Microsoft consolidates Power BI licenses in line with Fabric platform

Guess what? Some users should look out for expensive surprises

Microsoft has consolidated its licensing terms for Power BI with its Fabric data platform, leaving some users facing steep price hikes according to one analyst.

In a statement earlier this month, Kim Manis, Microsoft's Fabric and Power BI product management veep, announced changes to the licensing terms for the popular analytics and data visualization platform.

The changes are designed to consolidate licensing for Power BI - a set of business analytics and visualization tools that has been around since 2015 - with Fabric, a broader data platform launched last year within which Power BI becomes a component.

Andrew Snodgrass, an analyst with Directions on Microsoft, has pointed out that while the changes are “not entirely a bad thing,” there are a couple of changes which could provide some nasty surprises for some Power BI users.

Customers on Power BI Premium P subscriptions are set to lose the dual-use rights, which allow users to deploy in the cloud and on-prem Power BI Report Server under the same agreement.

Instead, users will need SQL Server Enterprise edition per-core licenses and maintain Software Assurance to cover on-prem subscriptions “at an increased price,” he said in a report.

But how much?

The entry-level Power BI Premium P starts from around $5,000 per month. Speaking to The Register, Snodgrass said, for example, an eight-core SQL Server Enterprise perpetual license might cost $32,000 upfront, plus a 25 percent annual subscription for software assurance.

He said Microsoft justified removing dual use benefit by saying Fabric capacity is not compatible with Power BI Report Server.

Snodgrass noted “Covering an on-premises deployment was always just paperwork. It never required an actual connection to Power BI, so there’s no technical compatibility problem and Microsoft has gone out of their way to explain how Fabric SKUs [stock keeping units] map to Power BI Premium.”

The second change users would want to pay attention to is the lower-cost options for read-only are disappearing.

These are used when businesses want to give users — in a warehouse, for example — access to a dashboard on a screen without accessing the full environment. Under the old regime, they were covered by an EM or A SKUs including Premium EM1 through EM3 SKUs or Azure Power BI Embedded A1 through A5 SKUs.

However, in the new world, the lower Fabric F SKUs (F32 and lower) do not cover the platform's read-only users. Instead, these customers “will need to license their Power BI read-only users with Power BI Pro licenses,” he said.

Speaking to The Register, he observed that under the old embedded license, customers did get the Power BI portal, mobile applications or user interface. “This is only for hosting reports for you to embed somewhere else,” he said.

“To give you an idea, you could get an EM one for $625 a month: that's a lot less than the $5,000 a month that a Power BI Premium P1 would cost you,” he said.

The Register has offered Microsoft the opportunity to comment on both of these points.

How long users have to adjust to the new rules will depend on their existing terms. If they are on a month-to-month contract they'll have to switch by the end of the year, although they won’t be double charged while transferring. Enterprise Agreement customers will be affected when it comes to renewal, so it could be December this year, or three years down the line.

Snodgrass said Microsoft is a great company with wonderful products.

But he added: “There's a reason it is a $3 trillion company. They are masters of changing the rules and getting more from customers. We all live in a modern licensing world now. It's different than the perpetual world that we had before. In a modern cloud environment, Microsoft doesn’t have to give much notice at all to change the rules. They’re allowed to do that, and we signed up for it. This is the reality of how the future is going to go.” ®

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