Power BI and SQL Server Mobile Report Publisher (previously known as Datazen) are both Microsoft BI tools that offer mobile reporting capabilities. Mobile Report Publisher is part of the SQL Server 2016 release and provides on-premise mobile reporting functionality to SQL Server Reporting Services. Power BI is a standalone cloud-based service that provides similar mobile reporting capabilities as Mobile Report Publisher. Because of the overlap that exits between these tools, it is important to know the differences and capabilities of each, and when it is best to use one over the other. This post highlights the differences and unique features of each product, and provides a general guideline for when to choose one versus the other when building mobile reports.
Power BI is a cloud-based service that gives users the ability to analyze and visualize data through easy to use dashboards, interactive reports, and rich visualizations. Power BI is made up of two components: Power BI Desktop and Power BI service. With Power BI Desktop, users can connect to different data sources, create data models, and author reports. Power BI service provides a platform for users to share and interact with these reports. Power BI Desktop is a standalone application and can be downloaded for free from Microsoft’s website. The Power BI service is an Azure-based offering that is available as a free service, or as a monthly per-user subscription that provides additional features such as increased storage capacity, live data sources, and groups.
Power BI can connect to a wide array of data sources. These sources can be grouped into the following:
- Files – Power BI can get data from Excel and Power BI Desktop files.
- Content Packs – For services such as Salesforce, Microsoft Dynamics, and Google Analytics. These content packs come with ready-made dashboards, reports, and datasets.
- Databases – Connectors to databases and other datasets such as Azure SQL Database and SQL Server Analysis Services tabular data.
The Power BI service architecture is comprised of two clusters– the Web Front End (WFE) cluster and the Back End cluster. The WFE cluster is responsible for initial connection and authentication to the Power BI service, and once authenticated, the Back End handles all subsequent user interactions. Power BI uses Azure Active Directory (AAD) to store and manage user identities, and manages the storage of data and metadata using Azure Blob and Azure SQL Database, respectively.
Data storage and data processing in Power BI differs based on whether data is accessed using a DirectQuery, and is also dependent on whether data sources are in the cloud or on-premises. Power BI is also capable of enforcing Role Level Security (RLS) and interacts with Gateways that provide access to on-premises data. For more information, reference the Power BI Security Whitepaper.
- Monthly updates
- Can leverage custom visualizations
- Integrates with R
- Can manipulate/transform data within the application
- Can leverage live streaming data
- Can set notifications and alerts to inform of data changes
- No tablet layout option for viewing report on a tablet
- Requires per-user licensing (Power BI Pro) for certain features
- No current on-premise offering
- No color theme options available
- Reports and dashboards will be accessed through web browser and mobile devices
- When enabling a self-service BI environment in the organization
- Leveraging a wider variety of visualizations to display data
- Conducting data discovery and ad-hoc data analysis
SQL Server Mobile Report Publisher is an authoring tool for mobile reports for SQL Server 2016 Reporting Services. With SQL Server Mobile Report Publisher, users can quickly create reports optimized for mobile devices and tablets. A simple to use interface allows report developers to create visualizations that can be tailored for viewing on a web browser, a mobile device, or portable tablet. These reports feature a variety of visualization types, such as comparison charts, custom maps, gauges, and treemaps. Mobile Report Publisher offers an on-premise mobile reporting solution that compliments Reporting Services 2016’s existing features and functionality.
Key features of SQL Server Mobile Report Publisher include:
- Connect to a range of data sources, including on-premises SQL Server and Analysis Services data.
- Ability to design first and format data later.
- Easily adjust the look and feel of reports to any render on any device.
The SQL Server Mobile Report Publisher data model can import data from two types of sources: Local Excel files, and SQL Server Reporting Services (SSRS) datasets. Data from Excel files needs to be formatted and prepped prior to importing it, while data from SSRS need to have a shared dataset and data source configured on a Reporting Services web portal.
Data from the following Report server data sources can be leveraged in a Mobile Report Publisher report:
- Microsoft SQL Server
- Microsoft SQL Server Analysis Services for MDX, DMX, Microsoft Power Pivot, and tabular models
- Microsoft Azure SQL Database
- SQL Server Parallel Data Warehouse
- SAP NetWeaver BI
- Hyperion Essbase
- Microsoft SharePoint List
- OLE DB
In addition, custom data processing extensions and standard Microsoft .NET Framework data providers can be installed and registered by system administrators (Note: to process or view a report that leverages any of these extensions, they must be installed and registered on the report server).
SQL Server Mobile Report Publisher leverages the same authentication options available in SQL Server Reporting Services (SSRS), and offers several configurable options for authenticating users. These authentication settings are configured on the Report Server and inherited by Mobile Report Publisher. By default, the report server uses Windows Integrated authentication and assumes both the client and the network resources are in the same domain or in a trusted domain. Authentication can be customized to use Basic authentication, or custom forms-based authentication, and multiple authentication types can be enabled in the report server as well. Additional information on authentication options in Report Server.
- Can add custom maps to Gradient Heat Map, Range Stop Heat Map, or Bubble Map
- Can use simulated data to design the report first and import the data later
- Can create drillthrough reports to a URL or another mobile report. Parameters can be passed to the target mobile report or integrated into a custom URL
- Can use Time Navigator filters
- Can create Tablet version of a report
- Uses Color Themes for all the visualizations
- Line chart is limited to having Time on the X-axis
- Colors must be formatted through custom branding file. Can’t edit colors on individual charts
- Data transformation/formatting cannot be done. All formatting and data preparation must be done prior to importing into Mobile Report Publisher
- Limitation when rendering date data types from Analysis Services cubes (need to create calculated members as a workaround)
- Only one instance of Mobile Report Publisher designer can be run at a time
- No custom visualizations available
- Limited updates (compared to monthly updates for Power BI).
- Existing investment in Datazen content
- Organization does not support cloud-based solutions
- Per-user licensing cost of Power BI subscription is cost-prohibitive
- Displaying data through high-level KPIs and Scorecards
- Delivering formatted reports that need to be accessed on a mobile device
|Features||Power BI||Mobile Report Publisher|
|Can connect to on-premises data sources, such as SQL Server and Analysis Services||x||x|
|Can create custom layouts for tablets, mobile devices, and browsers||x|
|Can adjust the number of grid rows and columns on a dashboard||x|
|Can be accessed through a browser||x||x|
|Can be accessed through the Power BI mobile app||x||x|
|Can design the report prior to obtaining data||x|
|Can leverage custom color themes||x|
|Frequent product updates from Microsoft||x|
|Can leverage custom visualizations||x|
|Integrates with R||x|
|Can manipulate/transform data within the application||x|
|Can leverage live streaming data||x|
|Notifications and alerts when data changes||x|
|Mobile Report Publisher||Existing investment in Datazen content|
|Organization does not support cloud-based solutions|
|Per-user licensing cost of Power BI subscription is cost-prohibitive|
|Displaying data through high-level KPIs and Scorecards|
|Delivering formatted reports|
|Power BI||Reports and dashboards will be accessed through web browser and mobile devices|
|When enabling a self-service BI environment in the organization|
|Leveraging a wider variety of visualizations to display and analyze data|
|Conducting data discovery and ad-hoc data analysis|