A comparison of SQL Server Reporting Services and Power BI
Part six of a seven-part series of blogs

Power BI improves with each monthly update. Will it reach a point where SSRS (SQL Server Reporting Services) becomes redundant? This detailed blog compares the two products, and considers the future of SSRS.

  1. Reporting Services (SSRS) versus Power BI
  2. An overview of Power BI and SSRS
  3. Loading data (SSRS and Power BI compared)
  4. Creating reports for viewing on-screen
  5. Exporting and printing reports
  6. Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) (this blog)
  7. Conclusions

Posted by Andy Brown on 18 October 2019

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Total Cost of Ownership (TCO)

It's not possible (or sensible) to try to compare Power BI and SSRS in pure financial terms, but you can consider the issues you'll face when choosing one or the other for your reports.  These are:

Issue Notes
Software cost How much will the software cost to buy/license?
Other costs How long will it take to create reports using each product?

Let's consider each of these costs in turn.

Software costs compared

Microsoft licensing is not only (unnecessarily) complicated, but also depends on your company's setup.  However other things being equal it seems to this owl that SSRS is a much cheaper option from the point of view of software purchase.

Software Cost
Power BI Power BI is free, until you want to share your reports.  At this point you can either buy a monthly Power BI Pro licence for each user at $9.99 per month, or buy a Power BI Premium licence (which will set you back thousands of pounds a month).
SSRS The marginal cost of Reporting Services is zero.  If you're intending to use SSRS, you'll already be paying for a SQL Server licence.  The SSRS report authorship tools are free to download, and the Visual Studio editing software is free if you download the Community edition (subject to licensing conditions).

Note that if you're lucky enough to have an Office 365 Enterprise 5 (E5) licence Power BI is included at no additional cost.

Other costs - Power BI

We're in a particularly good position to give an opinion on the relative ease of use of Power BI and SSRS, since we've trained many people on many courses in each! 

It's definitely easier to get started with Power BI:

Power BI reports

Creating a table is as easy as just clicking on a field.

 

It's also far easier to load data:

Loading data is easier

Power BI makes it easy to load tables of data, and automatically links them together where possible.

If you're content to create basic reports, Power BI is thus far cheaper to adopt than SSRS.  Where things get murkier is when you want to create measures:

Percentage measure

For any non-standard calculations such as the one shown here, you're going to have to create measures using DAX (a non-trivial task).

 

DAX is a difficult and unintuitive formula language to learn, and many Power BI users will struggle with it (the Quick Measures wizard can help to some extent, and we also run a two-day DAX course).

Thus I would say that for normal Power BI reports the learning curve is shallow, but to become a Power BI guru you are going to have to learn and understand the concepts of row context and filter context, and also learn how to create DAX expressions (the learning curve for which is steep).

Other Costs - SSRS

Most people find Reporting Services relatively easy to learn (our two-day SSRS course shows everything you need to know to create all but the most advanced reports):

Starting a report

However, you will probably need to attend a course (for example, it's not at all obvious how you apply grouping to a table like this one).

But ... this isn't the end of the story.  I've done a few consultancy projects for clients building reports in SSRS, and I would estimate that you will spend half your time creating the reports and the other half writing SQL to massage the data into the right format.

This imposes a huge - and hidden - additional cost on the use of SSRS.  Unless you are reporting on simple tables, you're probably going to have to learn how to select data in SQL, and you may need to learn how to write stored procedures too.

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