What is Power BI?

Power BI is a collection of software services, apps, and connectors that work together to turn your unrelated sources of data into coherent, visually immersive, and interactive insights. Your data may be an Excel spreadsheet, or a collection of cloud-based and on-premises hybrid data warehouses. Power BI lets you easily connect to your data sources, visualize and discover what’s important, and share that with anyone or everyone you want.

diagram showing input sources for Power BI

Power BI can be simple and fast – capable of creating quick insights from an Excel spreadsheet or a local database. But Power BI is also robust and enterprise-grade, ready for extensive modeling and real-time analytics, as well as custom development. So it can be your personal report and visualization tool. It can also serve as the analytics and decision engine for group projects, divisions, or entire corporations.

The parts of Power BI

Power BI consists of a Windows desktop application called Power BI Desktop, an online SaaS (Software as a Service) service called the Power BI service, and Power BI mobile apps for Windows, iOS, and Android devices.

Power BI Desktop, service, mobile

These three elements – Power BI Desktop, the service, and mobile apps – are designed to let people create, share, and consume business insights in the way that serves them, or their role, most effectively.

A fourth element, Power BI Report Server, allows you to publish Power BI reports to an on-premises report server, after creating them in Power BI Desktop. Read more about Power BI Report Server.

How Power BI matches your role

How you use Power BI may depend on your role in a project or on a team. And other people, in other roles, might use Power BI differently, which is fine.

For example, you might primarily use the Power BI service. But your number-crunching, business-report-creating coworker might make extensive use of Power BI Desktop to create reports, then publish those reports to the Power BI service, where you can view them. Another coworker, in sales, might mainly use her Power BI phone app to monitor progress on her sales quotas, and to drill into new sales lead details.

If you're a developer, you might use Power BI APIs to push data into datasets or to embed dashboards and reports into your own custom applications. Have an idea for a new visual? Build it yourself and share it with others.

You also might use each element of Power BI at different times, depending on what you’re trying to achieve or your role for a given project.

Perhaps you use Power BI Desktop to create reports for your own team about customer engagement statistics. Perhaps you also view inventory and manufacturing progress in a real-time dashboard in the service. How you use Power BI can be based on which feature or service of Power BI is the best tool for your situation. Each part of Power BI is available to you, which is why it’s so flexible and compelling.

Explore documents that pertain to your role:

The flow of work in Power BI

A common flow of work in Power BI begins by connecting to data sources and building a report in Power BI Desktop. You then publish that report from Power BI Desktop to the Power BI service, and share it so end users in the service and mobile devices can view and interact with the report. This workflow is common, and shows how the three main Power BI elements complement one another.

Here's a detailed comparison of Power BI Desktop and the Power BI service.

But what if you're not ready to move to the cloud, and want to keep your reports behind a corporate firewall? Read on.

On-premises reporting with Power BI Report Server

Create, deploy, and manage Power BI, mobile and paginated reports on premises with the range of ready-to-use tools and services that Power BI Report Server provides.

diagram for on-premises

Power BI Report Server is a solution that you deploy behind your firewall and then deliver your reports to the right users in different ways, whether that’s viewing them in a web browser, on a mobile device, or as an email. And because Power BI Report Server is compatible with Power BI in the cloud, you can move to the cloud when you're ready.

Read more about Power BI Report Server.

Next steps

Sign in, get some data, and learn your way around Power BI service
Tutorial: Get started with the Power BI service Quickstart: Connect to data in Power BI Desktop