Power BI Will Launch With Office 365 Groups, Content Packs and More!

When Power BI v2 launches on July 24, it will be delivered with some new features previously unavailable in the preview version.

Support for Office 365 Groups

Power BI will support Office 365 groups for team collaboration.  If you are already using Office 365 groups you will be able to repurpose them in Power BI and/or you can create new ones for collaborating with colleagues around your datasets, dashboards, etc.

Organizational Content Packs

Content packs are deployable and sharable collections of datasets, dashboards and connections to data sources that you can prepare and then share with the rest of the organization.  Similar to an app store model, content packs will be both available from commercial vendors as well as deployable from private organizations through their own private distribution point.

Extended Support for Excel

Power BI will bring in the features of Excel Online into its native experience and support visualization of a number of Excel features such as:

  • Pivot Tables
  • Charts
  • Slicers
  • Data in tables and worksheets
  • Power view sheets

This functionality has been available in Power View and the original Power BI for a while – now it appears in the new Power BI feature set.

Replace Excel, Power BI Desktop and CSV Files in Power BI

if you create dashboards based on excel files, CSV files or a Power BI Desktop definition you won’t have to re-create them if you need to replace the original file.

Row Level Security for On Premises SSAS Tabular Models

Power BI now respects row level security rules and permissions defined in your on premise SSAS tabular models.  Dashboards connected to your on premise SSAS tabular models will only show data that the authenticated user is allowed to access.

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Power BI Designer Now Supports Data Refresh

Microsoft has just announced an update to Power BI Designer that now supports scheduled or ad hoc data refreshes through the Power BI service.

The following data sources are supported for refresh:

  • Azure SQL Database.
  • Azure Blob Storage.
  • Azure Table Storage.
  • Azure HDInsight.
  • Azure Marketplace.
  • Dynamics CRM Online.
  • Facebook.
  • Google Analytics.
  • Salesforce Objects/Reports.
  • OData feeds.
  • Web (HTML & Web APIs).

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Power BI Designer Updated with Two Important Features from Power Pivot

Microsoft has just released a new version of Power BI Designer with some great new features borrowed from Power Pivot.

Calculated Columns

In Power Pivot, you can create a “calculated column” based on existing data in your table.  This is a great way to format dates, create profit calculations from existing raw data or to transform your data.  This is now supported in Power BI Designer – huge improvement!

Sort by Another Column

When working with dates, you might have a column for “Month” that has the values January, February, March, etc.  If you try to sort them, they’ll sort by default in alphabetical order instead of in date order. 

In Power Pivot, you can take column like this and have the sort order driven by another column.  In this scenario, you have a separate column that has the date representation of the month (e.g. January = 01/01/2015, February=01/02/2015, March=01/03/2015, etc.) and you can specify that your month column should be sorted not by its own natural sort order but by your date column which is sorted in date order.  This is a key requirement for any plotting of graphs based on dates.

This is now also available in Power BI Designer!

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Connecting to Azure SQL from Power BI Preview

Azure SQL is now available in Power BI Preview and it supports live connections to the database.  The query connection is live back to the database and the tile refresh interval is 15 minutes (e.g. time to refresh your dashboard visualization).

Note that there are some limitations currently on the data refresh in general:

  • Refresh is not supported for Power BI Designer files.
  • If you’ve manually entered a SQL statement to execute, this cannot be scheduled for refresh. The alternative is to build the query by selecting the tables or views through the UI.

Once you have connected to your Azure SQL database, you can create standard Power PI Preview dashboards.  Here is an example dashboard of the posts from this blog by year and by tag.

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Power BI vs. Power BI Preview: What’s the Difference?

Power BI Preview is the upcoming version of Power BI. Power BI is the current “production” version of Power BI that lives within Office 365. How do they compare? Here are some of the key differences.

Power BI is Production, Power BI Preview is Preview

The current Power BI service is considered production quality, is managed by Microsoft under the Office 365 SLA and is reasonably stable as a product.

Power BI Preview is just that – it’s still in preview. It’s clearly not a complete product yet and should be viewed as Beta. There are clearly some pieces in the service that are not quite ready for prime time and the product is evolving rapidly as Microsoft adds more functionality.

Power BI is based on Excel and SharePoint, Power BI Preview is New Technology

Power BI comes from a longer history of Excel and SharePoint. Power BI is the Office 365 extension of Power View which is a technology built into Excel 2013 that allows you to create interactive dashboards based on Power Pivot models. SharePoint 2013 on premise and Office 365 support Excel Services which allows you to host an Excel file as a web page without the need for the Excel client.

The new Power BI Preview is built from newer technologies and while it can ingest Excel files and Power View / Power Pivot models, it isn’t based on them. It has its own model and visualization technologies that can leverage data from a number of other data sources and provide a different user experience.

Power BI Preview is also only cloud based where Power BI has a similar feature set with SharePoint 2013 on premise (Power BI has some features that are only available on the cloud).

Power BI Requires Office 365 and Excel 2013, Power BI Preview is Standalone

One of the key differences between Power BI and Power BI Preview is that Power BI Preview does not depend on Office 365 or Excel 2013 either for authoring or viewing. Power BI Preview has been designed in a similar way to the Office Online experience in that you can access Power BI Preview through its own URL and you can start working with the tool.

Power BI Preview Has New Data Sources

Power BI data sources are based on Power Query and Power Pivot and include traditional data sources such as Oracle, SQL Server, Azure SQL, Excel Files, CSV Files, etc. Available data sources were managed by Microsoft as part of the product.

With Power BI Preview, there have been a number of additional data sources announced already with additional data sources expected including:

  • Git Hub
  • Google Analytics
  • Marketo
  • Zen desk
  • Send Grid
  • Azure Stream Analytics
  • Visual Studio Online

In addition, Microsoft has built APIs for developing third party data connectors that will presumably allow many more data sources to be feeding into Power BI Preview in the future. They have for example just announced a new Office 365 administration content pack that will push data into Power BI Preview in the future.

Power BI is A Disconnected Experience, Power BI Preview is Semi-Disconnected

Power BI is based on Excel’s Power Pivot and Power Query engines, which create local caches of data when they pull data from their data sources. This is what creates the performance by loading up a bunch of rows into memory and caching them locally. When you refresh a power pivot table, the entire table is refreshed from the underlying data source which depending on the size of your table can take a considerable amount of time. In Office 365, you can configure your Excel sheet to use a data source that can be periodically refreshed but it’s the same basic technology.

Power BI Preview is semi-disconnected in that there certain data sources that are “live”, namely the connector to SQL Server SQL Analysis Services. In addition, the Power BI Preview architecture allows you to push data into tables incrementally instead of having the entire table refreshing. This is fundamentally more interesting, in particular for scenarios where there are streaming analytics coming in that need to be visualized.

It’s not altogether clear whether Power BI Preview will support other “live” data source connections in the future.

Power BI Preview has Additional Visualizations

Power BI Preview comes with some additional visualizations including:

Combo Chart

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Gauge

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Tree Map

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Filled Map

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Funnel Chart

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Power BI Preview Has an IPhone App, with Android and Windows Phone Coming Soon

Power BI had a Windows 8 app but limited support for phones. Power BI Preview already has an IPhone App available with Android and Windows Phone coming soon.

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Power BI Is Not Responsive, Power BI Preview Is Not Responsive

One of the glaring omissions that Microsoft still continues to make is lack of support for mobile web and responsive design. Power BI is definitely not responsive, and the dashboards created by Excel are locked width and height and they sit in a non-responsive SharePoint portal.

Power BI Preview so far isn’t responsive either. Power BI Preview does however have an IPhone App available which works reasonably well.

Power BI Preview has a REST API

One of the intriguing new developments with Power BI Preview is the new REST API. You can use it to push just about any data you want into the Power BI service using basic JSON. You can create tables, add rows, etc. The API is missing some key functionality at the moment (for example, you cannot delete a dataset through the API) but the potential is huge for custom applications needing to push data into the service.

Power BI Preview Now Has Alerts, Annotations and Favorites

Power BI Preview has alerts which allow you to be notified when data changes, exceeds a threshold or exceeds a target.

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Power BI Preview also supports annotations which work quite nicely in the IPhone App. You can add drawing lines and text to your dashboard before mailing them out to your colleagues.

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Power BI Preview also supports the concept of favorites where you can tag dashboards, KPIs and data to your personal favorites dashboard.

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Power BI Preview Pricing is Cheaper than Power BI Pricing

Power BI pricing started out as a separate subscription with different subscription levels. This quickly became an add-on price for those customers with E3 or E4 Office 365 subscription because of the overlap between Power BI and the features in E3 and E4. For $20 / month, you can have Power BI tacked on to your month E3 or E4 subscription.

Power BI Preview has a free version, similar to Office online. If you want to try out the service or use it to visualize a single dashboard, you can start using it immediately. However, there are limitations on throughput for the free version and there is no support for live connectivity or on premise integration with your data sources.

Power BI Preview is priced at $9.99 / user / month which is about 50% cheaper than Power BI.  The pricing is independent of Office 365 – you no longer need an Office 365 subscription to obtain this pricing. 

Microsoft has imposed some caps for that price including:

  • Data capacity limit of 10 GB
  • Scheduled data refresh of 1 hour
  • Streaming capability limit of 1 million rows per hour

It’s not currently clear what happens if you exceed these limits or whether this is even an option, e.g. do you pay additional fees if you exceed the quota or does the service simply stop you from exceeding the limits?

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New Office 365 Administration Dashboards Coming via Power BI

Microsoft has announced a new set of administration dashboards for Office 365.  Powered by Power BI, the dashboards will provide administrators access to analytics on user activity within their tenants.  Roll-out is expected in Q3 2015.

Whats new in Office 365 Administration from Microsoft Ignite 1The new Power BI content pack will integrate with Active Directory data for more interesting reports – for example, you could create a dashboard related to a particular group of users.

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Cortana and Power BI Integration Coming as Part of Windows 10

One of the key features demonstrated today at MS Ignite was the integration of Power BI and Cortana.  Using Power BI’s natural language question and answer features, Cortana will now provide voice integration into the Power BI experience.

In addition, you’ll be able to interact with your corporate data right from within the Cortana experience including voice integration for querying your data.  See below for some sample screens from the MS Ignite key note!

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