Power BI: Beyond the Buzz

August 22, 2019

Microsoft Power BI

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

Power BI continues to receive a huge amount of buzz. 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?

A deep and flexible tool, Power BI continues to evolve with each release. Watch this webinar recording to get our insights into Power BI's continual transformation. Learn how Power BI fits into Microsoft’s overall business intelligence framework, get an overview of what it does well (and where it has 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

Microsoft Power BI, SQL Server, SSAS, SSRS, SSIS, Azure, Power Pivot, PerformancePoint, Power View, Access, Excel


Shawn Alpay
Microsoft BI Architect
Senturus, Inc.

Shawn is well-versed across the entire Microsoft BI stack and its wide range of offerings, having built ETL, data warehouse, reporting and analysis solutions from the ground up. In his various development and architecture roles, he often serves as the client’s project manager and business analyst, partnering directly with their team to gather requirements and deliver insight.


  • What is Power BI?
    • A self-service, business analytics solution that lets you prepare and present data for your organization
    • Power BI serves five essential functions:
      • Query engine
      • In-memory data repository
      • Semantic model
      • Visualization dev tool
      • Distribution portal
    • Power BI is a set of tools (one tool can’t do it all):
      • Power BI Desktop
      • Power BI Service
      • Power BI Report Server
      • Power BI Mobile
      • Power BI Embedded
      • Power BI Data Gateway
      • And Excel???
    • Why Power BI?
    • 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
        • Mode 2: self-service BI or nonlinear approach
      • 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 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
        • Share
      • On top of all that, how am I going to:
        • Have this operate, super fast (perhaps by storing data in-memory)?
        • Do it myself (self-service)??
      • Microsoft’s BI offerings – through the years
      • Power BI core concepts and workflow
        • The Dataset consists of two object types:
          • The Queries are definitions of how to extract and transform data sources, accessed via connectors
          • The Model is a definition of tables, relationships, columns and measures
        • The Report presents data from the dataset on one or more pages of visuals
        • The Dashboard presents visuals, pinned from reports
        • The App Workspace is the draft container for these objects
        • The App is the user-facing container for these objects
        • The Gateway lets the Service connect back to data sources
      • Other Power BI details
        • Release frequency: monthly 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 content creation and it’s $10/user/month
          • Premium is dedicated server capacity for the Power BI service, licensed by node instead of by user
            • Some features (e.g. paginated reports, incremental refresh) are only available in Premium
          • Embedded is dedicated server capacity for Power BI Embedded, also licensed by node
        • Custom connectors and visuals
        • Senturus Analytics Connector connects to secure, governed Cognos data
      • Newer features in Power BI
        • Paginated reports: reporting Services within Power BI
        • Dataflows: queries in the cloud, which can be reused
        • Reports across workspaces: create a report in Workspace A that points to a dataset in Workspace B
        • Many core components (e.g. filters, visuals and data modeling) have been refreshed and overhauled
          • Can now group visuals together like in PowerPoint
        • The roadmap lists a lot of new stuff coming soon
          • Data lineage, better usage reporting, datasets larger than 10 GB and improved data protection
        • Limitations of Power BI
          • Despite its recent growth spurts, there are still many frustrating shortcomings
            • Can’t drag across the screen to select multiple visuals
            • Does a given connector have DirectQuery and/or single sign-on?
          • It is a competitor to Tableau, but Tableau is the better visualization tool…for now
          • Monthly release cycle means some components aren’t always complete on first release
          • Jack of all trades, master of none


  • 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 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 reports
      • …but they don’t print well, get distributed by data-driven subscription or are “pixel-perfect,” whereas Reporting Services shines here
    • Paginated reports are now available in Power BI, but are still maturing
    • 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 may eventually be the umbrella for all Microsoft BI tools