Inspired by a conversation we recently had with our COO, my colleague (and Microsoft MVP), David Eldersveld, tweeted a question. “What is the TOP reason you use Power BI Premium today”? The variety of responses David received were fantastic. Below is a summarized list of some of the responses he received.
- It’s more cost effective when you hit a certain number of read-only users (i.e. 500+)
- Larger datasets
- Greater refresh frequency
- Embedded reports
- Linked and Computed entities in Dataflows
The features above certainly aren’t an exhaustive list of all the benefits of purchasing Power BI Premium. In the sections below, we’ll discuss three other features of Power BI Premium that you should consider if your organization is implementing, or already using, Power BI service.
Honorable Mention – XMLA Endpoints
Okay, I lied. We’re going to talk about four features, because I simply couldn’t disregard the ability to connect third party applications to Power BI datasets via XMLA endpoints.
What is the XMLA endpoint?
Power BI datasets leverage the same Vertipaq engine that Analysis Services tabular models are based on. While Analysis Services’ purpose has always been to serve as the enterprise semantic layer for different reporting tools (i.e. Excel, SSRS, Power BI), Power BI datasets could only be leveraged by Power BI reports and Excel. That is, until Power BI Premium introduced the XMLA protocol for workspaces and datasets that reside in dedicated capacity.
These XMLA endpoints allow client tools to establish a read-only connection to your Premium workspaces and datasets. This means that the following client tools can all connect to your Power BI dataset:
- SQL Server Management Studio (SSMS)
- DAX Studio
- Power BI Desktop
- Power BI Report Builder
- And even Tableau
The ability to connect third party applications to Power BI Premium workspaces and datasets is a giant step toward Microsoft’s long-term vision of Power BI Premium becoming a superset of Analysis Services. This feature should only improve in the coming months as the ability to also allow write operations are on the roadmap for 2020.
Connecting to a dataset that resides in a Power BI Premium workspace from DAX Studio
Top Three Features
1. Paginated Reports
The first Power BI Premium feature we selected was the ability to leverage paginated reports in Power BI service.
What are Paginated Reports?
Paginated reports have been a key component of Microsoft’s Business Intelligence offering for 15+ years. Paginated reports are commonly referred to as “SSRS reports”, since they originated in SQL Server Reporting Services (SSRS). Paginated reports are a great compliment to Power BI reports. Whereas Power BI reports tend to be more visual and interactive in nature, paginated reports are great for showing tables of data that can be heavily formatted, while also spanning hundreds of pages.
Power BI Report Builder
Power BI Report Builder is a client tool that can be used to author paginated reports. Power BI Report Builder can be downloaded from the download menu within the Power BI service (it’s called Paginated Report Builder in the menu). If you’re already familiar with Report Builder for SSRS or PBIRS, then you’ll feel right at home with this client tool.
The Power BI Report Builder interface.
Connecting to a Power BI Dataset
There is a reason we called out the XMLA endpoint as an honorable mention. When you are authoring a paginated report, the first thing you’ll want to do is connect to a data source. This is a necessary first step before you can even build your report’s dataset(s). Power BI Report Builder makes this process seamless. Shown below, you can see the dialog that appears. Simply sign-in to your Power BI account and a list of available workspaces and datasets you can connect to will appear.
Power BI Report Builder allows you to easily connect to a Power BI dataset via the XMLA endpoint
The ability to connect your paginated reports to an existing Power BI dataset encourages both re-usability and a single version of the truth. It’s a best practice to build robust data models (datasets) that can be used by multiple reports and dashboards. Shown below, you can see we have four reports all leveraging the same Power BI dataset. Two of the reports are paginated.
Not a premium feature, but the new Lineage view of Power BI allows you to easily see your workspace dependencies. It is shown here to illustrate that we have two paginated reports referencing a single Power BI Premium dataset.
Sample paginated report.
Feature Parity with Power BI Report Server
The Power BI team is working hard to reach feature parity with paginated report functionality we’re already accustomed to in SSRS or PBIRS. You’ll discover that the vast majority of features you’re already familiar with work in Power BI Premium. However, you should understand the current limitations of paginated reports within Power BI before moving forward with your implementation.
2. AI Workload
Previously, we provided a tour of AI features available in the Power BI ecosystem, as well as an in-depth look at Power BI’s AI Insights from Cognitive Services. If you haven’t seen those posts, please give them a read as they go into greater detail than this section will.
When you purchase a Power BI Premium SKU, you unlock the AI workload, which provides additional AI insights during your data preparation tasks. These AI insights are powered by Azure Machine Learning and Azure Cognitive Services. There is no added cost to your organization to leverage the AI workload since the use of the underlying Azure services is already bundled into the price of Power BI Premium.
In addition to the AI insights during query preparation, the AI workload also unlocks AutoML, which provides a machine learning interface within Power BI service. AutoML is essentially machine learning with “training wheels” which allows analysts to create, train, and apply ML models to their dataset directly in Power BI service.
3. Deployment Pipelines (coming soon)
Oddly enough, none of the responses to David’s tweet mentioned Deployment Pipelines. The most likely reason is because Deployment Pipelines still won’t be available for preview for several months. That’s right, the last feature we selected is one that isn’t even in preview yet, but that should indicate how much of a “game changer” we think Deployment Pipelines could be.
Deployment Pipelines were first introduced to the community last November at the Ignite conference. Deployment Pipelines will significantly improve the deployment process of Power BI assets across different environmentally defined workspaces (i.e. development, test, production). Even more, Deployment Pipelines will be baked into Power BI service as a new user interface. This feature should be welcomed by any Power BI administrator or developer who has bemoaned the need to leverage the API or PowerShell module to facilitate deployment tasks. If you’re not currently familiar with Deployment Pipelines, we encourage you to check out the Ignite announcement video here.
Many Power BI customers with less than a few hundred users immediately dismiss Power BI Premium due to its price tag. However, Power BI Premium can bring many value-add features to your Power BI implementation that could immediately justify the cost. In addition to its cost-effectiveness for larger implementations, support for larger models, and ability to leverage third party applications, we highlighted our three favorite Premium features:
- Paginated Reports
- AI Workloads
- Deployment Pipelines
BlueGranite can optimize your investment in Power BI with our Catalyst for Modern BI. To learn more about the key pillars of successful deployment and adoption addressed by BlueGranite’s Catalyst approach, register for our upcoming Power BI Office Hours.
- Additional Power BI blog posts from our team at BlueGranite.