Power BI: Beyond the Buzz

September 20, 2018


The Straight Talk on Microsoft’s Data Visualization Tool For BI

Power BI has been getting a huge amount of buzz recently. You may find yourself wondering what all the fuss is about. Could Power BI be a potential solution for your organization’s self-service analytical and visualization needs?

In this webinar recording get insight into what Power BI has become over the last few years. Learn how Power BI fits into Microsoft’s overall business intelligence framework, review what it does well (and its limitations) and see a demo some of its more prominent features.

You’ll learn

  • What is Power BI
  • Components of Power BI
  • How Power BI fits into the larger Microsoft BI stack
  • Limitations of Power BI

You might also be interested in reading more about Power BI in our Best of the August 2018 Power BI Release blog.


Microsoft Power BI



Shawn Alpay
Microsoft BI Architect
Senturus, Inc.

Shawn is a Business Intelligence Architect at Senturus and has spent the last 15 years designing and implementing Microsoft-centric BI solutions for clients.


  • The two modes of business intelligence
    • According to Gartner: “Bimodal is the practice of managing two separate but coherent styles of work – one focused on predictability and the other on exploration.”
    • Mode 1: Enterprise BI or linear approach and is predictable, improving and renovating in more well-understood areas
    • Mode 2: Self-service BI or nonlinear approach and is exploratory, experimenting to solve new problems
    • Gartner now puts a stronger focus on Mode 2 in its analysis of BI tools
  • Self-service use case
    • I’m an eager analyst in a small company or in a small business unit within a larger company. I have business data sitting in a bunch of flat files and I’m not going to bother IT with any of this yet (e.g. resources, politics, competence). I have a lot to figure out!  How am I going to: prepare, store, model, visualize and share. On top of all that, how am I going to: operate super-fast (perhaps by storing data in-memory) and do it myself (self-service)?
  • Microsoft’s BI offerings – through the years
  • What is Power BI?
    • A self-service business analytics solution that lets you prepare and present data for your organization
    • Serves five essential functions:
      • A query engine
      • A data repository that resides in-memory
      • A semantic model
      • A visualization development tool
      • A distribution portal
    • A set of tools (one tool CAN’T do it all):
    • Power BI Desktop: develop datasets and reports
      • Power BI Service: share PBI objects in the cloud
      • Power BI Report Server: share PBI objects on-prem
      • Power BI Data Gateway: connect the service to on-prem data
      • Power BI Embedded: share reports inside applications
      • Excel: run ad-hoc queries via PivotTables
  • Power BI workflow
    • Develop a dataset in Power BI Desktop
      • Gather and store data into tables with queries using M language
      • Build a semantic model (business metadata) using DAX language
    • Develop visuals on pages of reports in Power BI Desktop
    • Publish datasets/reports to app workspaces in Power BI service
    • Develop dashboards by pinning visuals from reports
    • Publish app workspace objects to an app
    • Configure the Power BI data gateway to allow scheduled refresh of datasets from on-prem sources to Power BI service
    • Grant users access and let them explore the data!
      • Build/consume reports and dashboards
      • Analyze datasets in Excel
    • Embed reports in applications via Power BI Embedded
  • What about other Microsoft BI tools?
    • Power BI can be used to gather and prepare data
      • …but the options are limited (e.g. data sources, refresh cadence) and the destination can obviously only be Power BI
      • …whereas Integration Services can be configured precisely and load other destinations (e.g. SQL Server)
    • Power BI can be used as a data and metadata repository
      • …but it has a 10 GB limit, whereas Analysis Services is built to scale
    • Power BI can be used to build canned reports
      • …but they don’t print well, get distributed by data-driven subscription or are “pixel-perfect,” whereas Reporting Services shines here
    • Power BI can be used as an ad-hoc query tool
      • …but we can connect to a Power BI dataset in Excel and use PivotTables much more easily
    • Power BI is built to play nicely with the rest of the stack!
  • Other Power BI details
    • Monthly release cadence for Power BI service and quarterly for Power BI Report Server
      • Ideas can be submitted and upvoted on the Power BI ideas forum
    • Licensing: free vs. Pro vs. Premium vs. Embedded
      • Free is powerful, but limited in scope: no sharing with others, on-prem data connection or analyze in Excel
      • Pro is necessary for all the bells and whistles and it’s $10/user/month
      • Premium is dedicated server capacity for the Power BI service, licensed by node instead of by user
      • Embedded is dedicated server capacity for Power BI Embedded, also licensed by node
      • Licensing of other MS BI tools is separate
    • Custom connectors!
      • Senturus has recently released a connector to Cognos
  • Limitations of Power BI
    • Jack of all trades, master of none
      • 10 GB data size limit
    • Monthly release cycle means some components don’t interoperate well
    • New features aren’t always complete on first release
    • It is a competitor to Tableau, but Tableau is the better visualization tool… for now
    • Feature roadmap: when is something going to be released???
    • And yet… it’s still a fantastic tool and occupies a unique space in the BI landscape
  • That’s all there is to know…right?
    • There’s so much we didn’t discuss!
    • Power BI is a flexible and deep tool, it’s tough to keep track of everything it can do (and will be able to do as time goes on)
    • Reach out if you have questions: salpay@senturus.com
    • Get a free hour consultation to help sort through your Microsoft BI architecture: info @senturus.com