Premium features of dataflows

Dataflows are supported for Power BI Pro and Power BI Premium users. Some features are only available with a Power BI Premium subscription. This article describes and details the Premium-only features and their uses.

The following features are available only with Power BI Premium:

  • Enhanced compute engine
  • Direct Query
  • Computed entities
  • Linked Entities
  • Incremental refresh

The following sections described each of these features in detail.

The enhanced compute engine

The enhanced compute engine in Power BI enables Power BI Premium subscribers to use their capacity to optimize the use of dataflows. Using the enhanced compute engine provides the following advantages:

  • Drastically reduces the refresh time required for long-running ETL steps over computed entities, such as performing joins, distinct, filters, and group by
  • Perform DirectQuery queries over entities

By default, the enhanced compute engine is On. If the enhanced compute engine is not on, enabling the enhanced compute engine is described in the next section, along with answers to common questions.

Using the enhanced compute engine

The enhanced compute engine is enabled from the Capacity Settings page in the Power BI service, in the dataflows section. By default, the enhanced compute engine is Off. To enable the enhanced compute engine, switch the toggle to On as shown in the following image, and save your settings.

Turn on the enhanced compute engine

Important

The enhanced compute engine works only for Power BI capacities of A3 and larger.

Once the enhanced compute engine is on, return to dataflows and you should see a performance improvement in any computed entity that performs complex operations, such as joins or group by operations for dataflows created from existing linked entities on the same capacity.

To make best use of the compute engine, split the ETL stage into two separate dataflows, in the following way:

  • Dataflow 1 - this dataflow should only be ingesting all of the required from a data source, and placing it into dataflow 2.
  • Dataflow 2 - perform all ETL operations in this second dataflow, but ensure you're referencing Dataflow 1, which should be on the same capacity. Also ensure you perform operations that can fold (filter, group by, distinct, join) first, before any other operation, to ensure the compute engine is utilized.

Common questions and answers

Question: I've enabled the enhanced compute engine, but my refreshes are slower. Why?

Answer: If you enable the enhanced compute engine, there are two possible explanations that could lead to slower refresh times:

  • When the enhanced compute engine is enabled, it requires some memory to function properly. As such, memory available to perform a refresh is reduced and therefore increases the likelihood of refreshes to be queued, which in turn reduces the number of dataflows that can refresh concurrently. To address this, when enabling enhanced compute, increase the memory assigned for dataflows to ensure the memory available for concurrent dataflow refreshes remains the same.

  • Another reason you may encounter slower refreshes is that the compute engine only works on top of existing entities. If your dataflow references a data source that's not a dataflow, you won't see an improvement. There will be no performance increase, since in some big data scenarios, the initial read from a data source would be slower because the data needs to be passed to the enhanced compute engine.

Question: I cannot see the enhanced compute engine toggle. Why?

Answer: The enhanced compute engine is being released in stages to regions around the world. We anticipate all regions will supported by the end of 2020.

Question: What are the supported data types for the compute engine?

Answer: The enhanced compute engine and dataflows currently support the following data types. If your dataflow doesn't use one of the following data types, an error occurs during refresh:

  • Date/Time
  • Decimal Number
  • Text
  • Whole number
  • Date/Time/Zone
  • True/False
  • Date
  • Time

Use DirectQuery with dataflows in Power BI (preview)

You can use DirectQuery to connect directly to dataflows, and thereby connect directly to your dataflow without having to import its data.

Using DirectQuery with dataflows enables the following enhancements to your Power BI and dataflows processes:

  • Avoid separate refresh schedules - DirectQuery connects directly to a dataflow, removing the need to create an imported dataset. As such, using DirectQuery with your dataflows means you no longer need separate refresh schedules for the dataflow and the dataset to ensure your data is synchronized.

  • Filtering data - DirectQuery is useful for working on a filtered view of data inside a dataflow. If you want to filter data, and thereby work with a smaller subset of the data in your dataflow, you can use DirectQuery (and the compute engine) to filter dataflow data and work with the filtered subset you need.

Using DirectQuery for dataflows

Using DirectQuery with dataflows is a preview feature available beginning with the May 2020 version of Power BI Desktop.

There are also prerequisites for using DirectQuery with dataflows:

  • Your dataflow must reside within a Power BI Premium enabled workspace
  • The compute engine must be turned on

Enable DirectQuery for dataflows

To ensure your dataflow is available for DirectQuery access, the enhanced compute engine must be in its optimized state. To enable DirectQuery for dataflows, set the new Enhanced compute engine settings option to On. The following image shows the setting properly selected.

Granular control for direct query

Once you've applied that setting, refresh the dataflow for the optimization to take effect.

Considerations and limitations for DirectQuery

There are a few known limitations with DirectQuery and dataflows:

  • During the preview period of this feature, some customers may experience timeouts or performance issues when using DirectQuery with dataflows. Such issues are being actively addressed during this preview period.

  • Composite/mixed models that have import and DirectQuery data sources are currently not supported.

  • Large dataflows may have trouble with timeout issues when viewing visualizations. Large dataflows that run into trouble with timeout issues should use Import mode.

  • Under data source settings, the dataflow connector will show invalid credentials if you are using DirectQuery. This does not affect the behavior, and the dataset will work properly.

Computed entities

You can perform in-storage computations when using dataflows with a Power BI Premium subscription. This lets you perform calculations on your existing dataflows, and return results that enable you to focus on report creation and analytics.

Computed entity

To perform in-storage computations, you first must create the dataflow and bring data into that Power BI dataflow storage. Once you have a dataflow that contains data, you can create computed entities, which are entities that perform in-storage computations.

Considerations and limitations of computed entities

  • When working with dataflows created in an organization's Azure Data Lake Storage Gen2 account, linked entities and computed entities only work properly when the entities reside in the same storage account.

As a best practice, when doing computations on data joined by on-premises and cloud data, create a new dataflow for each source (one for on-premises and one for cloud) and then create a third dataflow to merge/compute over these two data sources.

Linked entities

You can reference existing dataflows when using with a Power BI Premium subscription, which lets you either perform calculation on these entities using computed entities or allows you to create a "single source of the truth" table that you can reuse within multiple dataflows.

Incremental refresh

Dataflows can be set to refresh incrementally to avoid having to pull all the data on every refresh. To do so, select the dataflow then select the incremental refresh icon.

Incremental refresh

Setting incremental refresh adds parameters to the dataflow to specify the date range. For detailed information on how to set up incremental refresh, see the incremental refresh article.

Considerations for when not to set incremental refresh

Do not set a dataflow to incremental refresh in the following situations:

  • Linked entities should not use incremental refresh if they reference a dataflow. Dataflows does not support query folding (even if the entity is DirectQuery enabled).
  • Datasets referencing dataflows should not use incremental refresh. Refreshes to dataflows should generally perform well. If the refreshes take longer than expected, consider using the compute engine and or DirectQuery mode.

Next steps

The following articles provide more information about dataflows and Power BI: