Microsoft Power BI is more than just a tool for creating data-driven reports and dashboards. It also comprises infrastructure that allows you to publish these reports so you can collaborate and share them with other users at Davidson. There are two options for doing so: the first is the Power BI Service, which is a cloud-based platform hosted by Microsoft, and the other is Power BI Report Server, which is an on-premises server that is hosted on Davidson's network behind our firewall. Davidson runs a "hybrid" approach to implementing Power BI, meaning we utilize both the cloud and on-premises platforms together.
|Platform||Infrastructure||Hosted by||Location||Requires license||Mobile reports|
|Power BI Service||Cloud||Microsoft||powerbi.com||Yes||Yes|
|Power BI Report Server||On-premises||Davidson||data.davidson.edu||No||No|
These two platforms both allow us to share datasets and reports with other users at Davidson, but they don't have equal capabilities. The Power BI Service hosted by Microsoft is much more robust; it is constantly adding new features and integrating with other platforms to give you easier access to data. It is the flagship of Microsoft's data analytics product line. However, Power BI Report Server only gets a handful of updates each year, and does not always have the same features that are available in its cloud-based cousin.
Because the Power BI Service is hosted on Microsoft's infrastructure, a "Pro" license is required in order for you to collaborate and share reports with other users at Davidson. Power BI Pro licenses are currently purchased and managed by the Technology & Innovation department, and each Pro license costs $2.10 per user per month (educational pricing through our vendor). Before deciding to give a Pro license to staff or faculty, T&I must consider how the license will be used to make sure we're getting the most bang for our buck, and to make sure we don't take away licenses from teams who need them more. If you want to obtain a Power BI Pro license for creating cloud-based reports, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Power BI Report Server is hosted on Davidson's infrastructure, so it is only limited by our network and resources. As a result, no license is required for the report server. However, its biggest advantage is also its biggest weakness: because the report server is on Davidson's infrastructure, you can only access it from on-campus, or by using VPN from off-campus. The Power BI Service, because it is in the cloud, has no such limitation.
What is Power BI Desktop?
Power BI Desktop is the app you can download that gives you the ability to create and publish Power BI reports from your laptop or desktop. Just like the Power BI infrastructure comes in two flavors (cloud vs. on-premises), Power BI Desktop also comes in two versions: one that is strictly used for cloud reporting on the Power BI Service, and another that is optimized for Power BI Report Server. They have different icons, but otherwise they are virtually identical.
|Icon||Product name||Most suitable for|
|Power BI Desktop||Power BI Service (cloud)|
|Power BI Desktop (optimized for report server)||Power BI Report Server (on-premises)|
One of the chief differences is that Power BI Desktop (cloud) can only publish reports to the Power BI Service. It cannot publish them anywhere else. However, Power BI Desktop for the report server can publish reports either to the cloud or to Davidson's on-premises report server. The main drawback of using this version of Power BI Desktop is the fact that it has fewer features than the cloud version.
What version of Power BI Desktop should I download?
It ultimately depends on how you're using Power BI Desktop and how many people you need to share your reports with, but we recommend most users start with the version that is optimized for Power BI Report Server. If you're still not sure, talk to a member of the Enterprise Solutions & Analytics team in the T&I department.
|Power BI Service||Power BI Report Server|
Davidson is considering purchasing "Premium capacity" on powerbi.com, which would allow all users at Davidson to view reports in the cloud without needing a license. At that point, Pro licenses would only be needed for those staff and faculty who want to create and share reports. With this approach, All Davidson users can enjoy the full menu of innovative features that the Power BI Service offers, and you would no longer be constrained by needing to be connected to the Davidson network to get to your reports.