How to Assign Pro Licenses to a Power BI Tenant

This is a question that comes up all the time.  Power BI licensing is not complicated but a common challenge is that the person who sets up a new Power BI subscription and tenant within an organization is often not the same person who manages Office 365 or Azure service licensing for the organization.  I’ve consulted on projects for several organizations where folks just didn’t know who to talk to or how to proceed after testing the water with Power BI.  After setting up a new subscription, IT professionals and business data analysts often don’t know how to license Power BI for company use and share reports and datasets with others.

This post will show you how licenses are assigned to users and, more importantly, what to request from your support desk or administrators who may be unfamiliar with Power BI and Office 365 user licensing.  Keep reading for background information about why this is important and necessary.

You can use Power BI in one of three modes:

1) If you’re a one-person organization or don’t need to securely share content online with anyone, you can just use Power BI for free.  Yep, free.  No feature limits.

2) If your organization has a few hundred users or less, you will need to buy a Power BI Pro license for every user to author or view reports.  Unless you publish report content publicly to the web, every user must have a Pro license – period.

3) If you have several hundred users or you have so much data that you need to manage it with dedicated capacity, it may be cost-effective to purchase a Premium capacity tenant for a few thousand dollars a month.  Pro licenses are still required to publish reports but anyone in the organization can view published reports online or an on-premises Power BI Report Server.

Power BI Subscription Basics

Let’s say that I work for XYZ company and my work address is Paul@xyz.com.  Assuming that a Power BI subscription doesn’t yet exist, if I go to PowerBI.com and setup an account using my email address, I have created a Power BI subscription for my company that is a tenant within the Power BI service.  I could be the janitor for a multinational corporation but I am now the administrator of the tenant.

By way of definitions; the Power BI Service is the entire Power BI offering within the Microsoft Azure cloud.  At any time, it could encompass hundreds of virtual machines geolocated in data centers throughout the world.  When you subscribe to the service, you are – in effect – renting some space within the service.  The “space” that you rent and manage for your subscription is called a tenant.  It’s sort of like renting some office space or an apartment in a large building.  You don’t really own it but you are paying for the right to live there.  You can read about these and other administrative concepts here.

After setting up a new Power BI subscription, you really have one of two options:

1) If you have the authority to purchase licensing and manage services on behalf of your organization, proceed to purchase and assign licenses for report developers and users.

2) Make a service request or contact the appropriate administrator within your organization to add and assign licenses.  This might be your help desk, systems or operations admin or Office/cloud services administrator.

The Admin Take-Over

After a “less privileged” user sets up the first Power BI subscription for the organization, no one else can do the same.  This can be a little confusing if some person in Finance sets-up a trial account and then a BI developer tries to do the same thing.  If the organization plans to move-forward with a governed Power BI tenant, they can perform an “Admin Take-Over”.  Contrary to what the name suggests, this is not the same as a government coupe with troopers storming the building in Kevlar vests and automatic weapons.  It simply means that an administrator assumes control of the new tenant and transfers admin rights from the person who established the subscription the appropriate person(s).  Adam Saxton describes who this works in this Guy-In-A-Cube installment.