Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Is the Free version of Power BI 2.0 Worth Using?

There has been a lot of excitement following the general release of Power BI 2.0 earlier this summer. And part of that focus has been on the entry level price - Free. But free has its limits, and Microsoft is not known for distributing free software, let alone robust free software.

One big advantage of software with a free version is that it allows analysts and staff to work with the application, and ideally, use it while they try to convince their manager to pay for a full version. And Power BI 2.0 is no different. So the question might be, is the free version sufficiently robust that I can do real work with the tool. Can I deploy reports that my boss and others can use. And once I have a report built using the free version, just how easy will it be for me to update the data if I don't have the Pro version?

The table below outlines the current differences between the free version and the Pro version (as of Sept 16, 2015).

$9.99 user / month
Data capacity limit
1 GB/user
10 GB/user
Create, view and share your personal dashboards and reports
Author content with the Power BI Desktop
Explore data with Natural Language1
Access your dashboards on mobile devices using native apps for iOS, Windows, and Android
Consume curated content packs for services like Dynamics, Salesforce, and Google Analytics
Import data and reports from Excel, CSV and Power BI Desktop files
Data Refresh
Consume content that is scheduled to refresh
Consume streaming data in your dashboards and reports
10K rows/hour
1M rows/hour
Consume live data sources with full interactivity
Access on-premises data using the Data Connectivity Gateways (Personal and Data Management)
Collaborate with your team using Office 365 Groups in Power BI
Create, publish and view organizational content packs
Manage access control and sharing through Active Directory groups2
Shared data queries through the Data Catalog

Source:  Microsoft (as of Sept 16, 2015)

With the free version, all of the core functionality is available.  And perhaps the best free option is the full featured Power BI Desktop. There is only one version, used by both the free and Pro versions. It allows you to pull data from a nearly complete list of file, database, Azure and other cloud and remote data sources. Unfortunately, the free version of the Online Portal greatly limits your access to data.

Since Power BI Desktop is the same for both the free and Pro version, lets take a look at this tool. You can easily obtain data from multiple sources, and importantly, there is an extensive list of built-in tools to filter the data both vertically (by removing columns) and horizontally (by filtering out rows). The relationship editor allows you to review and adjust how the data tables are joined. You can use the automated matching logic, or make a change to fit your needs. So, while the Online Portal is restricted, for the free tool user, Desktop gives you a lot of flexibility and power.

Data refresh is another area that separates the free version from the Pro version.  The free version only supports a limited number of sources that allow a simple data refresh.  Files in your OneDrive can be used to refresh the free version, but only a manual refresh. 

Another data source available to the free version is the external data service provider. Power BI has a long list of supported sources such as Google Analytics and Salesforce. To see if the one you need is supported this will be a good place to start. Unfortunately, if your data comes from an Azure SQL database, or from an on-premises database your free version options are limited. You'll need to first open the report in Power BI Desktop, refresh the data on your personal workstation, and then upload the full Power BI report file to your Power BI Portal. If your source is only a file, you build your Power BI report using the limited online tools, and upload a new file. So, for initial trials and low budget operations it is very doable. Longer term, you'll want to find a way to move to the relatively inexpensive Pro version.

One limitation with both the free and Pro versions of Power BI 2.0 is where you can publish the final report. With both there is only one place to publish, and that is at the Power BI cloud portal. If you are already making the move to Office 365 you are all set. If not, then management may or may not be ready for cloud based reports. However, this limitation is changing. Pyramid Analytics is introducing a platform where Power BI Desktop reports can be published. ( Power BI Desktop to Pyramid Analytics ). On October 29, 2015, the Microsoft team reported suggested that there will be additional ways/locations to publish Power BI reports, That would be excellent.

So, if you are looking for a great BI tool, and have the ability to publish to the cloud, then Power BI is worth taking a look at for your BI needs. Even if management never approves the monthly cost of Pro, your end users can still access your reports. 

A few months ago, I published an article on the newly released Power BI 2.0 at Redmond Magazine. Called First Look: Power BI 2.0.  If you would like to get started with the new Power BI 2.0, the best place to start is on the Getting Started Page,

1 comment:

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