There are so many different pros and cons to Tableau and Power BI that it is very hard to compare the two. It is also fair to make the argument that comparing the two tools is not an “apples to apples” comparison. As a user of both, I am definitely in that camp. Although comparing these two tools’ capabilities may not be completely fair, the reality is that many businesses are assessing which tool to go with as the cost and complexity of multiple tools can become too much. This post is going to focus solely on comparing the cost of Tableau and Power BI so you can get a feel for how much it might cost your organization to deploy either software.
At the end of this blog post, I will run through an example where I am deploying Tableau and Power BI simultaneously across organizations of different sizes with different requirements and use cases.
A couple of years back Tableau changed from their Core pricing model to Subscription pricing that places the cost of their different licenses on a per month basis. Anytime that you need to use Tableau, whether it be as a developer in Tableau Desktop or viewing a report in Tableau Server, you will need a Tableau License in order to complete those tasks. In order to get the license number that you will ultimately input into Tableau, you will need to pay for a subscription at that level of capability. Here is a breakout of the three levels of subscription for Tableau when using Tableau Server On-premises or cloud (server hosted by Tableau is priced differently):
Tableau Viewer: $12/month per user. This amount is billed annually and gives you the ability to view or interact with content that is already created and published to Tableau Server. The typical need for a Tableau Viewer license is someone who is the main consumer of any dashboard that your developers will create.
Tableau Explorer: $35/month per user. This amount is billed annually and gives you the ability to view content just like the Tableau Viewer subscription, but this level of access also gives you some self-service analytics capability by allowing creation of content from already published data sources. An ideal user of this subscription level is someone who needs to view their data, but also has an analytical skill-set that will allow them to dig deeper into available data to answer more of their questions.
Tableau Creator: $70/month per user. This amount is billed annually and gives you the most capabilities of any subscription level. This subscription is meant for your Tableau Developers and Tableau Server Admins who will be using multiple functionalities of Tableau Desktop and Server on a regularly, if not daily, basis.
You can also get two different add-on packages to your Tableau subscription.
Tableau Data Management: $5.50/month per user. The downside to this add-on is that if you get it, it is required to have for every user in your organization. This add-on will enable your users with Tableau Catalog, Tableau Prep, and Tableau Prep Conductor. If your organization needs help with data prep you might want to weigh the cost of this add-on with it’s positives.
Server Management Add-On: $3/month per user. Just like the Data Management add-on, it is required to have for every user in your organization. The enhanced Tableau Server views and large-scale deployment capabilities make this add-on tempting for Tableau Server admins who need an easier way to roll out large deployments.
For larger deployments of Tableau, there is Core based pricing that is not currently listed on Tableau’s website. This is similar to the Power BI Premium pricing as you’ll see in the next section. In the Core based licensing your organization can purchase a number of computing cores that can handle unlimited viewers and explorers, but creator licenses will still need to be purchased for all creators. Pricing for the creators is the same as with the role based licensing, but the pricing for the cores themselves is very hard to find online.
The best estimate that I could find was this post by Greg Deckler on LinkedIn (see below). He made the comparison that the same 100TB of Azure File Storage that would cost you $4,995/mo with Power BI Premium would cost you ~$8,000 with Tableau core-based pricing. Although you might not need 100TB of storage, this could give you some insight into the pricing differences between the two.
For more information on Tableau pricing check out their website.
Power BI Pricing
When Microsoft first rolled out Power BI five years ago, one of its goals was to streamline the product as well as the pricing to make it attractive in a market that included competitors including Tableau, Qlik, and Spotfire. One big thing to note with Power BI is that because they are a Microsoft product, their subscriptions often pair well with other Microsoft products like the Office Suite. Let’s examine how some of these prices compare against Tableau.
Just like with Tableau, Power BI offers different levels of subscription for its users. Those levels include:
Power BI Desktop: $0/month per user. You can download this version of the software for free from PowerBI.com or from the Windows Store. Using this product you can connect to many different data sources and have a lot of the same capabilities as higher levels of subscriptions, but the downside is that you will not be able to easily share your reports with others in your organization.
Power BI Pro: $9.99/month per user. You can also get this product for free if you have a Microsoft 365 E5 subscription. Although the capabilities on the development side are mostly unchanged, there are several limitations that you should be aware of when comparing this to the higher level of subscription.
- Inability to deploy paginated reports
- Requires licensing for report content consumers as well as developers
- 1GB maximum size of individual data sets
- 10GB maximum storage on Power BI Service per user
- 8 automatic refreshes of reports per day (compared to 48 per day)
It is worth noting that, much like Tableau, Power BI can offer discounted pricing to non-profit organizations and higher ed institutions.
Power BI Premium: $4,995/month per organization (starting price). This may seem like a large jump in price per month, but the package that is included in this price is specifically targeted towards enterprise deployment. Even within Power BI Premium, there are different tiers of service. Let’s take a look at these prices per node:
- P1 – $4,995/month
- P2 – $9,995/month
- P3 – $19,995/month
Power BI service supports up to 10GB compressed memory, but you can always go higher with Large Models. Tiers P4 and P5 are also available if you need more resources. Check out the great capacity matrix (screenshot below) to find out more about what services are offered at different tiers.
For more information on Power BI pricing check out their website. You can also use this great cost calculator to get a better idea of your organization’s total cost.
Total Cost of Ownership & Other Cost Considerations
So far we’ve only looked at the cost of licensing for Tableau and Power BI, but this is just a fraction of the costs associated with owning and maintaining an analytics platform. Here are a few other items found on both Tableau and Power BI’s pricing sheets that contribute to the overall cost.
Storage Costs – with different platforms you may have different costs associated with not only your storage, but your licensing as well due to partnerships. If you are migrating to Azure for your data storage, there may be discounted costs to your licensing that Microsoft will give you on the Power BI side. Same for Tableau and AWS.
Training / Learning – whether you’re switching from one BI platform to another, or you’re implementing a whole new BI platform, you will need to train up resources within your organization. Tableau often pitches their product as easier to learn, hence a lower cost associate with their training in the pricing sheets I’ve seen, but this has not always been my experience. Having trained users in both Power BI and Tableau, while they have different challenges from a training perspective, I wouldn’t say that one takes significantly longer than the other.
Tableau does come with a huge online user community that can make learning and problem solving much easier and more enjoyable. Also, Tableau’s forums are much easier to use and navigate than Power BI’s in my experience.
Ease of Use / Efficiency of Analysis – I recently saw a 5-year roll out pricing sheet comparing Tableau and Power BI that attributed ~85% of the value advantage of Tableau to “Total Data Analysis and Exploration.” The best interpretation of this I could make was that Tableau is saying you will spend less time accomplishing the same analysis in Tableau than if you used Power BI saving you time, money, and resources. Again, having used both tools, I don’t necessarily find this huge value difference to be quite accurate. In fact, I believe that Power BI has some serious advantages to Tableau in terms of development speed and efficiency.
- Speed of Development – because the tool is limited on what visuals it can show, it removes a lot of those decisions you might have to make using Tableau. In Power BI you only need to fill in the options that are given to you for each chart, while in Tableau you have to build out the chart itself. On the other hand, if you are just trying to explore your data and find some quick insights, Tableau might be the better tool due to its flexibility.
- Data Cleaning – when developing any dashboard cleaning and validating data is a huge part of the process. With Power Query, so many of these tasks can be handled at the developer level that you cut out a lot of back and forth with your back end teams.
- Data Modeling – if your data is already stored in STAR schema tables, they are already in a structure that Power BI thrives on. Although Tableau is now implementing Relationships, if you don’t have a more recent version of Tableau Desktop, chances are you’ll still be spending time getting all of the data in a format that’s usable.
As you can see, there are a lot of costs other than licensing that you need to consider when choosing a BI platform. Hopefully this has helped you understand some of those external costs. Now that we’ve covered a lot of the pricing concepts for both tools, let’s price out a couple of scenarios to look at the cost difference.
Price Comparison: Scenario #1
In this first scenario, Company A wants to deploy a BI product across their medium sized manufacturing company. Because of their more limited size, they do not have a large Microsoft Office subscription. They estimate that they will have about 250 users consuming reports on a frequent basis, 10 users that will be using a little less frequently, and the 5 dashboard/report creators. Let’s see how much that would cost in each product!
Viewers: 250 x $12 = $3,000
Explorers: 10 x $35 = $350
Creators: 5 x $70 = $350
Total = $44,400/ year
Power BI Premium: $4,995 x 12 mo. = $59,940
Power BI Pro Licenses: 15 x $9.99 x 12 mo. = $1,798.20
Total = $61,738/ year
In this scenario, Tableau seems to be the more efficiently priced BI tool to meet the clients need.
Price Comparison: Scenario #2
In this first scenario, Company B wants to deploy a BI product across their large global CPG company. Because of their global reach and large IT infrastructure, they already have a large Microsoft Office subscription and need expanded capabilities to meet all of their analytics needs. They estimate that they will have 5,000 users consuming reports on a frequent basis, 200 users that will engage on a occasional basis, and 125 content creators. Let’s see how much that would cost in each product!
Viewers: 5,000 x $12 x 12 mo. = $720,000
Explorers: 200 x $35 x 12 mo. = $84,000
Creators: 125 x $70 x 12 mo. = $105,000
Total = $909,000/ year
*This is where most organizations will shift to core-based licensing, so this price is going to be the top end for Tableau most likely. Per Tableau’s website, you must have 4 Cores minimum (8 vCPUs). If we price this at $96k per core per year then you get the updated pricing below. As you can see, this is much more efficiently priced than role-based licensing. There is also no limit on the number of Viewer and Explorer licenses using Core base pricing, hence only Creator licenses being added in below.
Core License estimate = 4 Core x 96k/yr = $384,000
Creators: 125 x $70 x 12 mo. = $105,000
Total = $489,000/ year
Premium Package (P3): P3 @ $19,995 x 12 mo. = $239,940
*P3 comes with 16 v-cores, so you could make the argument for only needing P2 here, but when talking to numerous folks who have done Power BI deployments, they suggested P3 for this use case
Pro Users: 325 x $9.99 x 12 mo. = $38,961
Total = $278,901/ year
In this scenario, Power BI seems to be the more efficiently priced BI tool to meet the clients need.
I hope that you have found this blog post useful for examining the different price points for Tableau and Power BI and the associated features for those costs. Please keep in mind that there are many unique variables with every organization that could increase or decrease costs for each of these tools. Organizations will also need to weigh the capabilities and limitations of each tool and what you want you want to accomplish with them when making your ultimate decision.
Thanks so much for reading and hopefully this has helped those unfamiliar with the topic to become a bit more familiar. If you have any comments or questions feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Interesting article. You didn’t mention that with only Power BI Pro, all content pushed to the PowerBI.com service will be on a Power BI node shared with other customers. Customers complain of “noisy neighbors” in that scenario. The main initial reason for the Premium SKU was to offer dedicated capacity.
You left Tableau Catalog out of your description of the Data Management SKU. That’s half the product, and for many, most of the value. Microsoft deprecated their Azure Data Catalog in 2017.
Thanks for the feedback Larry! I will definitely revisit the Data Management SKU portion.
In the first pricing scenario (250+10+5 users), in the PowerBI world this is usually done with just Pro licenses (355 Pro licenses at $9.99/month) without Premium. Comparing PBI Pro versus Tableau Online is fair because both are public-cloud shared capacity approach in the backend, and both have the “noisy neighbor” issue. PBI Premium compares a little closer to Tableau Server in terms of dedicated capacity approach, but the big difference is onprem vs cloud. PBI has a separate onprem solution that is a more realistic comparison to Tableau Server.
Thanks for the feedback! I did try to keep the Tableau Server v Power BI Premium comparison in both as I have seen smaller rollouts use Premium and there are lots of limitations that I wouldn’t want for some clients in Tableau Online, but your points should definitely be considered. Perhaps I’ll add in a note about that.
Will be interesting to revisit this once Premium Per User pricing is announced 🙂
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