Last updated on June 15, 2023
Shortly after Premium capacities were announced for Power BI, I published a post titled Understanding the Power BI Capacity Based SKUs to help the Power BI community understand how this new license model worked. With the recent announcement of Microsoft Fabric, that model got a little more complex. Admittedly, it’s not the same radical departure that Power BI Premium was initially – in fact, it’s based on the same model, but there are several nuances that are worth understanding.
Adam Saxton recently addressed Fabric licensing on Guy in a Cube here – Understanding Microsoft Fabric Licensing and Cost (Public Preview) and I highly recommend watching it. My take on the differences is below.
For those familiar with Power BI user and capacity licenses, the easiest way to understand the differences brought by Microsoft Fabric is to think of all of the new Fabric features as new Premium features in Power BI. Fabric also introduces a new type of capacity, the F sku in addition to (for the moment at least) the P and A skus currently available to Power BI. For those less familiar, and for more detail, a more comprehensive discussion is warranted.
User vs Capacity based licenses
Power BI has two different licensing models, user based, and capacity based. Power BI is a component of Fabric, but all other Fabric assets use only capacity-based licensing. Therefore, within the context of Fabric, the Power BI license only pertains to Power BI assets. There are three user-based licenses for Power BI: Free, Pro, and Premium per user. A user’s license determines which workspaces that the user can access.
A workspace contains assets created by users and provides a logical security boundary. Workspaces are also bound to a capacity, and that binding determines which capacity is used when these assets are utilized.
A capacity is a collection of resources that are consumed when various assets are utilized. For example, when a user renders a report, or a dataset refresh is run, resources are consumed from the workspace’s underlying capacity. There are several capacity types and sizes, and the type of capacity determines the capabilities that are available to the workspace.
There are five capacity types commonly in use with workspaces today. These are:
- Shared (or Pro)
- Premium per User
- Premium A sku
- Premium P sku
- Fabric F sku
Shared capacities (also referred to as Pro capacities) are the default capacity that any new Power BI workspace is backed by. Shared capacities are for Power BI only and are provided by Microsoft at no extra cost. Shared capacities do not provide Premium or Fabric features and impose certain operating limits. To access a workspace that is backed by a shared capacity, a user must have a Power BI Pro license.
Premium per User capacities are available to users that have a Premium per User license. PPU capacities are for Power BI only, are provided by Microsoft at no extra cost and they do provide most Premium, but not Fabric features. To access a workspace that is backed by a Premium per User capacity, a user must have a Power BI Premium per user license.
All other capacity types are purchased for the tenant by an organization. There is a wide variety of options to choose from. To utilize Fabric features, the capacity must be either a P or an F sku. P skus have been with us since Premium was initially introduced, and F skus have been introduced with Fabric. Functionally there is no difference between the two, apart from how they are purchased, which is covered below. A complete summary of capacity features and resources can be seen below.
|Feature||Shared||Premium A||PPU||Premium P||Fabric F|
|Dataset size limit||1 GB||3-400 GB||100 GB||25-400 GB||1-800 GB|
|Refreshes per day||8||48*||48*||48*||48**|
|Dataflows||Basic||Enhanced||Enhanced||Gen 2||Gen 2|
|Automatic Page Refresh||.5 hr min||1s min / change detect||1s min / change detect||1s min / change detect||1s min / change detect|
|AI Capabilities (Auto ML, CS)||No||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Other Fabric assets||No||No||No||Yes||Yes|
** Limited by the UI. Unlimited refreshes available programmatically. Direct Lake mode datasets will not require refresh.
Capacity Resources by sku
|Premium A||Premium P||Fabric F||Capacity Units|
|V-Cores||Max Dataset size|
As you can see in the above chart, the A4. P1, and F64 skus all have the same resource level. Therefore, an organization could purchase an F64 capacity, disable Fabric features, and have exactly the same experience as with the P1 sku. The only difference between them is the way that they are acquired, which is discussed below.
In addition to features and resources, the capacity that backs a workspace also determines the user license that is required to consume Power BI resources contained within it. It is worth noting here that no matter what capacity backs a workspace, a Power BI Pro license is required to publish reports to it.
The license requirements for the various capacity types can be seen in the table below. Again, this pertains to Power BI artifacts only – all other Fabric artifacts require a P or F capacity and can be accessed by users without a Power BI license.
Workspace access by Power BI License
|Client license||Personal||Shared||Premium A SKU||Premium Per User||Premium P SKU||Fabric|
|Power BI Pro||✔||✔||✔||X||✔||✔|
|Premium per user||✔||✔||✔||✔||✔||✔|
User licenses are relatively straightforward. Free licenses are available to any Azure Active Directory account. Power BI Pro licenses are part of Microsoft 365 E5 licenses, and can also be purchased separately from the Microsoft 365 store. Premium per User licenses include Power BI Pro, and can also be purchased separately, or as an add-on to an existing Pro license from the Microsoft 365 store.
Capacity acquisition is significantly more complicated. Indeed, the way that they are acquired can often play a role in selecting the appropriate capacity type for a given scenario.
The Premium P sku is purchased from the Microsoft Office store, and it requires an annual commitment. That is enough to make many smaller organizations pause before trying it out. The Premium A sku is purchased from Azure, can be turned on and off, and is billed hourly. It also has a significantly lower entry point. The A1 sku has only 1/8 the resources of a P1 sku, and is significantly cheaper to get started with. If Power BI features are the only thing of interest, thne the A sku presents a compelling choice, but it does not support Fabric features.
The new Fabric skus appear to bridge the gap between the P and A skus. Fabric skus are available in a much wider variety of resource levels (F2 to F2048) which makes them approachable for organizations that want to get started or have less demanding requirements. They can be scaled up past the maximum currently available in P5. Finally, they are purchased from Microsoft Azure and do not require an annual commitment (using pay-as-you-go). Pricing was recently announced and can be found at the Microsoft Fabric blog here – Announcing Microsoft Fabric capacities are available for purchase.
As mentioned above, a P1 is functionally equivalent to an F64. However, the price of an F64 in the blog post is approximately 40% higher than that of a P1. This is because the P1 requires an annual commitment and is effectively discounted by that very same 40%. The Fabric skus will also have an option to opt in for an annual commitment, and to then enjoy a significant discount, presumably making the cost of the P1 and the F64 equivalent. The details of this have not yet been announced, so your mileage may vary.
In order to “try before you buy”, a 60-day trial license is available. Details of the trial can be found here – Fabric (preview) trial. The trial will grant the requesting user a Premium-per-user license along with an F64 capacity. It’s a preview of all Power BI capabilities, and the capacity allows for the testing of all Fabric capabilities.
One word of warning with trials. If a user with a free license accesses Power BI assets that they have right to, but are unlicensed for, a free trial will automatically be granted, and the clock will start ticking on a 60-day trial. This grants the user not only a Premium per User license, but also a Fabric capacity. This does provide a seamless experience for the user but may come as a shock when the 60-day period is up.
While the existing Power BI Premium skus will continue to exist for those that want them, the Fabric skus are clearly the way forward. They provide all the same features as the legacy capacities, with increased sizing options on both the lower and higher end of resource requirements. The option to pay as you go or to take a commitment means that they can be both approachable and cost-effective, Finally, if all you need is Power BI features, you can turn off Fabric, and still enjoy these flexibility benefits.