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Understanding licensing for Microsoft Fabric from a Power BI perspective

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.

Capacity Types

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.

Capacity Features

FeatureSharedPremium APPUPremium PFabric F
Dataset size limit1 GB3-400 GB100 GB25-400 GB1-800 GB
Refreshes per day848*48*48*48**
XMLA EndpointReadRead/writeRead/writeRead/writeRead/write
DataflowsBasicEnhancedEnhancedGen 2Gen 2
Automatic Page Refresh.5 hr min1s min / change detect1s min / change detect1s min / change detect1s min / change detect
Deployment PipelinesNoYesYesYesYes
Hybrid TablesNoYesYesYesYes
AI Capabilities (Auto ML, CS)NoYesYesYesYes
Automatic AggregationsNoYesYesYesYes
Multi-geo supportNoYesNoYesYes
Other Fabric assetsNoNoNoYesYes
*  Limited by the UI. Unlimited refreshes available programmatically
** Limited by the UI. Unlimited refreshes available programmatically. Direct Lake mode datasets will not require refresh.

Capacity Resources by sku

Premium APremium PFabric FCapacity Units
V-CoresMax 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.

User Access

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 licensePersonalSharedPremium A SKUPremium Per UserPremium P SKUFabric
Power BI ProX
Premium per user
*Fabric capacity must be F64 or above for access with a free license. Below F64 requires Power BI Pro.

License Acquisition

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.

Trial Licenses

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.

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Introducing the new Power BI Premium “Gen-2” Architecture

At Microsoft Ignite this week, the Power BI team unveiled the next generation of the architecture for their “dedicated capacity” customers. This architecture promises to resolve many of the issues experienced with the first generation of Premium, and opens up several possibilities moving forward.


The Power BI dedicated capacity SKUs (which include Premium) were introduced 3 years ago in order to provide a scalable pricing model, and to provide predictable performance. Unlike the Pro SKU, which is licensed per user, these SKUs represent specific sets of resources running in Azure. There are currently 3 SKUs in this category, the A SKU (purchased hourly from Azure, the EM SKU (for embedding), and the well know P or Premium SKU.

When an organization purchases one of these SKUs, they are essentially purchasing memory, CPU cores and storage. The isolation allows for predictability, but it also means that when the resources become over allocated, catastrophic errors can occur. Refreshing a data set can also be particularly memory intensive, and the memory usage during a refresh could increase by more than double what might be normally required. This has an impact on normal operations during refresh, and means that capacity need to be over-sized to accommodate refresh in some cases.

Once acquired, Gen-1 capacities need to be configured, and decisions made as to what services to allow, and how many resources to allocate to them. It’s not always obvious as to what those settings should be. I’ve also seen situations where an overzealous administrator gets so excited about the new Premium capacity that they assign hundreds of workspaces to it, and bring reports to their knees.

Gen-2 – A Different Approach

The new “Gen-2” architecture aims to deliver the isolation and predictability that dedicated capacity brings, without the drawbacks. Gen-2 is in fact, not dedicated, as resources are drawn from a massive pool as needed. However, the performance level is guaranteed, and is focused on CPU cycles. In fact, memory is not even a consideration, apart from per-dataset overall size limits.

Memory will be allocated as needed to refreshes, ending the need to worry about refreshes failing, or impacting end user experiences. The CPU charge for refreshes will be allocated immediately, but the usage allocation will be spread out throughout the day. This provides consistent fast performance without requiring resource overallocation to handle peaks due to resourcing. Memory is no longer a factor whatsoever for refresh.

This architecture also allows for automatic scale up/down for intensive or unpredictable workloads. Administrators will no longer need to make so many decisions up front, or react to changes as frequently. If autoscale is not enabled, queries can potentially be slowed down, but a refresh kicking off can no longer make reports unavailable. The new architecture is moving back to a SaaS model, after being rather close to IaaS with Gen 1

In the past, services that required full isolation like Paginated reports were not available on some of the lower end A and EM SKUs. With this new architecture, they will be available on all of them. In fact, with the newly announced Premium per user SKU, they will even be available on a per user basis.

This new architecture will be available to all of the “dedicated” SKUs, A, EM and P. The preview of the new P SKU will begin later in 2020. As an ISV, I am particularly interested in this new architecture for the A SKUs. The memory spikes caused by large refreshes have been particularly problematic for us in the past. Gen-2 architecture appears to be just what the doctor ordered.

I have often referred to this group of SKUs as the dedicated capacity SKUs in the past, but with this change, that term is no longer accurate. With the term Premium being so pervasive, I think we’ll just have to call them all Premium SKUs, whether they are P or otherwise.

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Power BI Announces Premium-per-User licensing

The license for the rest of us

Today at Microsoft Ignite, Microsoft announced the upcoming availability of a new licensing model for Premium features in Power BI entitled “Premium per User”. With this model, individual users, or subsets of users can subscribe to most of the capabilities of Power BI Premium for an additional monthly fee.

For a preliminary FAQ about this new license, read this official blog post from the Power BI team.

Three years ago, Microsoft introduced the capacity based Premium license. Prior to this, the only license available for Power BI was the user based Pro license, which listed at $10 per user per month. The problem with this model was that large organizations found it to be prohibitively expensive, especially for casual user. The capacity based SKUs (Premium) had the effect of solving that problem. An organization could purchase their own dedicated resources and then allocate them in any way they saw fit. Report consumers do not need a Pro license with this model.

While Premium went a long way to solve the cost problem with large organizations, it introduced a significant new issue with smaller to mid sized organizations. The problem is the price tag. The entry level Premium SKU (P1) carries a list price of $5,000 US per month. This means that an organization needs to have more that 500 regular Power BI users before the cost of Premium starts to make sense from a sharing only perspective.

Compounding the price tag issue, since the release of Premium, more and more features have been released that require it to function. Features like Paginated reports, AI capabilities, deployment pipelines, and the XMLA endpoint all require Premium. A small organization may have the need for this type of feature, but cannot justify the spend of a Premium license.

The new Premium per user (PPU) license promises to solve this problem. Premium per user will be a new license that will include all of the capabilities of the Pro license, but will also include almost all of the features available in Premium. Details about which features are available can be found here. It will NOT include unlimited sharing. Users with this license will be able to publish content to a PPU workspace, and that content can be consumed by other users that have a PPU license.

The next question is of course going to be “great, so how much is it?”. Therein lies the rub. Microsoft is not saying, at least not at this point. From the official blog post announcing the PPU license, Microsoft says:

Stay tuned for the official pricing announcement as we get closer to the GA timeframe.  I guarantee you won’t want to miss it

Arun Ulag, Corporate Vice President, Power BI

It does seem awfully odd to announce a new license without stating the price, but that’s the situation that stands today. However, given that the goal of this SKU is clearly to make Premium features more accessible across the board, I fully expect it to be quite reasonable.

If, as I expect, the price is reasonable, the PPU license will unlock a lot of doors, making Premium far more widely available. In fact, I expect that PPU will become the go-to license generally. Now, we simply have to wait for the price, before we get too excited.

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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 2400 $4,995/mo
P2 16 50 4800 $9,995/mo
P3 32 100 9600 $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.


Which Premium SKU is Needed to embed Power BI Reports in SharePoint and Microsoft Teams

A short time ago, I posted an article explaining the difference between a Power BI Pro license, and Power BI Premium capacity, and the fact that you’ll at least need one or the other in order to share a Power BI report on a SharePoint page via the Power BI web part. Although that article didn’t mention it, the same requirement is also true for embedding a report in a Microsoft Teams tab.

Power BI Report embedded in a Microsoft Teams tab

Power BI Report embedded in a SharePoint Page

Since there are two major SKU types for Power BI premium, and that there was (and is) a fair amount of confusion around this area, I also published another article attempting to clear up the confusion. While this article was based on all the information publicly available at the time, new information has pointed out that it is incorrect.

The two major SKU types are P and EM, with P standing for Premium and EM for Embedded. This matters significantly because the two SKU types have significantly different entry points and therefore costs.

The P SKU was the only one introduced when Premium was originally announced. It gives organizations the ability to place Power BI assets in a premium capacity container (a Power BI “app”), and once this is done, anyone can consume these assets whether or not they have a license.

Subsequent to this, an additional SK (EM) was introduced to address Power BI Embedded. Power BI embedded allows an ISV to use Power BI to add reports to their own applications. In this scenario, the reports run from the ISV’s tenant. Originally the assets were housed in Azure, but with the availability of Premium capacity, the decision was made to shift Power BI Embedded to use this new model. Given that the requirements of an ISV are not the same as a general organization, this new  SKU was introduced. The EM SKU comes with a significantly lower entry point and cost, but also with significant restrictions. This is where the confusion sets in.

The wording around the restrictions on the EM SKU indicated that it could not be used for the SharePoint web part, and that a P SKU, or a Pro license would be required for that use case. This is where my earlier article is incorrect. I have since had conversations with the product team, and have been informed in no uncertain terms that the EM SKU CAN be used for both SharePoint web part, and Teams tab embedding of Power BI reports.

This is a very significant difference. An organization that is using Power BI casually, but has a few reports that they want to share with a broad audience was looking at a cost of almost $5,000 per month to do this. Given that the cost of a Pro license is $10/user/month, this meant that the organization needed to have at least 500 frequent report consumers before Premium was even worth considering. Also given the fact that the embedding features available in both SharePoint and Teams require that Pro or Premium SKU, this could be a real disincentive to its use. However, given that the EM SKU start at approximately $650/month for the entire organization, this becomes much more approachable, and it lowers the bar to entry significantly. This should result in significantly greater adoption of these Power BI embedding features, and consequently, of Power BI as a whole.

To be clear, there are still restrictions around the EM SKU. You cannot share Power BI apps with this SKU, but you CAN use it to embed reports in both SharePoint and Microsoft Teams.