Category Archives: Office 365

The Road Ahead for SQL Server Reporting Services and Power BI Report Server

Power BI has garnered a lot of attention in the past few years as the “place to be” for Microsoft business intelligence. Power BI is of course Microsoft’s cloud platform for dashboarding and reporting. On premises, Microsoft’s reporting platform has traditionally been SQL Server Reporting Services (SSRS) and is now joined by Power BI Reporting Server (PBIRS). While there are differences between the two in the way that they are licensed and distributed, the main technical difference is that PBIRS includes SSRS, plus the ability to render both Power BI reports (pbix) and Excel based reports through Excel Online.

PBIRS is therefore able to render all four report types as defined by Microsoft:


RDL (classic SSRS style reports)


PBIX (Power BI Desktop)


RDLX or PBIX (Datazen and Power BI Desktop)


XLSX (Excel)

Given that PBIRS is the on-premises reporting platform, and Power BI is the cloud platform, they should theoretically be able to perform the same task. However, this isn’t the case. Currently, there is no way to render paginated (or as I like to refer to them, operational) reports in the cloud. PBIRS can render all report types, but today, the Power BI Service cannot.

Jason Himmelstein and I recently hosted Riccardo Muti, Microsoft Group Program Manager for Power BI Report Server on our BI Focal podcast (you can hear the whole show here) and we asked him a few questions about the future of paginated reports.

While it has been hinted at before, Riccardo explicitly stated that the ability to render paginated reports in the cloud was not only on the roadmap, but it was actively being worked on. This will complete the picture for BI in both the cloud and on premises. This is important because I the ideal world, the choice of on-prem, cloud, or hybrid should be related to the data in question, not the available features. No more standing up an Azure virtual machine to be able to get printable, paginated structured reports.

Riccardo sees this service rolling out in three distinct phases. Initially for the preview, RDL reports will be able to connect to cloud data sources like Azure SQL Database, Azure Data Warehouse, Azure Analysis Services, and Power BI data models. The next stage will leverage the On Premises Data Gateway in order to connect to on-premises data like SQL Server, Oracle, Teradata and more. The next phase will begin to leverage Power Query to connect to the world of data sources that Power Query Offers.

With paginated reports adopting Power Query, and Excel having moved to Power Query as a default, it is hard to argue with making an investment in learning Power Query. It all seems to be coming together.

One of the top requested features for SSRS on-premises for year has been the ability to authenticate to it with claims-based authentication. This will be the native authentication mechanism for paginated reports in the service. When this is combined with the fact that these reports will ultimately leverage Power Query, and the vast number of data connection options that it brings, it’s not hard to wonder when these features will be coming down to the on-premises product. When asked about this, Riccardo confirmed that this is certainly the vision for the product.

The future looks bright for both cloud based, and on-premises reporting.

Using Power BI to Report on Multi-Value SharePoint Fields

Power BI has direct support for reporting on SharePoint lists and documents whether SharePoint is on-premises or in the cloud. Getting at your data is relatively straightforward if you know the URL, but as I’ve written about before, SharePoint data can be idiosyncratic. Text and number fields work right away, but more complex data types require a little more thought, and this is certainly true of multi value fields.

Multi value fields are really SharePoint’s way of approximating the behavior of a one-to-many relationship of a relational database. SharePoint can store list-based data, and even though it has the concept of a lookup field, it is not a relational database. Chances are however that if we’re reporting on this type of field, we want it to behave as though it were. Fortunately, Power BI gives us several options for doing this.

The List

Consider the following list that contains a multi-value choice field named Amenities:

In the view, the different values are flattened, and displayed as a single value using a comma to separate them. How do we go about reporting on this data in Power BI? There’s no right answer, as it depends on the report requirements, but there are several options. In all cases the data first needs to be brought into Power BI Desktop.

Loading the Data

We first launch Power BI Desktop, select “Get Data” and then choose SharePoint Online list (if connecting to SharePoint Online) or SharePoint List (if using SharePoint Server). We are then prompted for the URL of the SharePoint Site. The dialog is titled SharePoint lists, but the value is actually the URL of the site, NOT the list itself. Once this is entered we are prompted for credentials if we haven’t connected to this site before. After entering credentials, we can select the list that we want to report on. In our case, it’s named “Listings”. We select it, and then click on the Edit button.

Once the data loads in, one of the first things that you’ll notice is that there are a lot of columns to choose from, and it’s a good idea to remove the data that you don’t need. In this case, we can remove the ContentTypeId column and everything to the right of it, with one important exception We want to keep the FieldValuesAsText column (we’ll come back to that shortly). Remember, for our purposes here, we want to report on the multi-value column, Amenities. The simplest way to represent this data is as a string of comma separated values, which is the same way it is shown in a SharePoint view. It is also possible to use this data in a more sliceable, or structured way. Let’s start with the simplest.

Extracting a Simple Text Field

If our report is to show all the amenities associated with a listing, then a simple text string will do the job. Examining the data in the Query Editor, you will notice that there are no values displayed for Amenity, the way that there is for simpler field types like “Sold” or “Asking Price”. Instead, each cell contains a “List Value”. Each of these Lists contains the Amenities values for each record and clicking on one will extract those values for that one item. However, of we want to extract the values for all items, so we need to expand the column by clicking on the expand icon in the column header.

We are then given two options, “Expand to New Rows” or “Extract Value”. To extract the values into a single value, we select “Extract Values”

We are then given the opportunity to choose a delimiter, and after that the values in the column are replace with simple text values.

Another way to accomplish this same thing is to use the FieldValuesAsText column (referenced above). The fields in this column contain a single record containing the textual values for all the complex data types in a SharePoint list. If you are doing reporting with SharePoint data in Power BI, FieldValuesAsText is your friend. To use it, we just click the expand icon in its column header, deselect all of the columns that we don’t need (which in our case is everything except Amenities) and click OK. We are returned the contents of the list in a comma separated string for each item.

At this point, we can report on the data.

We click on Close and Apply in the ribbon to return to the report canvas. We add a table visual, and add some of the fields like address, street number, and Amenities to it. You’ll see that the table looks much like it would in a SharePoint list. Next, we add a slicer to the report page, and use one of the other columns, like City. Clicking on a city will filter the table by that city as expected. Now, if we want to filter by Amenity, we can add the Amenity column to the slicer, but it won’t behave the way we want it to. Each combination of amenity values will be represented as a single value. We are unable to slice on a single value like “Garage”.

Flattened multi value field as slicer

To use discrete values for our multi-value field, we need to do a little more work in the Get Data (Power Query) interface.

Extracting Discrete Values from a Multi-Value Field

We follow the initial steps from the “Simple Text Value” section above, but when the expand icon is selected, we select “Expand to new rows” and NOT “Extract values”. When this is done, each row will be copied to accommodate all of the individual Amenity values. If there were 3 Amenity values, we wind up with three rows of identical values, but with each of the values for Amenity.

Expanding to new rows

We can now go to the design surface and add a table, and a slicer that uses the multi value column, and now we can filter on discrete values. This may be sufficient in many cases. However, if we create a measure that based on an aggregate value for the table (like COUNTROWS or SUM), the value will not be correct if there are no slicer values. It works with all of the duplicated rows.

Incorrect number of listings

Again, this approach may work in many situations, but for ultimate flexibility, we need a true one-to-many relationship. Luckily, Power Query gives us a few simple tools to do this.

Creating a One-to-Many Relationship

Again, we follow the initial steps from the “Simple Text Value” section above, but do not click on the expand icon in the Amenities column. A One-to-many relationship requires at least two tables, so now is the point where we need to add a second one. We do so by copying the first. We right click on the query in the Queries pane and select “Duplicate”.

This creates a second query identical to our first, which will load into another table. We can then give the new query a better name, like “Amenities” in our case. Next, we select the Id, and the Amenities columns, right click and select “Remove Other Columns”, and we are left with only the ID and Amenities columns. Now we select the expand icon and select “Expand to New Rows”.

We now go back to the original query and remove the Amenities column. The result is two tables, Listings and Amenities, with Listings containing the bulk of the information. We then click on Close and Apply in the ribbon to load the data into the model, and the relationships icon to take is to the relationship builder. We need to establish a relationship between the two tables, and we do so by clicking on the Id field in one table and dragging it to the Id field of the other. Finally, double click on the relationship line between the tables, and be sure to select “Both” for Cross Filter Direction – that way Amenity values can filter List values. If “Both” is selected, the directional arrow will point two ways.

Now, the same visuals from above can be added using the Amenity column from the second table as a slicer, and everything should work as expected. Listings will be filtered by the value, if no amenities are selected, the correct number of listings will be shown In the data card, and no duplication will appear in the table.

SharePoint multi-value columns are an attempt to replicate the capability of a relational database. With a few simple steps, Power BI can take SharePoint data, normalize it, and analyze it as if it were a true relational database.

OneDrive is Ready – It’s Seriously Time to Ditch the X: Drive

If you are in information worker of any sort, and have been at it for any more than a couple of years, you’ve experienced it – the X: drive. Or the S: drive, P, R, whatever the letter. It’s the drive letter that is mapped to a network based file share that contains most of the company’s documents.

My first experience with IT was in 1989, setting up and managing a Novell Netware 3 network for a University department. Logging into the network (through a DOS prompt) would automatically add a drive to your machine with all of the resources that you needed, the storage you could ever want (measured in MB). It was “magical”.

This basic model exists to this day. We’ve tried to move away from it, we’ve tried very hard. We’ve had large monolithic document management systems imposed from above like FileNet and Documentum. These solutions gained success in specific areas, as they were mandated from above. SharePoint itself came along and democratized document management to a much broader degree, but the pesky X: drive still persists. Why?

One word. Usability.

End users want to be able to open up File Explorer, navigate to their drive, browse their folder structure and work with their documents. The drive mapping metaphor has succeeded so well because it fits this scenario perfectly, and its familiarity. Ever since personal computing began, we’ve accessed file storage using drive letters.

Users use formal document management systems reluctantly. This is often due to overzealous metadata requirements (just fill out this 20 field form to store your document), burdensome procedures, or performance issues. However given the choice, they retreat to the familiarity of their file systems, and their X: drives more often than not.

Consultants and vendors preaching a new way of doing things are in the end shouting against thunder. We can’t expect users to adapt to new systems quickly – what we need, at least transitionally is for the systems to adapt to the users. This is where OneDrive comes in.

One of the most compelling features of SharePoint 2013 in my opinion was OneDrive for Business. The reason that I felt that was that for the first time, SharePoint document management was tightly integrated into File Explorer. There had been previous attempts at synchronizing (SharePoint Workspace), but that required separate client software and required a lot of manual dragging and dropping.

The implementation of OneDrive for Business was initially hobbled by restrictions and limits, and was rather confusing, limiting adoption. However, through the combination of the current OneDrive sync client, with the Files On Demand feature available in the Windows Fall Creators update, OneDrive is truly ready for widespread adoption. Over the past few years, OneDrive has become both reliable and fast, and Files on Demand combined with in-context sharing put it over the top.

OneDrive Files on Demand

Files On Demand in File Explorer

Screenshot taken while flying on airplane mode from a laptop containing a single 256 GB drive.

Files on Demand allows you to easily control what files are synchronized to your local device, while still being able to see all your file assets, directly from File Explorer.

In the figure above, the cloud icon indicates that that folder is not currently stored locally. That’s a good thing, because opening up the folder properties reveals that it is over 1 TB in size, and the drive on the laptop (that I’m currently writing this with) is only 256 GB. Moreover, that screen shot was taken while flying, and totally disconnected. I could still see things that were not on my local device.

If connected, cloud files can be interacted with the same way that local files can, by any application. Opening them just requires a little more time as the file is downloaded in the background. If you will be offline, bringing a file local is a simple matter of right clicking on that file, or folder, and selecting “Always keep on this device”.

Files on Demand is currently available to Windows Insiders, and will be generally available with the Windows Fall Creators Update on October 17, 2017.

In Context Sharing

OneDrive sharing from File Explorer

The new OneDrive in context sharing experience

Up until very recently, sharing a drive from Explorer was a rather frustrating experience. You could identify your file, right click on it, click on share, and then a browser window would pop open, and if you were lucky, you would be presented with a view of the OneDrive web user interface. This experience was jarring, and required multiple steps.

Over the past summer, OneDrive rolled out updates that change this behaviour significantly. Now clicking on share brings up the dialog above and sharing is done completely from there. No context switching, and no authentication failures.

Time to move

These two new features, combined with the performance and reliability improvements over the last few years puts OneDrive over the top. Finally, all of the usability issues have been addressed. End users can live completely in File Explorer should they wish to do so, and be oblivious to the workings of OneDrive and/or SharePoint. However, at the same time, they will gain significant benefits compared to the shared file system.

However, OneDrive provides much more than simply an alternate storage location for your files. Once content is stored in OneDrive, a whole host of options are opened. The organization benefits because all this content is immediately made discoverable through technologies like Delve and Search. File access can be tracked, helping users understand what content others find valuable. There are, however, many immediate benefits that occur directly to the users themselves. I wanted to call out three of them, but there are many more.

OneDrive File Viewing

OneDrive comes with a long list of file viewers. These viewers allow the contents of a file to be viewed without opening the underlying application, which tends to be significantly faster than opening the host application. In fact, the application itself does not need to be installed. This is valuable in itself, but when combined with Files On Demand a file can be viewed whether or not it is even stored locally. A large Adobe Illustrator file can be viewed locally without it even being present on disk. Files On Demand is also available on Mac, and in the OneDrive client, and therefore, this very same file can be viewed on iPhone, Android, iPad, anywhere the OneDrive application is available. This, to my mind, is a game changer.


Sharing with OneDrive is not new, but sharing directly from the explorer window is. That sharing experience is also now being consolidated across devices, and embedded into Microsoft Office applications. In addition, OneDrive files can be shared externally with an anonymous link, or securely with others that have a Microsoft account (personal or organizational), but what will be shortly available is the ability to securely share files externally with people that have any type of account.

Files Restore

Announced at Ignite 2017, FilesRestore provides end users with the ability to easily track all versions of their files for the past 30 days, and to instantly restore them to a point of time anywhere in that window. Administrators have long had this capability through a set of operations, but FilesRestore puts this capability into the hands of the end user with a simple to use user interface. Users can rest assured that their files are safe not only from disaster, but from their own mistakes, malware, ransomware or anything. Files stored in OneDrive are safe.

These are but three compelling benefits that users can enjoy by moving content to OneDrive. There are many more. Foe a good overview, and to hear all of the OneDrive announcements from Ignite 2017, be sure to check out “OneDrive – Past, Present and Future“.

It’s time to ditch the shared X: drive once and for all.

Understanding the Power BI Capacity Based SKUs

Power BI licensing has changed again. 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.

Power BI Embedded is not for Embedding Power BI Reports

NOTICE Sept 17 2017 – The central thrust of this post is incorrect. I am leaving it here, because it still contains valid information, but for an update, please go to this article –  Which Premium SKU is Needed to embed Power BI Reports in SharePoint and Microsoft Teams

I have run into this point of confusion several times since the GA of the Power BI Premium SKU. As I mentioned in my post about licensing, the Power BI web part for SharePoint requires the user viewing the report to have a Pro license. Alternatively, if the organization has purchase Power BI premium capacity, and the report has been deployed to that capacity, then all organizational users will be able to view the report in the web part.

The initial announcement about Premium licensing laid out 5 different SKUs for premium, P1, P2 and P3. These SKUs are the “normal” SKUs that are intended to be used by Power BI customers. The “P” stands for Premium. Subsequently, 3 additional SKUs were announced at the Data Insights summit to be used by ISVs. These SKUs are EM1, EM2, and EM3. The “EM” stands for embedded. The embedded in this case means Power BI embedded. That’s where the confusion sets in.

Power BI Embedded is the ISV offering for Power BI. With Power BI embedded, software vendors can use Power BI as the reporting engine in their application. A number of vendors have taken advantage of this capability in the recent past including Nintex with their Hawkeye product, and ourselves with tyGraph for Yammer Reporting. With Power BI embedded, all of the processing for the application is done in the vendor’s Power BI tenant. Customers don’t require a Power BI license of any sort to use the applications. Recently, Power BI embedded has moved to a premium model as well, which is why the EM SKUs exist. They are for purchase by software vendors to power their own applications.

If we have a look at the pricing for each of these SKUs (in $US/month), we can see that the EM SKUs are significantly cheaper, but they also come with the important restriction that they can ONLY be used by ISVs.

Capacity Node Cores Back end cores Front end cores


P1 8 4 cores, 25 GB RAM 4 cores


P2 16 8 cores, 50 GB RAM 8 cores


P3 32 16 cores, 100 GB RAM 16 cores


EM1 1 0.5 cores, 3 GB RAM 0.5 cores


EM2 2 1 core, 5 GB RAM 1 core


EM3 4 2 cores, 10 GB RAM 2 cores


It may be natural to think that because your goal is to “embed” a Power BI report in SharePoint, that you will be able to use one of the cheaper, “embedded” SKUs. Microsoft loves to overload terms when they name things, and this is one of those times that this tendency leads to confusion. Make no mistake, in order to embed a Power BI report in a SharePoint page, and to have other users be able to view it, you will need to have a Pro license, and your users will either need Pro licenses as well, OR your organization will need to have purchased a Power BI Premium “P” SKU, not an “EM” SKU.