SQL Server Reporting Services vs Power BI Report Server – What’s the Difference?

Power BI Report Server (PBIRS) was first introduced in May 2017. Based on SQL Server Reporting Services (SSRS), it brings the ability to work with Power BI reports completely on premises in addition to all the other capabilities of SSRS. Given this, it would be reasonable to conclude that PBIRS was the next version of, or a replacement for SSRS, but that is not the case. I have heard people state that SSRS is “going away”, but this is simply not the case. SSRS is still a core part of the Microsoft BI stack. So, what are the differences between the two platforms? The differences boil down to features, licensing, and update cadence.

Features

Early builds of SSRS 2017 (V.Next at the time) contained the ability to render Power BI (Interactive) reports in addition to the “classic” RDL (Paginated) reports that SSRS is well known for and the recently added RSMOBILE (Mobile) report types. However, when PBIRS was introduced, SSRS lost that capability, and from a feature standpoint, it really was the only difference between the two. The recent introduction of the Excel report type (Analytical) to PBIRS has further differentiated the two products.

From a features standpoint, the differences between the two products are straightforward. PBIRS is a superset of SSRS. It contains everything that SSRS has, and it ads the ability to render both Interactive (PBIX) and Analytical (XLSX) reports.

Licensing

Licensing is where things get a little more involved. SSRS was always included on the SQL Server installation media, but with SQL Server 2017, this is no longer the case, it’s a separate download (the RC version of SSRS 2017 is currently available for download here). However, the license for SSRS is still tied to your version of SQL Server. Therefore, if you have a license for Standard mode SQL Server, you will be able to use the Standard mode features of SSRS, Enterprise unlocks the Enterprise features, etc. As of the 2017 version, there is also no longer an Integrated mode of SSRS, it’s Native Mode only.

Power BI Report Server is licensed in one of two ways. Purchasing Power BI Premium capacity gives you a license to run the same number of cores as you have in the capacity. This ONLY applies to Premium P SKUs, not any others such as EM. The other way that it can be licensed is by purchasing SQL Server Enterprise Edition + Software Assurance.

Release cadence

Just as with licensing, the timing of releases of SSRS is also tied to that of SQL Server. Whenever a new version of SQL Server is released, a new version of SSRS will be as well. This is not the case for PBIRS. Since PBIRS is considered a standalone product this makes sense, and the constant pace of change in the Power BI service itself necessitates a more frequent update cadence.

As an example, PBIRS first came into General Availability (GA) in June 2017, and as of this writing (Sept 2017) is already in preview for its next release, whereas SSRS 2017 hasn’t yet gone to GA.

How to choose

The choice between which platform to use will likely be straightforward and likely driven by requirements. If your organization only uses paginated reports on premises, you may find that SSRS is a more cost-effective option. If, on the other hand you have the need to render interactive or analytical reports on premises, or you already have SQL Server Enterprise Edition with Software Assurance, then PBIRS will likely be your best choice. There are no circumstances that I can think of where both products will be advisable, if you have PBIRS, you have everything that SSRS offers and more.

10 thoughts on “SQL Server Reporting Services vs Power BI Report Server – What’s the Difference?

  1. Pingback: Reporting Services Versus Power BI Report Server – Curated SQL

  2. Alex Bransky

    “SSRS was always included on the SQL Server installation media, but with SQL Server 2017, this is no longer the case, it’s a separate download”

    That is no longer the case.

  3. Jesper Laursen

    I installed SQL server 2017 yesterday, and SSRS is NOT part of the installation media.
    SSRS has it’s own installation media.

    And this makes sense then You can choose between SSRS and PBIRS.

  4. Jeremy Bennett

    So is it still SSRS 2017 can’t render PowerBI reports anymore? can you have SSRS 2017 and PowerBI RS on the same server?

  5. Ravi Pinniboyina

    I have tried to install both SSRS 2017 & Power BI RS. But the URL’s working only SSRS. i have uninstalled SSRS and then the Power BI RS worked.

  6. Thomas H.

    I have an existing licensed SQL Server Standard Edt. I want to introduce SSRS. I know that from a license perspective there would be no additional licenses necessary when I run SSRS on the same SQL Server.
    But do I have to buy additional licenses when I would run SQLServerReportingServices.exe on a separate WebServer which connects to the existing database server? So I would like to run the Report Server Web Component not on the SQL server.

  7. Nils

    @Thomas H.:
    Yes, running SSRS on a separate server requires a seperate full SQL Server license.

    Also, SSRS needs 2 databases which need to run in an SQL Server instance – which you only find on the SQL Server.

  8. Vincent Lassauw

    To connect to my data in Power BI Report Server do I need to use the Power BI Gateway or can I use a 32-bit ODBC connection?
    My source is an old Oracle 32-bit connection and PBI Gateway only supports 64-bit connections, so if that is true voor PBIRS it would make it unusable for that type of connection.

  9. Patrick

    Thanks for your article. Any thought on PBIRS vs PBI.COM? How do they fit together? If we want an enterprise BI solution, with Power bi reports, and paginated reports, what should be orientation ? We can’t publish paginated reports on cloud (not yet), but Microsoft recommendations seems to be so cloud driven that promoting PBIRS in our organisation seems a different path only for those alergic to cloud…

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