Power BI vs. Power BI Preview: What’s the Difference?

Power BI Preview is the upcoming version of Power BI. Power BI is the current “production” version of Power BI that lives within Office 365. How do they compare? Here are some of the key differences.

Power BI is Production, Power BI Preview is Preview

The current Power BI service is considered production quality, is managed by Microsoft under the Office 365 SLA and is reasonably stable as a product.

Power BI Preview is just that – it’s still in preview. It’s clearly not a complete product yet and should be viewed as Beta. There are clearly some pieces in the service that are not quite ready for prime time and the product is evolving rapidly as Microsoft adds more functionality.

Power BI is based on Excel and SharePoint, Power BI Preview is New Technology

Power BI comes from a longer history of Excel and SharePoint. Power BI is the Office 365 extension of Power View which is a technology built into Excel 2013 that allows you to create interactive dashboards based on Power Pivot models. SharePoint 2013 on premise and Office 365 support Excel Services which allows you to host an Excel file as a web page without the need for the Excel client.

The new Power BI Preview is built from newer technologies and while it can ingest Excel files and Power View / Power Pivot models, it isn’t based on them. It has its own model and visualization technologies that can leverage data from a number of other data sources and provide a different user experience.

Power BI Preview is also only cloud based where Power BI has a similar feature set with SharePoint 2013 on premise (Power BI has some features that are only available on the cloud).

Power BI Requires Office 365 and Excel 2013, Power BI Preview is Standalone

One of the key differences between Power BI and Power BI Preview is that Power BI Preview does not depend on Office 365 or Excel 2013 either for authoring or viewing. Power BI Preview has been designed in a similar way to the Office Online experience in that you can access Power BI Preview through its own URL and you can start working with the tool.

Power BI Preview Has New Data Sources

Power BI data sources are based on Power Query and Power Pivot and include traditional data sources such as Oracle, SQL Server, Azure SQL, Excel Files, CSV Files, etc. Available data sources were managed by Microsoft as part of the product.

With Power BI Preview, there have been a number of additional data sources announced already with additional data sources expected including:

  • Git Hub
  • Google Analytics
  • Marketo
  • Zen desk
  • Send Grid
  • Azure Stream Analytics
  • Visual Studio Online

In addition, Microsoft has built APIs for developing third party data connectors that will presumably allow many more data sources to be feeding into Power BI Preview in the future. They have for example just announced a new Office 365 administration content pack that will push data into Power BI Preview in the future.

Power BI is A Disconnected Experience, Power BI Preview is Semi-Disconnected

Power BI is based on Excel’s Power Pivot and Power Query engines, which create local caches of data when they pull data from their data sources. This is what creates the performance by loading up a bunch of rows into memory and caching them locally. When you refresh a power pivot table, the entire table is refreshed from the underlying data source which depending on the size of your table can take a considerable amount of time. In Office 365, you can configure your Excel sheet to use a data source that can be periodically refreshed but it’s the same basic technology.

Power BI Preview is semi-disconnected in that there certain data sources that are “live”, namely the connector to SQL Server SQL Analysis Services. In addition, the Power BI Preview architecture allows you to push data into tables incrementally instead of having the entire table refreshing. This is fundamentally more interesting, in particular for scenarios where there are streaming analytics coming in that need to be visualized.

It’s not altogether clear whether Power BI Preview will support other “live” data source connections in the future.

Power BI Preview has Additional Visualizations

Power BI Preview comes with some additional visualizations including:

  • Combo Chart
  • Gauge
  • Tree Map
  • Filled Map
  • Funnel Chart

Power BI Preview Has an IPhone App, with Android and Windows Phone Coming Soon

Power BI had a Windows 8 app but limited support for phones. Power BI Preview already has an IPhone App available with Android and Windows Phone coming soon.

Power BI Is Not Responsive, Power BI Preview Is Not Responsive

One of the glaring omissions that Microsoft still continues to make is lack of support for mobile web and responsive design. Power BI is definitely not responsive, and the dashboards created by Excel are locked width and height and they sit in a non-responsive SharePoint portal.

Power BI Preview so far isn’t responsive either. Power BI Preview does however have an IPhone App available which works reasonably well.

Power BI Preview has a REST API

One of the intriguing new developments with Power BI Preview is the new REST API. You can use it to push just about any data you want into the Power BI service using basic JSON. You can create tables, add rows, etc. The API is missing some key functionality at the moment (for example, you cannot delete a dataset through the API) but the potential is huge for custom applications needing to push data into the service.

Power BI Preview Now Has Alerts, Annotations and Favorites

Power BI Preview has alerts which allow you to be notified when data changes, exceeds a threshold or exceeds a target.

Power BI Preview also supports annotations which work quite nicely in the IPhone App. You can add drawing lines and text to your dashboard before mailing them out to your colleagues.

Power BI Preview also supports the concept of favorites where you can tag dashboards, KPIs and data to your personal favorites dashboard.

Power BI Preview Pricing is Cheaper than Power BI Pricing

Power BI pricing started out as a separate subscription with different subscription levels. This quickly became an add-on price for those customers with E3 or E4 Office 365 subscription because of the overlap between Power BI and the features in E3 and E4. For $20 / month, you can have Power BI tacked on to your month E3 or E4 subscription.

Power BI Preview has a free version, similar to Office online. If you want to try out the service or use it to visualize a single dashboard, you can start using it immediately. However, there are limitations on throughput for the free version and there is no support for live connectivity or on premise integration with your data sources.

Power BI Preview is priced at $9.99 / user / month which is about 50% cheaper than Power BI. The pricing is independent of Office 365 – you no longer need an Office 365 subscription to obtain this pricing.

Microsoft has imposed some caps for that price including:

  • Data capacity limit of 10 GB
  • Scheduled data refresh of 1 hour
  • Streaming capability limit of 1 million rows per hour

It’s not currently clear what happens if you exceed these limits or whether this is even an option, e.g. do you pay additional fees if you exceed the quota or does the service simply stop you from exceeding the limits?

Christopher Woodill

About ME

Enterprise technology leader for the past 15+ years…certified PMP, Six Sigma Black Belt and TOGAF Enterprise Architect. I collaborate with companies to help align their strategic objectives with concrete implementable technology strategies. I am Vice President, Enterprise Solutions for Klick Health.

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