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Ready to make the most of your data? It’s easy to get actionable insights through analytics, especially when you can choose the way you want to see and share them.

To begin at the beginning, BI stands for Business Intelligence, which is the synthesis of data from people, practices, and technologies to give you a picture of how your organization is doing in terms of growth and limitations. While analytics can seem daunting, they really are the lifeblood of growing a business strategically based on real-time data so it’s important you access and understand them.

Power BI is a Microsoft product that gives you options for how to see your data in customized dashboards and reports, beyond columns and row. There are three licensing models of Power BI for you to choose from so you can tailor it to your needs. Let’s take a look at the cost, benefits, and constraints of each option.

Option 1: Power BI License (Free)

As the name implies, there is no cost for this license. With Power BI (Free), you get 10GB of space in the Power BI service (i.e., the cloud service provided by Microsoft). You also get the Power BI Desktop application to create reports and the ability to refresh the data in your reports up to eight times per day – on the hour or half hour. The size of any data set (meaning the PBIX file you upload to the Power BI service) is limited to 1GB.

What you don’t get with the free license is the ability to share and collaborate on your reports, analyze your data in Excel, Live Connections to your data, Direct Query, share reports outside your organization, Dedicated Capacity, or use of Power BI Report Server.

This option is for you if you want to get familiar with the report/visualization development tool and/or do a proof of concept. It’s important to remember that, without the ability to securely share reports, the usefulness of this license is limited.

Option 2: Power BI Pro ($9.99 per user/month)

With this license, you get 10 GB of space per user in the Power BI service, and the ability to share and collaborate on your reports with others in your organization who also have a Power Bi (Pro) license or a Power BI (Premium) license.

You can also analyze your reports in Excel, use Direct Query and Live Connections, and share your reports outside your organization (although consumers of your report must also have a Power BI Pro license). You will be able to refresh your data up to eight times per day and, as with the free license, there is a 1GB size limit on any PBIX file you upload to the Power BI service.

What you don’t get with the Pro license is Dedicated Capacity and the use of the Power BI Report Server.

With the Pro license, Power BI can be considered a viable candidate for your Business Intelligence solution. This license is aimed at small- to medium-sized organizations that will have a few to hundreds of users who need to develop and consume reports and dashboards.

For the smaller organization, this license provides a very cost-effective option to a very sophisticated Business Intelligence platform.

Option 3: Power BI Premium (you pay for a chosen capacity and $9.99 per user per month)
With this license, you choose the amount of dedicated capacity or number of virtual cores plus the amount of memory you want to support your Power BI platform. There are six capacity models, which you can see in the Power BI Premium Capacity Models table below.

The Premium license is in addition to the Pro license, so you get everything offered in the Pro license plus:

  • 100TB per capacity of space in the Power BI service
  • Unlimited sharing outside of your organization (this means consumers of your reports only need the Power BI Free license)
  • Unlimited data refresh (so you can refresh your data at any time, up to 48 times per day)
  • A 10GB limit of the size of any PBIX file uploaded to the Power BI Service
  • A Power BI Report Server license

The Premium license provides support for thousands of users by providing an isolated, dedicated hardware capacity. It allows you to scale up as your needs increase and to mix and match your licenses. For example, individual workspaces and / or users can be assigned Premium capacity while others use Power BI Pro license.

Below is a table to help you compare license options.

Power BI License Comparison
Which Power BI License Is Best For You

This next table compares the six Capacity Models for each license option.

Power BI Premium Capacity Models

Cores are split evenly between Frontend and Backend. Frontend Cores power the user experience, such as the web service, APIs, uploads / downloads, etc. The Backend Cores power the query processing, data refresh and other heavy-lifting.


  • EM3 and P1 can be bought on a month-to-month basis.
  • EM1 and EM2 are only available through Volume Licensing.

For embedding Power BI in custom applications, there are six capacity plans that are available through the Premium license model.

Power BI Embedded capacity is billed hourly, can be purchased hourly, and can be paused – meaning no long-term commitment(s) to a specific capacity.

Power BI Premium Embedded Capacity
Which Power BI License Is Best For You

The reason the investment is higher for Embedded Capacity vs. EM and P Capacities is due to the flexibility of hourly billing that can be paused.

Altogether, business intelligence – or analysis of your data – is a necessity for understanding trends, forecasting projections and making informed strategic decisions. Power BI makes it easy to get that information on your terms with regard to look and feel of the reports and dashboards as well as the number of users, capacity needed, and billing flexibility.

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