Microsoft self-service BI on premise vs cloud

It appears that Satya Nadella has added an additional layer of context to the already ambitious Microsoft strategy of transforming itself into a “devices and services” company by declaring that “Going forward, it’s a mobile-first, cloud-first world”.

I believe that it is safe to assume that in the near future, the roadmap of every Microsoft product will be updated to reflect an alignment with this strategy. I am particularly interested in how this strategy will affect the Microsoft BI stack. Jen Underwood wrote a great post about “cloud first, cloud only” almost six months ago surfacing some of benefits as well as some issues arising from this strategy. I am still struggling a little bit with figuring out what the overall MS BI landscape will look like as it relates to the self-service use case vs. the enterprise deployment; therefore, I decided to put some thoughts on paper in an attempt to frame up a way of tying it together.

Here is a simple (but by no means complete) table to compare several key features between the cloud and on premise offerings (please be advised, that technically, the Power BI is still not GA, therefore, the information below may be out of date by the time you are reading it) (edit 8/26/2014 – Power BI is GA since April 2014)

Feature Power BI (Self Service) On Premise (Self Services) On Premise (Enterprise)
In memory Yes Yes Yes
Data size 250MB Configurable up to SharePoint limit (2gb) Unlimited (or limited by RAM)
Data Refresh Yes, using Gateway Yes, Power Pivot Gallery Yes
Direct access to on premise data No Yes Yes
Refresh from Power Query Yes No No
Render Power Map in browser No No No
PowerView HTML5 support (+iPad support) Yes No No
Render Power View Excel Sheets Yes Yes (SP 2013), No (SP 2010) Yes (SP 2013), No (SP 2010)
Create Power View reports No (Not yet) Yes Yes
Support for Power View in Power Point No (Not yet) Yes Yes
Natural Language query support Yes No No
Synonyms Yes No No
Windows Authentication (corporate domain) Yes (DirSync) Yes Yes

The biggest issue for me right now in terms of parity between the cloud and on premise offerings is the lack of ability to drive Power View dashboards through Power Point from the workbooks posted in the cloud. Cloud first strategy should (at least in theory) allow Microsoft to innovate at a much higher rate, however, the apparent disparity between the two flavors of the stack confuses the customer by making him/her think that now there are two forked versions of the stack that will be maintained independently from one another which may not look in Microsoft’s favor, particularly in light of the apparent “simplification” strategy manifested by some of the Microsoft’s competitors.

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