Understanding the Power BI Capacity Based SKUs

This week at Microsoft Ignite, Microsoft introduced a new capacity based SKU for Power BI Embedded, intended for ISVs and developers: The A SKU. This brings the number of capacity based SKUs to 3, with each category having numerous sub categories. This means that there are a number of ways to embed content by using Power BI Pro, Power BI Embedded, or Power BI Premium. The trick is to know what will be needed for what circumstances. This post will attempt to help with the distinctions.

The SKUs are additive in nature, with A (Power BI Embedded) providing a set of APIs for developers, EM (Power BI Premium) additional ad-hoc embedding features for organizations, and P (Power BI Premium)providing a SaaS application that contains everything that the Power BI service offers. For some background, the EM SKU was initially introduced to serve the needs of both Independent Software Vendors (ISVs) and of organizations that needed to do some simple sharing within the organization, and give them access to the latest Power BI features. However, ISVs have a different business model than enterprises, which is why the A series was introduced.

Power BI Embedded A SKUs

The A SKU (A is for Azure) is a Platform-as-a-Service and set of APIs for those ISVs who are developing an application to take to market. These ISVs choose to use Power BI as the data visualization layer of that application to add value to their own application. As such, Power BI assets contained in Power BI Embedded capacities cannot be accessed by a licensed Power BI user, but are only accessed by customers of the ISV’s application.

Power BI Embedded capacity is billed hourly, can be purchased hourly, and can be paused – meaning no long-term commitments to a specific capacity. This pausing capability is critical for small ISVs that don’t yet have the revenue stream to support monthly commitments, and it addressed one of my largest concerns over moving Power BI Embedded over to the Premium model. Power BI Embedded is purchased through Microsoft Azure. Additionally, Power BI Embedded can scale up and down as needed to accommodate the requirements of the ISV business model as the vendor’s application grows.

Running the entry level A1 capacity for a full month equates to approximately $750/month, so while the capacity of the Power BI Embedded A1 SKU is equivalent to the Power BI Premium EM SKU, ISVs pay a slightly higher effective monthly price for the flexibility mentioned above.

There are 6 sizes of Power BI Embedded available, each capacity mapping to an existing Power BI Premium capacity so ISVs can grow their business as needed. Pricing starts at about $1/hour:

Name Virtual cores Memory (GB) Peak renders/hour Cost/hour
A1 1 3 300 ~$1
A2 2 5 600 ~$2
A3 4 10 1,200 ~$4
A4 8 25 2,400 ~$8
A5 16 50 4,800 ~$16
A6 32 100 9,600 ~$32

Power BI Premium EM SKUs

The EM SKU (EM is for embedding – NOT Embedded) covers off everything contained in the Power BI Embedded A SKU, but also offers the ability to share Power BI reports within an organization through content embedding. Currently, this can be accomplished through the use of the SharePoint Power BI web part for modern pages, or the through tabs using Microsoft Teams.

There are three EM SKUs, and while the largest, EM3, can be purchased through Office 365 monthly, the smaller 2 (EM1 and EM2) must be purchased through Volume Licensing. Volume licensing represents an annual commitment, and may be an incentive for ISVs to remain on the A SKU even if they are not pausing their service. EM SKUs cannot be paused – a month is the smallest available billing unit. Additionally, scaling on EM SKUs requires that you retain your monthly or annual commitment to the initial SKU purchased until the end of the contract term.

Details on the EM SKUs are below:

Name Virtual cores Memory (GB) Peak renders/hr Cost
EM1 1 3 1-300 $625/mo
EM2 2 5 301-600 $1,245/mo
EM3 4 10 601-1,200 $2,495/mo

Power BI Premium P SKUs

The P SKU (P is for Premium, but it helps to think of it as “Power BI Service”) is the “all in” version of Power BI licensed through capacity. It offers everything that is available with Power BI, which includes everything available in the A and EM SKUs. It also offers the ability to share Power BI assets in the Power BI service through apps, or if personal workspaces are in a Premium capacity, through dashboard sharing.

The entry point of the P SKU is significantly higher than EM as well, but you’re getting a business application vs a set of APIs. It also comes with significantly more resources attached to it. For example, P1 comes with 8 virtual cores and 25 GB of RAM, whereas the largest EM offering is EM3, with 4 cores and 10 GB RAM.

All the P SKUs can be purchased through the Office 365 administration center, and can be billed monthly. Details are below:

Name Virtual cores Memory (GB) Peak renders/hr Cost
P1 8 25 1-300 $4,995/mo
P2 16 50 301-600 $9,995/mo
P3 32 100 601-1,200 $19,995/mo

What to use when

Sharing capabilities:

PBI Embedded A PBI Premium EM PBI Premium P
Embed PBI Reports in your own application Embed PBI Reports in your own application Embed PBI Reports in your own application
  Embed PBI Reports in SaaS applications (SharePoint, Teams) Embed PBI Reports in SaaS applications (SharePoint, Teams)
  Share Power Reports, dashboards and datasets through Power BI Apps (workspaces)
 Ad hoc dashboard sharing from personal workspaces

With the addition of the Power BI Embedded capacity based SKUs, many of the concerns around Premium pricing have been addressed. I would still like to see all EM SKUs available monthly, and to see a “P0” premium SKU, but it’s fairly clear as to which scenarios call out for which licenses.

An ISV that is embarking on the use of Power BI embedded will at the very least need a Power BI Pro license. When development gets to the point where sharing with a team is necessary, a Power BI Embedded A SKU can be purchased from Azure. Once 24/7 availability is required, the ISV may wish to switch to an Premium EM capacity. An ISV should never require a P SKU unless capacity demands it, or they have additional requirements.

An organization that has a few data analysts or Power Users that need to share reports with a broader audience would likely be well served with one of the EM SKUs. This scenario assumes that the organization is also using SharePoint Online, Microsoft Teams, or both. This approach will allow the power users (who will require a Pro license as well) to embed Power BI content within a SharePoint page or a Microsoft Teams tab where it can be accessed by users without a Pro license. This organization would need to include more than 63 users accessing the reports to be financially viable.

Finally, larger organizations with a significant investment in Power BI, or organizations that don’t currently utilize SharePoint Online or Microsoft Teams would benefit from a Premium P capacity. With this, the Power BI interface could be utilized by end users to access shared content without a Pro license. Given it’s monthly cost, compared to the monthly cost of Pro, the organization would need to have at least 500 active report consumers for this approach to practically considered.

11 thoughts on “Understanding the Power BI Capacity Based SKUs

  1. Uldis

    Thanks for the information.

    Though I do not agree that 750$/monthly price addresses ISV segment. In workspace collection mode my rate was (luckily still is) up to 20-50 euros, jumping to 750 is very, very huge leap. I think there is an option to embed and connect with a separate power bi account for each user (which would be a lot less than 750$/month), but then I need to create a dedicated accounts (now users can use their own Microsoft accounts which I can register as external users in my Azure AD) for each user – added management on my side +users need to remember additional password etc.

  2. Angus

    John, great article and ahead of Microsoft’s own pricing announcement! Really clarifies the new arrangements. I have 100 clients on my application with Power BI Embedded at its core, and was nervous about converting to EM1 – but the flexibility and pricing for A1 and A2 is now much better.

    Still the two fundamental flaws are there:
    1. I can’t convert ‘peak renders per hour’ rates into something my customers understand and so I bear all the risks of price conversion. Microsoft needs to have a clear end-to-end vision of pricing instead of saying – here it is, on our terms, like it or lump it. That’s no good from a dev’s point of view. If I’m going to invest say $100k in creating an information system with Power BI at its core, then I need to be able to price it up before I start work on it. I see this as a big barrier to adoption.
    2. Pricing is based on levels of interactivity (as far as I can tell) – the more you use it, the higher the price. Flat, passive, non-interactive dashboards are best priced – but they’re just pretty pictures to look at. Lots of drill down analysis and slicing are worse priced. So, on the one hand, their tech devs are saying – look at all this stuff you can do as a user – on the other, their marketing guys are going – if you’re going to use it like that, we’re going to take a blowtorch to your wallet.

    I still think they are not at the right place yet, but this is definitely a step in the right direction, and it’s fair to say they are listening to their community. Good stuff.

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  4. Just Blindbæk

    Hi John. Super overview! Regarding the EM SKU’s. Is content embedding within an organization limited to SharePoint and Teams? Or can we create our own custom embedding in other SaaS applications?

  5. Wade

    @Uldis Yes, I’m thinking the same thing, however, AAD B2B is not yet available for Power BI Apps. It was mentioned in the roadmap, but my guess is the reason you cannot give an external Azure AAD user access to Power BI Content is because Microsoft wants to make sure we have to pay up before accessing that feature.

  6. John

    You said here, “There are three EM SKUs, and while the largest, EM3, can be purchased through Office 365 monthly, the smaller 2 (EM1 and EM2) must be purchased through Volume Licensing.”

    Where do I purchase EM1 or EM2 on the Azure Portal. When I go to Power BI Embedded on the Azure Portal it just shows A1 – A6. EM1 and EM2 was listed in the Premium Documentation but now the latest article ( https://powerbi.microsoft.com/en-us/documentation/powerbi-developer-embedding-content/#step-1-setup-your-embedded-analytics-development-environment ) just shows EM3, and P1-3 under premium. Then A1-A6 as separate volume licensing with no mention of EM1 and EM2.

  7. Leonardo Karpinski

    Very good John, thanks! One question: do I need the A capacity during development and testing? I could make it work only with a PBI Pro license only. So what are the limitations of not purchasing it?


  8. John White Post author

    John – You can’t purchase any of the EM SKUs through Azure, only through a Volume license provider (and I don’t know how that works). You can only get A SKUs through Azure.

  9. John White Post author

    Leonardo – you should be able to use a Pro license during development, it’s when you start distributing that you’ll need to go with capacity based.

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