Demystifying Power BI — Understanding Power BI Ecosystem and Landscape

A dummy's guide to simplifying and understanding the Power BI ecosystem

Dhyanendra Singh Rathore
Microsoft Power BI
Published in
7 min readOct 12, 2022


Photo by Miguel Á. Padriñán from Pexels

Power BI has grown significantly to become a unified BI platform with advanced features that appeals to large organizations. Power BI comprises several tightly integrated software, services, and cloud components, which collectively make Power BI an enterprise-level reporting platform.

Despite Microsoft providing extensive documentation on Power BI's features, services, licenses, capacities, etc., it can get complicated and incomprehensible to fit everything in one clear picture.

This series of articles will focus on Power BI's overall landscape and components. We will divide the Power BI ecosystem into four main components and discuss how these components interact to make Power BI so powerful, flexible, and compelling.

The flow of work in Power BI

The most common workflow in Power BI begins by connecting to data sources in Power BI Desktop and building a report. You then publish that report from Power BI Desktop to the Power BI service and share it so business users can view and interact with the reports in the Power BI service and on mobile devices.

A typical workflow in Power BI (Image by author)

Power BI Service, Power BI Online, and Power BI Portal is the SaaS (Software as a Service) part of Power BI. These terms refer to the same entity ( and are used interchangeably.

How you interact with different Power BI Components

How you use Power BI may depend on your project or team role. Other people in other positions might use Power BI differently. You also might use each element of Power BI at different times, depending on what you're trying to achieve or your role in the project.

For example, You might extensively use Power BI Desktop or Power BI Report Builder to create reports, then publish those reports to the Power BI service, where business users consume them. Your other developer colleagues might use Power BI APIs to push data into datasets or embed dashboards and reports into custom applications. DevOps colleagues might use REST APIs or PowerShell to automate pipelines or set up CI/CD.

Most business users might use the Power BI service to view reports and dashboards. Another coworker in sales might mainly use the Power BI phone app to monitor progress on sales quotas and drill into new sales lead details.

How you use Power BI can be based on which feature or service of Power BI is the best tool for your situation. For example, you can use Power BI Desktop to create reports for your team about customer engagement statistics. You can also view inventory and manufacturing progress in a real-time dashboard in the Power BI service. You can create a paginated report of mailable invoices based on a Power BI dataset. Each part of Power BI is available to you, which is why it's so flexible and compelling.

How different roles interact with Power BI (Image by Author)

Power BI Landscape

From our previous example of the Power BI workflow, we can segregate the Power BI ecosystem into four components. First, all types of data sources, connections, integration, and modeling functionalities fall under the umbrella of Data Management. Second, all report authoring tools, such as Power BI Desktop and the file types Power BI support, can be categorized as Data & Report Design Tools. Third, Power BI Service is the Back-end Platform that hosts the data and reports and serves the content to end-users. Finally, the applications and interfaces available for the users to access the content are the User Applications.

The four components of Power BI (Image by author)

The four components complement one another to deliver value to the end users. The preceding image shows a broad representation of how the component interacts. But first, let's look at a brief description of each component and the role it plays in the Power BI landscape.

Back-end Platform & Capacities

The back-end platform is the backbone and the workhorse of the Power BI ecosystem, providing processing power and storage. In addition, the back-end platform is responsible for hosting reports and data and managing user access. Finally, the back-end platform determines and limits the features and functionalities delivered by the rest of the three components.

Microsoft offers cloud-based and on-premises options that vary in supported content, client tools, features, performance, scaling, and security. The back-end platform is also where enterprises spend most of their Power BI budget. So yes, we're talking about the capacities and the licenses.

The following article discusses the back-end platform, capacities, and licenses.

Data Management

Power BI allows data to reside alongside reports and other content in the Back-end platform. In addition, the data management features provide an architecture where data and access are centralized and report creation and analysis are decentralized. In other words, Power BI includes data management capabilities where experts can centrally curate data and report users, and analysts can access it securely.

There are two main data model types used by Power BI data management: datasets and tabular data models. In addition, the Power BI service provides additional support components to transform, orchestrate, control and query the data.

The following article discusses the data models, storage, connections, refresh options, ETL capabilities, and supporting components in detail. We also shed light on limitations and features available by the back-end platform in particular.

Data & Report Design Tools

Power BI platform can host three types of reports, all based on Microsoft tools and technology: Power BI reports (.pbix), Excel workbooks (.xlsx and .xlsm), and Paginated reports (.rdl).

The best-known tools for designing and creating Power BI reports are the Power BI Desktop, Excel, and Power BI Report Builder. Power BI report design tool updates have slowed to a manageable pace compared to previous years, with new updates focused on maturing the products, adding advanced features, and providing integrations to other Microsoft-cloud services.

The following article discusses the various design tools and report formats. We also present limitations imposed by the back-end platforms.

User Applications & Interfaces

End users access and interact with Power BI using a variety of clients, which are all based on functionality provided by the Power BI Service. The client interfaces range from the Power BI Portal to Web applications to mobile apps and in-house applications.

The wide variety of clients and the ability to share reports provide the same feature set, although the high-end AI-related features are limited to the Power BI portal. Furthermore, not all clients are available for all platforms.

In the following article, we discuss the available user clients and their availability by platform type in detail.

Third-Party Tools

The power BI community is innovative and ever-evolving. Therefore, this article will not be complete without mentioning the third-party tools available in the market. Most of these tools are free, but some require a license for advanced features. A detailed description is out of the scope of this article, but you can find details about some of these tools on Microsoft Docs and SQLBI.

That's all for this article. So grab a coffee and read through all the pieces to complete your journey. However, if you're curious about the technical architecture and design behind some of these components, we recommend reading the following white paper.


For a beginner, it is essential to learn and understand the overall picture as early as possible in the learning phase. Understanding what is available and how the components interact in the Power BI ecosystem will allow you to appreciate this powerful and complex platform.

This article presents a novel concept of representing various components in Power BI as an ecosystem. We divided the components based on their functionalities into four functional blocks with a brief description.

Like this post? Connect with Dhyan

Let’s be friends! You can find me on LinkedIn or join me on Medium.

P.S. There’s a lot of junk out there, so on the off-chance that you think this article is better than most alternatives, please help it stand out above the noise by sharing it with your community. ❤️



Dhyanendra Singh Rathore
Microsoft Power BI

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