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Tableau and PowerBI – a Comparison

Tableau and PowerBI – a Comparison

An objective and unbiased comparison of the two leading data visualisation tools - Tableau & PowerBI

Moor Consulting is an independent consultancy, not partnered with Tableau, Microsoft or any other software company. This allows us to provide independent advice on Business Intelligence (BI) software and best practice when looking for a data solution for your project or organisation.

If you are currently deciding which BI tool to adopt in order to become more data driven within your department, project team or company, we have put together a brief comparison of the key features of Tableau & Microsoft PowerBI. These are the market leaders in this field and both have something exciting to offer.

System Components
PowerBI PowerBI Desktop - used to connect to and build the data model and the dashboard views.
PowerBI Pro – subscription licence for PowerBI Desktop that allows users access to Power BI Service.
PowerBI Service - workspace in cloud used to share dashboard views & maintain updates to data sources.
PowerBI for Mobile - app used to log into Power BI Service for access via a phone.
Power BI Premium service – ability to purchase specific server capacity within Power BI Service to ensure additional capacity for large data models or items needing frequent refresh capabilities.
Power BI Report Server - enables an organisation to store and share sensitive analysis on premises behind a firewall; a PowerBI Premium licence is required.
Tableau Tableau Desktop – used to connect to and build the data model and the dashboard views.
Tableau Prep - data preparation component, including ability to automate, monitor & schedule data processing via Conductor.
Tableau Server – workspace either on premises or in cloud used to share dashboard views & maintain updates to data sources.
Tableau Online - secure workspace in cloud used to share dashboard views & maintain updates to data sources hosted by Tableau.
Tableau Public - workspace in cloud used to share dashboard views publicly - often used by journalists or charities etc to display interactive content.
Tableau Mobile - app used to enhance interactivity with Tableau Server or Tableau online when access via a phone.
Tableau CRM - previously called Einstein Analytics, the analytics component of SalesForce CRM incorporating AI-driven reporting.
Data Preparation
PowerBI Power Query software incorporated within the Power BI desktop environment to allow users to shape and tidy data.
Tableau Tableau Prep software included as part of the Creator licence allows users to shape and tidy the data. Also possible to automate, monitor & schedule via the Conductor component available with Tableau Server or Tableau Online deployments.
Data Visualisation
PowerBI Easy to use default viz templates are included in the free & paid for packages. Access to additional visuals from 3rd party suppliers via visual add-ons. Many are free but some incur additional per user costs.
Tableau Tableau is seen as the gold standard for data visualisation capability and its flexibility enables more bespoke, complex analysis and visualisations as standard. For starters (and experienced users too!) there is the very helpful 'Show Me' feature that intuits optimal designs based on the chosen data fields you wish to analyse.
Data Connections
PowerBI The power of both of these BI tools is in being able to pull together data from all parts of the business in whatever form it is currently stored. Microsoft were comparatively late to the game and the number of connections available to PowerBI is currently less than available to Tableau but this number is increasing rapidly.
Tableau Market leader having been established in 2003, the list of supported connections is huge and continually growing. At present Tableau has native connections to over 80 different data sources, plus potential to expand that further via use of ODBC or JDBC connectors plus web data connectors, or Extensions provided by 3rd parties.
Capability Extensions & Integration
PowerBI Both these BI tools have been designed to be integrated as part of a wider platform. PowerBI can interact with Power Apps to extend your dashboards capability in whatever direction a specific project requires.
Tableau Tableau Extensions are web applications that can interact and communicate with Tableau. The ability to incorporate additional capability from other 3rd party suppliers really makes both these tools leaders in their field. Since Tableau's purchase by SalesForce its integration with SalesForce CRM and what was previously called Einstein Analytics has been greatly strengthened.
PowerBI PowerBI Desktop is available to download for free. You can create a dashboard and share it publicly on the web for free.
To be able to collaborate within a private group, a Pro licence is needed for everyone in the group. This provides user access to a shared space within PowerBI Service.
$119.88 per annum per user (Feb 2021)
For smaller businesses / departments doing smaller scale reporting this will be adequate. However, there are limits on the number of data refreshes and the size of data models, designed to ensure that quality of service is maintained across all users in its Power BI Service bubble.
Power BI Premium is an option to consider if your organisation will have many users consuming reports but not creating them, or is likely to be performing complex large-scale projects with surges in demand for capacity. The Premium package offers greater scale and performance than the shared capacity in the Power BI service. It is also a capacity-based licence that does not require individual licences for users who are only viewing the reports. Pro licences are still required for dashboard creators. Priced at $59,940 per year for one unit, plus Pro licence costs.
To store and share sensitive analysis on premises behind a firewall, a PowerBI Premium licence is required.
Tableau Tableau Creator license is required to create trusted data sources & dashboards in Tableau Desktop and provides access to Tableau Server or Tableau online. $840 per annum per user (Feb 2021).
Workbooks can be shared and viewed via a free reader tool, but for optimum collaboration and the ability to run scheduled data updates or live connections, dashboards should be deployed via Tableau Server hosted on-premises or via a dedicated Tableau Online site in the cloud. Access to these is granted via either:
Explorer licence (provides full access to shared dashboards, plus ability to perform additional analysis and create new views in the web browser). $420 per annum per user for Tableau server - $504 per annum per user for Tableau Online (minimum 5 licences per deployment)
Viewer licence (allows full access and interactivity with shared dashboards but cannot create additional views). $144 per annum per user on Tableau Server - $180 per annum per user on Tableau Online (minimum of 100 licences per deployment)
For Tableau Server its also possible to use Core Licences. A core-based licence imposes no constraints on the number of user accounts in Tableau Server. Instead, the licence specifies the maximum number of computer cores on which you can run Tableau Server. Number of cores required dependent on various factors such processing load, concurrent users, complexity of analytics & designs, component services requied, etc
Data Capacity
PowerBI Each Pro user is allocated up to 10 GB of Data in Power BI Service. Each Capacity Unit purchased via the Premium licence provides 100TB storage.
Tableau Tableau Desktop and Tableau Server do not have any enforced row or column limits for the amount of data that can be imported. Physical and theoretical limits are determined by numerous factors, including the following: 1) Hardware resources, such as RAM, CPU, and disk space. 2) The capabilities and limitations of the underlying data source. 3) Perceived performance and usability.
Learning & Support
PowerBI Its compatibility with office 365 cannot be ignored. Familiarity with the functions and layout from the off, makes for an easier initial learner journey. Microsoft have a large number of help documents online to assist newbie PowerBI analysts.
Tableau Key to Tableau’s success has been a vibrant online community, including very active user forums as well as regular webinars, conferences & user groups around the world to network and learn the latest tricks and tips.


Microsoft have a strong offering if you are in the market for a smaller deployment that is focused on lower costs, whilst Tableau is the tool of choice if you are looking for more complex analysis or a more bespoke data solution. However, there is huge overlap in deployment of either of these tools and there are a lot of aspects to take into consideration when deciding on which software to go with.

Moor Consulting can help with your decision making process via a pre-adoption audit of your requirements and existing technology, to ensure that you get the most value from your technology investments.

The comparisons above are not exhaustive, but hopefully they provide a flavour of the most import considerations regarding either product. If you would like to discuss in more detail, learn more about Tableau, or PowerBI or help with deciding which tool would be best for you, please contact us.

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