Power BI is the new product offering from Microsoft in the fastest growing self-service BI market today with the user base of more than 5 million active users worldwide. Power BI suite of products were initially released into the BI Market in the start of 2010 under the name of Power Pivot in Excel. Since then, Microsoft BI team has worked through long period of time to build a big umbrella called Power BI. it has now grown to the separate product with many different components and We will look at each of these pieces of puzzle in this article.
Before moving ahead, let me make this clear as I have often confronted by the clients that Power BI can only produce fancy visualizations which is off no use for the data analysis or producing serious BI Reports.
Let me tell you one thing: Power BI is not just a visualization tool such as Tableau and many others in the self-service BI Market, it is not just a self-service data analysis tool such as PivotTable and PivotChart in Excel, it is not just a cloud based tool for data analysis. Power BI is combination of all of those, and it is much more.
Using Power BI, you can connect to many different data sources (wide variety of data sources supported, and more new data sources added to the list every month, even you can create your own data connectors). You can also mash up the data as you want with a very powerful data mash up engine called Power Query. It also allows you to model your data, build star schema, or add measures and calculated columns on top of that with an In-Memory Columnar Analytical Engine “VertiPaq”.
And Finally, you can visualize data with great range of built-in, custom or R-powered visuals & can create your own data story in either Power BI Desktop or Power BI Service. You can publish your dashboard and reports in cloud and share it to those who you want. You can work with On-premises as well as Azure/cloud based data sources. and believe me there are much more things that you can do with Power BI which you can’t do with other BI products easily.
So What is Power BI?
There are many definitions for this tool, here is my version of it simplified for everyone to understand;
Power BI is a cloud based data analytics service, with the capability of Self Service Reporting and Data Analytics combining multiple data sources. Power BI is simple, user friendly and intuitive that Business Analysts, Power Users or Self-Service BI Developers can create business data models, calculations and data stories to support the analytical needs of an organisation. Power BI is increasingly becoming powerful and mature enough that it can also be used in enterprise systems by BI developers for complex data mash-up and modelling scenarios.
Power BI is made up of 6 main components, these components released in the market separately, and they can be used even individually. Components of Power BI are:
- Power Query: Data mash up and transformation tool.
- Power Pivot: In-memory tabular data modelling tool
- Power View: Data visualization tool
- Power Map: 3D Geo-spatial data visualization tool
- Power Q&A: Natural language question and answering engine.
- Power BI Desktop: A powerful companion development tool for Power BI Reports
Power BI Desktop is the tool that gives you combined editor of Power Query, Power Pivot, and Power View. Power BI Desktop is available as stand-alone product that can be downloaded separately. With Power BI Desktop you will have all parts of the solution in one holistic view.
There are many other parts for Power BI as well, such as;
- PowerBI.com Website; which can be used to author, share & distribute the reports & dashboards hosted as cloud service.
- Power BI Mobile Apps; Power BI supported in Android, Apple, and Windows Phones.
- Power BI Premium: A dedicated capacity based licensing with the Power BI Report Server for on premise hosting of Power BI Reports
Most of the above components are strong and has been tested for very long time. Some of them however are new and under frequent regular updates on a monthly basis from Power BI Product Team.
Power BI is still a relatively young product which is maturing and growing rapidly. New features and functionality are introduced every month based on customer feedback. Due to the frequent pace of change related to Power BI features, be cautious about online guidance because information very easily becomes inaccurate as Power BI grows beyond serving small self-service scenarios into an enterprise-level toolset.
The most prominent components of the Power BI suite of tools include (not an exhaustive list):
|Power BI Desktop||A desktop-based authoring tool of choice for connecting, transforming, and modeling data for creating interactive reports.|
|Power BI Service||A web-based service for collaboration, sharing, creation of dashboards, and additional functionality such as Q&A and alerts. It may also be referred to as the “Power BI Site” or “PowerBI.com” or perhaps the “Power BI Web Portal.”|
|Power BI Mobile Apps||Native applications for iOS, Android, and Windows for viewing reports and dashboards from anywhere.|
|On-Premises Gateway||An agent installed within the corporate network to allow secure access to organizational data stored on-premises. There are two options: Enterprise, and Personal.|
|Power BI Report Server||An alternative to the Power BI Service for deploying Power BI reports within an on-premises data center, as opposed to the cloud-based Power BI Service. Power BI Report Server requires a Power BI Premium license.|
|Power BI Embedded||APIs for embedding visuals into a custom application.|