Applications that crunch users’ data should make the results as easy as possible to understand and consume. Graphics including charts and maps can significantly improve displays of data, and make relationships, proportions and patterns visually obvious. When those graphics become interactive, allowing users to drill down at the click of a mouse or tap of a finger, the value of the application to those users increases even more. For ISVs (independent software vendors) offering such apps, the question is then whether to make their own graphics controls or use a service that already does all of the above.

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The Difference Between Power BI Embedded and Power BI service

Microsoft’s solution for such ISVs and app developers is Power BI Embedded, an Azure service that lets them offer the interactive data graphics experiences of Power BI, but within their own applications. If you’ve already seen Power BI, you’ll know how it allows you to point and click to create smart interactive data displays within seconds. Power BI is licensed per user within the Office 365 environment and is not destined to be exported into other vendors’ apps. Power BI Embedded, on the other hand, is a separate offering, deployed through the Azure portal so that an ISV can embed Power BI style data visualizations into its own app. A user of the ISV’s app does not need any additional license for Power BI functionality. Instead, the ISV pays according to the usage made of the Power BI Embedded service.

Creating Power BI Displays

Developers can start using Power BI Embedded by downloading the free Power BI Desktop application for creating the reports and graphics they want their app to show to their users. All the Power BI functionality is available, including smart cross-highlighting to automatically adjust the display of graphics that are linked to the one with which the user is interacting. The data driving the display can be stored in Azure SQL, Azure SQL Data Warehouse, or other SQL-compatible storage. The report created by the developer is then saved as a Power BI Desktop file and provisioned into a Power BI Workspace in Azure.

Making Power BI Displays Available to App Users

The next step is to create API keys in the Power BI Workspace and to copy these API keys into the app to be stored securely. To give a user of the app access to a Power BI report, the developer creates a token for the app. The token is signed with the API keys and sent over to the Power BI Workspace. After validation of the token, the user then sees the Power BI report and can use its interactive features directly within the app. ISVs and developers can also continue to use their own methods of authenticating and authorizing users. Software development kits (SDKs) will be available later for .NET and JavaScript to facilitate development, and versioning of APIs will provide stable development environments as new versions of Power BI Embedded are released.

How Much Will ISVs Pay to Use Power BI Embedded?

The consumption-based billing model for Power BI Embedded is based on the number of “renders,” where a render is effectively a charge made every time an element in the display queries the Power BI Embedded service. Caching allows the number of renders to be minimized when the user views the display multiple times. If the data can be retrieved from the cache, no additional render is charged. In other cases, for example, a filter operation on data, an additional query to the service will be made and an additional render charged. ISVs, as Power BI Embedded service owners, can limit the number of new queries made by users, but any predictions of render costs are likely to be more realistic after tracking app use over a suitable period. Together with worldwide general availability of Power BI Embedded on July 11, 2016, Microsoft also announced plans for the simplification of billing by using report loads as billing units, instead of individual visual elements.

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