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Microsoft Power BI

Demystifying Power BI — Back-end Platform, Capacities, and Licensing

A summary and overview of the Back-end Platform, Capacities, and Licensing in the Power BI ecosystem

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  • Power BI reports and paginated reports
  • Excel and CSV files
  • Datasets, dataflows, and datamarts
  • Analysis Services Tabular data models
  • Authenticating users, applications, and data connections
  • Executing queries and controlling data refresh schedules
  • Pulling data from various sources via connectors and gateways
  • Processing data integration pipelines
  • Rendering and exporting reports
  • Publishing and distributing reports and dashboards
  • Responding to real-time user interaction
  • Interfacing with applications
Back-end platforms in Power BI (Image by Author)

Back-end Platform Types

  1. Power BI on-premises: Power BI Report Server is an on-premises offering of Power BI for publishing, sharing, and consuming business intelligence content within the corporate network on an on-premises data center. Power BI reports are deployed and delivered in an on-premises portal alongside Reporting Services paginated reports, Excel reports, and Mobile reports. Although it is built on top of SQL Server Reporting Services and has a superset of its functionality, Power BI Report Server is a different product from SQL Server Reporting Services and is licensed and installed separately.
  2. Power BI service: Power BI service is the cloud-based software-as-a-service offering of Power BI. Power BI service supports collaboration, sharing, enterprise distribution, creation of dashboards, and additional functionality such as alerts and scorecards. It can serve as a central location to consolidate the distribution of datasets for content creators and reports, dashboards, and Apps to consumers.


  • Shared capacity (aka multi-tenancy mode): When a Power BI tenant is created, initially, it has one capacity available: Power BI shared capacity. The resources supporting the shared capacity are shared with other Power BI customers (multi-tenancy). To ensure "fair play" among all the customers of the shared capacity, Power BI imposes certain limits and throttles. Such as the maximum size of a dataset, the maximum number of dataset refreshes that can take place in a day, etc.
  • Dedicated capacity (aka Premium): In contrast to the shared capacity, a dedicated capacity is reserved for a single Power BI customer. Dedicated capacity requires a separate subscription known as Premium. When customers purchase Power BI Premium, they buy one or more Power BI Premium capacity nodes. A Power BI Premium capacity node can be considered a virtual machine: a specified amount of computing resources to be used by one customer within the Power BI service. Unlike shared capacities, Premium capacities have relaxed limits.


Power BI User Types

  • Creators: Creators are individuals who build and share content, such as Power BI reports and datasets. Creators are usually a small set of users, including report authors, data analysts, administrators, and content curators. Power BI defines content creators as anyone who creates or contributes to the creation of content that is published to a Power BI back-end platform.
  • Consumers: Consumers are individuals who access reports and datasets for read-only purposes, including viewing and performing individual analysis and filtering. Content consumers are usually the largest group of Power BI users, including management, financial analysts, and sales staff. They access reports through the Power BI portal, mobile app, in-house apps, or webpages.

User-based Licenses (User Subscriptions)

Collaboration capabilities of user licenses in Power BI (Image by Author)
Consumer user license requirements by hosting capacity in Power BI (Image by Author)

Capacity-based Licenses ( Tenant level Subscriptions)

  • P SKUs (P1-P5): The P series supports the full array of features and functionality offered by Premium. P SKUs support the embedding for your organization and include a license to install Power BI Report Server on-premises.
  • EM SKUs (EM1-EM3): EM series is intended for use with embedding for your organization scenarios and provides embedding capabilities for an organization's in-house applications, web portals, Microsoft 365 apps, etc.
Power BI Premium: P vs. EM SKUs (Image by Author)

Server-based License

All capacities (P, EM, A SKUs) and Power BI Report Server require a Power BI Pro or Premium Per User (PPU) license to publish content.

Capabilities available per license type in Power BI (Image by Author)

User Licensing Rules

  1. Creators always need a user license
  • Creators publishing to Premium Per User workspaces must have a Premium Per User license
  • Creators publishing to any other back-end platform can have either a Pro or Premium Per User license
  • Consumers accessing the content in Premium Per User workspaces require a Premium Per User license
  • Consumers accessing the content in shared Pro capacities require either a Pro or Premium Per User license
  • Consumers accessing the content in any capacity-based platforms do not require a named user license


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Dhyanendra Singh Rathore

Analytics Expert. Data and BI Professional. Owner of Everyday BI. Private consultation -