Last week, Microsoft released the Power BI Personal Gateway. The Personal Gateway lets you keep dashboards created in the new Power BI Dashboard service updated with data from your on-premises data sources. This is important – nobody wants to manually refresh data all of the time. However, the service already updates many data sources updated automatically – when is this tool necessary? Also, there is already a refresh tool available for Power BI called the Data Management Gateway – what’s the difference between these two tools, and when would I use one versus the other? This post is an attempt to answer these and a few other questions.
To set the stage, we need to distinguish between the original Power BI service (V1) and the Power BI service released on July 24 2015 (V2 or Power BI Dashboards). The V1 service runs (or ran, depending on when you read this) as an add-on to Office 365. Among other things, this service allows Excel files with embedded Power Pivot data models to be used from Office 365. The Data Management Gateway can be connected to the service to keep those workbooks refreshed with data on a periodic basis. The new V2 version of the service removes the dependency on Office 365 and Excel. It allows users to connect directly to their data, and to use Power Query, Power View, and (essentially) PowerPivot to transform it, visualize it, and create dashboards from it. In this new model. Office 365 is simply a repository for Excel files, which become a source for both data and reports, depending on how they are connected.
In addition to refresh capabilities, the new Power BI (V2) service supports direct querying of on premises and cloud data sources. This is significantly different than data refresh. In a live connection scenario, dashboard interactions are sent back to the data sources in real time where they are executed, and the visualizations are updated through the service in real time accordingly. In a refresh scenario, a data model that exists in the Power BI service is updated from a source on a periodic basis. This refresh has been the job of the Data Management Gateway, and is also the job of the new Personal Gateway.
Architecturally, the two services can be viewed as follows:
With this in mind, let’s answer a few anticipated questions
Will I need the Power BI Personal Gateway to do live query of on premises data?
No. The Personal Gateway, like the DMG, performs a data refresh of a model that is stored within the Power BI service. Live queries are executed against on-premises data models, so in this scenario, the Personal Gateway plays no part.
If I have the DMG, do I need the Personal Gateway?
The answer to this is that it depends. Although related, the two products do different things. The DMG is responsible for keeping the data models contained within Excel workbooks and stored in SharePoint online up to date. The refresh process in this case is the equivalent of opening the Excel workbook, selecting the Refresh All Connections button, saving it back and allowing he service to update the model stored in the service. The Personal Gateway has no workbook to update, it only updates the service based model. Therefore, if you do need to keep workbooks refreshed in Office 365, you will need to use the DMG. However, if instead you upload your workbook to the new “V2” service, you will need to use the new Personal Gateway.
Can I install the Personal Gateway and the DMG on the same machine?
No. The Personal Gateway is really an evolution of the original DMG and uses the same underlying code base. The two are incompatible and cannot be installed on the same machine. An attempt to do so will result in the following error:
If I have the SSAS Connector, do I still need the Personal Gateway to refresh data?
Yes, The SSAS Connector is a service that is installed on-premises to allow the Power BI service to perform live queries on SSAS servers. In order to keep data in a Power BI model up to date from an on-premises data source, the Personal Gateway is necessary. However, it is not currently possible to install both the Personal Gateway and the SSAS Connector on the same machine. In fact, if you attempt to do so, you will receive precisely the same error as above. The SSAS Connector is another variant of the original DMG.
Do I need to use Power BI Designer to create a refreshable model in Power BI “V2”?
No. While Power BI designer is one tool for doing this, it is not the only one. Models refreshable from on-premises data can also be created by using the Power BI user interface and connecting to Excel workbooks.
Will any data model created in Excel or Power BI Designer work with the Personal Gateway?
(note – this answer has been updated from it’s original to correct some inaccuracies. Thanks to Derek Rickard for pointing this out)
No. In order for a model to be refreshable by the Personal Gateway, it must have been created from a refreshable data source. This is a similar to the DMG which could also refresh some direct on premises data sources, but the difference is that Power Query was required to refresh anything but SQL Server or Oracle data sources. In Excel, a model can be created using PowerPivot, Power Query, or by the selection of appropriate options when importing data.
The following data sources are currently supported.
- SQL Server
- IBM DB2
- SharePoint List
- File (CSV, XML, Text, Excel, Access)
- SQL Server Analysis Services Tabular models
- Custom SQL/native SQL
Do I need the Personal Gateway to refresh data sources from the cloud?
No. As with Power BI “V1”, cloud based data sources can be refreshed directly from the service, with no need for a gateway. However, if your model contains data sources from both on premises and the cloud, a gateway will obviously be required. Also, as mentioned above, Power Query must have been used to acquire the data. Supported cloud data sources are:
- Azure SQL Database
- Azure Blob Storage
- Azure Table Storage
- Azure HDInsight
- Azure Marketplace
- Dynamics CRM Online
- Google Analytics
- Salesforce Objects/Reports
- OData feeds
- Web (HTML & Web APIs)
Do I need to be an Administrator to run the Personal Gateway?
No. This is a major departure from the DMG. The DMG installed as a service, which requires administrator level permissions to do. In addition, Configuration of data sources at the service level required special permissions. The DMG was designed to be run by administrators. The new personal BI “V2” is designed to meet the needs of both individual users, and enterprises, and correspondingly, the Personal Gateway can be run by anyone. I suppose that the word “personal” in the name should be a bit of a hint.
At install time, the system is interrogated to determine the current user’s permissions. If the permissions are sufficient, the Personal Gateway installs itself as a service, allowing full unattended operation. If permissions are insufficient, the gateway installs itself as an application. When installed in this manner, the application must be running in order for any refreshes to occur. Obviously, the user must also be logged in.
I’ll add more Q&A to this post as needed over the coming weeks. The coming release of the new Power BI service promises to be exciting. For more details, check out the Personal Gateway release announcement.