share dashboards, publish reports, and perform ad hoc analysis.
  • Power BI Premium for content consumption: Read and interact with pre-published dashboards and reports with either a per-user Power BI Pro license or a Power BI Premium license for large-scale databases.

Table 1 delves deeper into some of the distinguishing aspects of three models to inform your decision-making process.

While Power BI Pro and Premium both have their own set of extensive features, we have highlighted some of the unique features of Power BI Premium in Figure 1. These features are in addition to those common with Power BI Pro.

Pricing management

The total users and users by category who interact with Power BI reports or dashboards are the key parameters for estimating the cost of Power BI for any organization. There are three categories of users –

  1. Pro users- These users require collaboration, authorization of content, data modeling, ad hoc analysis, dashboard sharing, and report publishing.
  2. Frequent users- Users frequently interact with reports or dashboards.
  3. Occasional users- Users occasionally consume the reports and dashboards.

Based on these identified user types, the Power BI pricing calculator can be used to estimate the cost. Let’s work with an example here, suppose the organization contains total of 4,500 users who will have access to Power BI and these users can be categorized as 20% pro users, 35% frequent users, and 45% occasional users. Based on the pricing calculator, the total cost for 4500 users will be $23,976/month. Here’s how you can make that calculation:

Power BI Premium

Power BI Premium provides dedicated and enhanced resources to run the Power BI service for your organization with features such as:

  • Greater scale and performance
  • Flexibility to license by capacity
  • Unify self-service and enterprise BI
  • Extend on-premises BI with Power BI Report Server
  • Support for data residency by region (Multi-Geo)
  • Share data with anyone without purchasing a per-user license

The Office 365 subscription of Power BI Premium is available in two SKU (Stock-Keeping Unit) families:

P SKUs (P1-P3) for embedding and enterprise features. The commitment is monthly or yearly, it is billed monthly and includes a license to install Power BI Report Server on-premises.

EM SKUs (EM1-EM3) for organizational embedding. The commitment is yearly and it is billed monthly. EM1 and EM2 SKUs are available only through volume licensing plans. You can’t purchase them directly.

Capacity nodes

As described earlier, there are two Power BI Premium SKU families- EM and P. The SKU represents the storage, memory, and a set amount of resources consisting of processor where ALL SKUs are considered as capacity nodes. Each SKU contains some operational limits on number of DirectQuery and Live Connections per second, and the number of parallel model refreshes.

Processing is achieved by a set number of v-cores, divided equally between back end and front-end. Back end v-cores are also known as active datasets where it has assigned a fixed amount of memory that is primarily used to host models. Back end v-cores are responsible for core Power BI functionalities which contains the following activities: Query processing, cache management, running R services, model refresh, natural language processing, and server-side rendering of reports and images.

Front-end v-cores are responsible for following activities: Web services, dashboard and report document management, access rights management scheduling, APIs, uploads and downloads, and for everything related to the user experiences. Storage is set to 100 TB per capacity node. The resources and limitations of each Premium SKU (and equivalently sized A SKU) are described in table 2:

Workload configuration in premium capacity using Power BI admin portal

To fulfill the capacity resource requirements, you will need to change memory and other settings if the default settings are not meeting the requirements. The steps to configure workloads in the Power BI admin portal are-

  1. In Capacity settings > PREMIUM CAPACITIES, select a capacity.
  2. Under MORE OPTIONS, expand Workloads.
  3. Enable one or more workloads and set a value for Max Memory and other settings.
  4. Select Apply.

Different parameters contributing to workloads in a premium capacity are AI workload, datasets, max intermediate row set count, max offline dataset size, max result row set count, query memory limit, query timeout, automatic page refresh (in preview), data flows, container size, and paginated reports.

Power BI Embedded

The total cost of Power BI Embedded depends on the type of node chosen and the number of nodes deployed. Node types differ based on number of v-cores and RAM. The Power BI Embedded pricing by Microsoft is available on monthly/hourly basis across different regions. Table 3 covers the pricing for Central U.S. region by the hour.

Some of the most common questions our customers ask:

When will I choose Power BI Pro for deployment?

For small and large deployments, Power BI Pro works great to deliver full Power BI capabilities to all users. Employees across roles and departments can engage in ad-hoc analysis, dashboard sharing and report publishing, collaboration, and other related activities.

What if all users don’t require the full capabilities of Power BI Pro as many are only occasionally viewing reports?

Even though you have Power BI Premium, you will need Power BI Pro to publish reports, share dashboards, collaborate with colleagues in workspaces and engage in other related activities. To use a Power BI Premium capacity, you need to assign a workspace to a capacity. Following use cases will help you to understand the scenarios in which you can go for Power BI Pro/Premium or both.

Do you need self-service BI?

Self-service BI is not just a trend anymore, it has become a necessity for efficient sharing of information within an organization. Various professionals can collaborate, publish, share, and perform ad-hoc analysis easily with advanced self-service BI tools.

Can Power BI support big data analytics and on-premises as well as cloud reporting?

Power BI Premium provides enterprise BI, big data analytics, cloud, and on-premises reporting along with advanced administration and deployment controls. It also provides dedicated cloud compute and storage resources that allow any user to consume Power BI content.

Wrapping up 

As per your enterprise business intelligence needs and existing use cases, it is very important to choose the right Power BI offering. For all users pricing and features supported by each Power BI option helps to find when and how to pick the best fit for your organization. You can analyze and select a capacity management for project deliveries which is a combination of Power BI Pro/Premium options. Every organization is unique in its needs and goals. The right technology partner can help you identify the best solution based on your enterprise needs and work with you to leverage the solution in an optimal manner.


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