Wednesday, November 21, 2018
Is Power BI Open Source?
Posted by Geoffrey Wayong
Before answering this, let’s look at open source definition.
According to whatis.com – “open source refers to any program whose source code is made available for use or modification as users or other developers see fit. Open source software is usually developed as a public collaboration and made freely available.”
Based on the definition above, the short and technical answer is no – Power BI is not open source. Power BI is built and managed by Microsoft Corporation.
At the same time, let’s explore into why some consider using open source software.
- Lower software cost
Probably one of the most sought-after benefits. Most times, open source software is free, and when it is not, it is cheaper than the alternatives. I believe with Power BI, this statement is still valid. Power BI is free when it is used for individual consumption basis (and without any feature restrictions or time limit). When sharing with others, a nominal fee of $9.99 / user / month would be applicable, which I believe it is cheaper compared to the alternatives. In the 2017 Gartner Magic Quadrant for Business Intelligence and Analytics Platforms, Gartner highlighted that Power BI is one of the lowest-priced BI solutions on the market, especially from a large vendor.
- Higher quality software and supportability
Another top consideration for many, open source software solutions are supported by a community of developers. Because everyone is looking into the source code with finetooth comb, it is perceived to result in a higher quality software. And more often than not, the software support level might be well above industry average when it comes to a large-base and fanatical user community. Comparing to Power BI, I believe Power BI is one of the top quality solutions produced by Microsoft, partly because it is cloud based. Similar to open source software, there are many users on the platform and Microsoft development efforts are focused on the latest versions. Not to mention, Power BI also has a sizeable user base which helps them validate and test Power BI in-preview features which, in turn, results in a higher quality software. The Power BI user community, by early 2016, has 5 million users (a more current actual figure is not readily available).
- Adding the features you want
By the virtue of open source, source code is available for anyone to see and potentially modify for their own use. This means organizations can add features they want on their own timeline (typically faster than the commercial software release cycle). Even though Power BI source code is not widely available, Microsoft has been carefully listening and reviewing suggestions from user communities thru https://ideas.powerbi.com. This helps Microsoft further Power BI into a more compelling solution with features driven by the user community. Most voted feature suggestions will have higher chances to go on top of the to-be-released feature list. And so far, Power BI has been releasing updates monthly.
- Simple license management
Another common consideration, licensing on some commercial software can be fairly complex: user-based, processor-based, server-based, role-based, and many more combinations in between. Open source software tends to be free, hence licensing management is not a non-issue. Similarly, Power BI has a simple licensing approach, free for individuals to use. Once they need to share with others, it is $9.99 / user / month. It is easy to comprehend, and in some organizations, users might also be entitled to Power BI license thru their Office 365 enterprise plans.
- Scaling and consolidation
This is another serious consideration that is related to licensing and software cost. At times, commercial software can be costly to scale as the user base grows – it might need additional servers, a server cluster, license cost, larger support team, and a more complex environment overall. This tends to prohibit a wider usage expansion. With open source software, typically it would be less painful to scale because of the points mentioned above. Considering that Power BI has a predictable licensing cost and there is no additional hardware to procure or manage, scaling the environment as user base grows is relatively easy. Microsoft also offers Power BI Premium for the need to scale a large user base or the need for a more dedicated performing environment. Power BI premium lets organizations distribute content broadly without purchasing individual licenses for each recipient and allows them to scale performance capacity exclusively based on organization’s own needs.
Considering the items above, Power BI is not an open source software. At the same time, it can still provide the benefits of open source software with credible vendor and large community support behind it. Try it for yourself. Let me know if you have specific thoughts or comments.
Geoffrey manages Armanino’s Business Intelligence technical team. He brings over 15 years of experience in enterprise application development, system integrations and business intelligence. Previously, he managed Microsoft Dynamics ERP/CRM implementations as well as integration / development team at Armanino.