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    Power BI Report Server

    Introduction and Key Capabilities

    Recently, I have had a few opportunities to talk about Power BI Report Server with some friends in the IT world and I sensed hesitation from most of them when they were asked to explain (or even use) the Power BI Report Server. I suspect it’s the newness of the product… but the product isn’t so new; perhaps it’s the perception of the newness of the product. So, I thought I’d write about what it is and its key features in this blog.

    What is Power BI Report Server?

    The Power BI Report Server (PBIRS) is a standalone report server meant to be hosted on-premises, but can be installed on a VM in the cloud.  It is built upon the same architecture as SQL Server Reporting Services (SSRS) but adds a Power BI service component, thus allowing it to host paginated reports and Power BI reports simultaneously. The PBIRS portal serves to host, share and allow collaboration on Power BI reports, paginated reports, key performance indicators (KPIs) and mobile reports. Think of PBIRS as SSRS with added capabilities to host Power BI reports.

    Because PBIRS is built on top of the SSRS framework, the paginated report component is a full functionality set of SSRS. This means that creating and using paginated reports is similar to how we create and use SSRS reports. This also means that the initial configuration of the PBIRS (after install) is similar to the configuration that must be set for SSRS, including the prerequisite of having a SQL Server instance on which a “ReportServer” database can be created. Further, this also means that any SSRS reports already built can be easily deployed to the PBIRS. In fact, the ability is present for you to “upgrade” your SSRS environment to a PBIRS environment.

    The Power BI service component of PBIRS is a subset of the functionality found in the www.powerbi.com service but is not associated with that online service. Only Power BI reports can be created and consumed in PBIRS; functionality such as dashboards, Q&A, and streaming data are not available. This means that the Power BI reports hosted in the PBIRS are contained within PBIRS – any use or collaboration of the Power BI reports is within the confines of the PBIRS and not the online service. Hence, a security model centered on the PBIRS must be implemented. This security model encompasses both the Power BI reports and the paginated reports.

    For a closer look at PBIRS, visit the following Microsoft website: https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/power-bi/report-server/get-started

    Because it is a standalone product, you must download the executable, and then install and configure it, just as you must do for SSRS. From a licensing perspective, currently PBIRS is included with any Power BI Premium licensing. It is also included with SQL Server Enterprise with Software Assurance.

    Some clarifications needed will center on the licensing of SQL Server to host the ReportServer database, if you have obtained PBRIS from a Power BI Premium subscription. Note the requirement for Power BI Pro license(s) to publish to PBIRS. The requirement for Power BI Pro license is somewhat counter-intuitive, but if you are obtaining PBIRS from a Power BI Premium subscription, then presumably you will have Power BI Pro license(s) anyway.

    Fig 1: An image of the downloaded PBIRS executable file
    Fig 2: An image of the PBIRS installation process

     

    Fig 3: An image of the Report Server Configuration Manager for PBIRS

     

    Fig 4: An image of the PBIRS portal showing the contents of a folder named “BI Team” that contains a Power BI report and a paginated report

    In the top right side of the PBIRS portal, you have the ability to download the 4 tools you’ll need to author the various types of reports that PBIRS can host: Power BI Desktop, Power BI Mobile, Mobile Report Publisher, and Report Builder.

    These links will open up the appropriate Microsoft website from where you can download the executable for each product. You create and deploy the various types of reports to PBIRS using the individual products as standalone development products.

    How do we create paginated reports in PBIRS?

    To create paginated reports (i.e. fixed-layout, pixel-perfect reports optimized for printing), you can use Report Builder, which can be downloaded via the PBIRS portal or you can use Report Designer in SQL Server Data Tools (SSDT).

    Report Builder is basically a smaller version of Report Designer, but with all the features to define a Data Source, Datasets, and Parameters and define the report with the various headers

    Once you have an rdl file that needs deploying, you set the TargetServerURL to http://<PBIRS>/ReportServer, set the other values appropriately (TargetReportFolder, TargetReportPartFolder), and then deploy the report. To view the report or share it, you simply logon to the PBIRS portal (http://<<PBIRS>>/Reports) and change the properties setting there.

     

    Fig 5: An image of the Report Builder, with a sample report definition shown.

    How do we create Power BI reports in PBIRS?

    To create Power BI reports (visualizations), you can use the Power BI Desktop Reporting Services client, which can be downloaded via the PBIRS portal. This client is different from the Power BI Desktop client used to create reports for the cloud Power BI Service. The reason for the difference is simply that the on-premise PBIRS service has a set of functionality for Power BI reporting that is updated less frequently than the cloud service’s functionality (and even then, the updates to PBIRS is an in-house task), allowing the cloud service to stay up to-date with newer functionality. That functionality is used via the Power BI Desktop report-authoring tool. Hence, the PBIRS report-authoring tool is not as feature-rich, meaning that if you were to use the cloud-intended tool and publish reports to PBIRS, then some visualizations will not render as expected.

    Some of the restrictions in functionality for the Power BI Desktop RS client are:

    • PBIRS does not support preview features found in Power BI Desktop, therefore those preview features are not found in Power BI Desktop RS
    • Export features of the Power BI report are limited in PBIRS vs the cloud service
    • Power BI reports published in PBIRS have limited sources to which it can connect

     

    Fig 6: An image of the Power BI Desktop RS report-authoring tool. Note that it looks and feels like the tool for the cloud service
    Fig 7: “File > Help > About” for the Power BI Desktop RS report-authoring tool
    Fig 8: “File > Help > About” for the Power BI Desktop report-authoring tool (for the cloud service)