Power BI vs Tableau: What BI Tool Gets the Upper Hand in 2019?
The story of Power BI vs Tableau opposition is as old as the hills. Check out Iflexion’s new comparison of these BI giants to find which tool comes out on top today.
In 2019, Gartner’s Magic Quadrant for Analytics and Business Intelligence Platforms could surprise both buyers and providers of BI consulting. For the first time ever, Microsoft Power BI, a business intelligence tool traditionally lagging a little behind its main market competitor Tableau, seemingly surpassed it.
For those wondering what exactly brought Microsoft’s product to such a success, it might be hard to establish one single factor.
Many might assume that it’s not merely Power BI’s advancement—it’s more about Tableau’s uncertain future. As less than a month ago Salesforce announced its purchase of Tableau for quite a heavy sum, many started to doubt what the future holds for this BI platform.
At the same time, it’s possible that Power BI’s great performance is mostly due to Microsoft’s constant investment into the tool. Indeed, for the last 12 months, Power BI has been continuously releasing monthly updates, improving reporting, modeling, data preparation, and other features. Its advancing functionality and relatively affordable price might have assured Power BI’s success over the rather expensive Tableau.
Whatever the reasons behind these market positions, there is little ground to assume that Tableau will wait long until it fires back. The history of “Tableau vs Power BI” debate is as old as the hills, and it’s unlikely to end so soon.
A Short History of Tableau and Power BI Competition
Released in 2003, Tableau didn’t wait long before becoming the gold standard in data visualization. With its sophisticated functionality, the tool literally ranked second to none. Indeed, Gartner recognized it as a leader among BI tools for seven consecutive years between 2012 and 2019. Besides, it seems like users feel right at home with Tableau: as stated on their website, the tool serves over 70,000 organizations globally.
Speaking of Power BI, it saw the light later, in 2011. Released as a part of the Microsoft pack, it picked up a lot from Excel, resembling a bunch of its add-ons combined with charts and dashboard sharing. As Microsoft continuously enhanced the tool, it shortly became quite a rival to Tableau, going up against it in the Gartner Magic Quadrant.
See for yourself. In 2018, Tableau and Power BI were two clear leaders. Although Tableau still took the lead, it totally kept in step with Microsoft’s product. The situation was quite different in 2015, though; so far, it was the last year Tableau was a sole and clear frontrunner. In 2016 and 2017, Power BI started to pressure the competitor, slowly moving toward its definitive victory in 2019.
As for the global web’s interest in the tools, there is a distinct split in Tableau’s favor. Geographically, Eastern Europe, South America, and Australia seem more engaged with Power BI; Tableau, in turn, strikes a chord with North America and China.
Tableau vs Power BI, Eventually Side-by-Side
All said above might look confusing: the global interest shows that Tableau is more in demand, but the reputable Gartner states Power BI is a hands-down leader. This tendency leaves many wondering whether Tableau is dropping off at all.
To try answering these concerns objectively and to finally bring this issue to the close, we made a side-by-side comparison of the tools. Indeed, we compared the current functionality of Tableau and Microsoft Power BI, looked at the tools’ performance with data, scrutinized their flexibility, availability and usability, and, finally, checked their price lists. This is what we got.
Overall Functionality and Data Visualization
Generally speaking, both Tableau and Power BI have quite the same capabilities. Indeed, it’s pretty hard to detect any bells and whistles in Power BI that miss in Tableau, and vice versa. As visualization and dashboard creation remain the central functions of these tools, both of them deliver more than 20 different types of baseline visualizations, including heat maps, line charts, scatter plots, histograms, packed bubbles, and others.
However, many believe that in terms of data visualization, Tableau is still a cut above Power BI. Due to Tableau’s ten-year head start, the tool has certain tiny but pretty valuable features that are absent in Power BI. For example, Tableau provides opportunities for visualizing geographical data with maps and including graphics in tables. What is more, Tableau allows using different forecasting models.
Regarding dashboard creation, both tools use drag-and-drop: a user simply needs to drag a visualization item and put it in an empty spot on the dashboard. Although Tableau traditionally offers more flexibility in dashboard design, Power BI is no less a handy tool here. Besides, it has quite a valuable feature missing in Tableau: with the focus mode, a user can zoom any visualization they want to see closer. With the visualization zoomed, users can interact with it and, consequently, generate more in-depth insights from their dashboard.
The beauty of Tableau and Power BI is that for basic use neither of them require knowledge of coding languages. Even though Tableau and Power BI provide options for advanced query-based data visualization, any user far from technicalities will manage to get a grasp of what's what in both products.
One of the coolest Power BI’s features, though, is its natural language query. Basically, it's very much like Google for data analytics: you can type something like "how much did customers purchase yesterday?" to get a definitive answer without daunting calculations. Tableau’s “Ask Data” function does practically the same.
The “What if question” feature is Tableau's another frill worth mentioning. Trying to provide for potential outcomes is common in data analytics, and Tableau enables users to ask data such questions as "what if the quota is X, not Y?" or "what if I do this, not that?" Considering the history of the tools, it’s wise to expect Power BI to bring something no less useful soon.
As a time-tested tool, Tableau boasts a large list of external data sources. Indeed, the tool offers support for online analytical processing, big data, and cloud options. It also has Web Connector supporting its integration with Marketo, Microsoft SQL Server, and other systems.
As for Power BI, its range of data sources seems no less sophisticated. Indeed, it’s possible to name at least 70 of them. Although some of Power BI’s connectors might still be in the beta testing stage, it’s typically not a big deal for users as Microsoft continuously releases updates and improves the available data sources.
The greatest thing here is that while adding data from multiple sources, users don’t need to interfere as both tools automatically determine the relationships between the sources.
The tools differ in data point limits. Power BI can use only 3,500 data points at most; if a dashboard contains more, it simply won’t show them. Tableau, on the contrary, has no limits for data points so users can create dashboards of any size.
However, what really makes the tools different is their data extraction performance. Traditionally, Tableau handles large datasets better. According to the numbers provided by DataSelf Analytics, it takes Tableau 10.8 minutes to extract and process a dataset of 29 million records, while Power BI needs no less than 14.2 minutes. Besides, for processing such a dataset, Tableau requires 90% less RAM compared to Microsoft’s tool.
On top of that, Power BI provides each workspace with only 10 GB of data storage. To have more, a user can upgrade to a Premium account and get the maximum storage of 100 TB. Tableau, in turn, doesn’t set the limit for data volume. With its column-based structure, Tableau can easily fit billions of data rows.
Flexibility, Availability, Support
In practice, Power BI’s biggest pitfall is its tight integration with the Microsoft stack and Microsoft Azure in particular. Such integration might be very convenient for active users of Microsoft’s enterprise-grade products. At the same time, it makes Power BI not very flexible in deployment. For users needing to use Power BI independently of the Microsoft stack, this tight integration can become a stumbling block.
The good news is that Power BI provides the option of using it on its own, albeit at a price. Power BI’s more expensive Premium account offers an on-premise solution but requires installing Power BI Server and SQL Server regardless.
Tableau proves to be more flexible—one can install the Tableau on any Windows-run device and use it without Microsoft SQL Server.
As for availability, Power BI is a SaaS product with an on-premise option available only in the Premium license. Tableau also requires users to purchase a subscription to install the product either on-premises or in the cloud.
Both tools are available as desktop, web, and mobile versions (for iOS and Android). They don’t have any restrictions regarding browsers and platforms and can be installed and leveraged wherever a user needs them.
Both Microsoft Power BI and Tableau have extensive knowledge bases, where users can find answers to their questions arising during use. However, Tableau seems to offer more comprehensive support: it enables users to contact the staff by phone or email and submit a support ticket on the customer portal. As for Power BI’ users, they’ll also get help, but maybe with a little time lag. That’s because Power BI’s premium users have priority over those having a free account, and as a result, usually receive faster support.
Community forums, guides, YouTube videos, and online learning courses are also among the materials users can turn to while exploring both Power BI and Tableau.
Those users in love with Microsoft products and familiar with their interface will definitely take a liking to Power BI. It is especially true after the tool’s latest update in June, as Microsoft has made Power BI look and work much more like a Microsoft application.
Indeed, the tool has new Office-like panes, footer, icons, and colors. Microsoft also promises to add a new default theme for reporting and an “object grouping” feature in September 2019. The latter strongly reminds PowerPoint’s function of grouping objects on the report page, moving and resizing them as containers.
Unlike Microsoft Power BI with its well-known Office interface, Tableau is a completely original product, which might make it look less intuitive. However, its menu-dependent interface with status bars, panes, and shelves still proves to be very user-friendly, contextual, and responsive.
In its upcoming update, Tableau plans to make the tool even more convenient adding the favorite from gallery feature and modifying the new search results page.
When it comes to price, it’s practically impossible to avoid the fact that Power BI and Tableau are two different stories here. Although it provides paid licenses, Power BI might be used free of charge. Tableau, in turn, is a paid only tool with no free versions. Here are more details.
As stated above, Power BI’s desktop version is a free tool, available for download without any additional charges. According to Gartner, the tool’s price greatly contributes to its popularity: more than 15% of the referred customers identified the price as the reason for selecting Power BI.
For users in need of self-service BI, a bigger data capacity or specifically an on-premise solution, it’s possible to upgrade to Power BI Pro or Power BI Premium. However, that costs money.
Power BI Pro provides a 60-day free trial and offers such additional features as data governance and content packaging and distribution. At the same time, Power BI Premium’s main advantage is in its extensive storage capacity. This license also supports allocation and management of compute resources.
Tableau's price is traditionally considered the tool's biggest disadvantage. There are no free licenses, except for a short 14-day trial for users still in doubt whether the tool is worth its money.
After the trial, a user has to pay, and Tableau offers three options.
The Creator plan includes Tableau’s full functionality and can be deployed on-premises and in the cloud. Tableau Explorer provides opportunities for self-service analytics without data prepping and cleaning. As for the Viewer plan, it targets users in need of ready-made visualizations. To purchase it, an enterprise needs at least 100 viewers, which makes it a better option for mid- or large-sized businesses.
In a way, comparing Power BI and Tableau really reminds the good old “Pepsi or Coke” dilemma: two seemingly identical products continuously cause the debate over what’s better.
Indeed, Tableau and Power BI are competing for a good reason. Both tools are very powerful and reputable, which makes wavering between them somewhat hard. However, while choosing, it’s crucial to keep in mind a couple of things:
- If you are looking for a decent tool capable of robust data visualization, dashboard creation, and data analysis, either tool will be a stellar choice. However, Tableau still has more versatile visualization and data analytics.
- Tableau costs a bundle. For today, it requires an implementation budget of $50K at the very least. So, if your enterprise is going to leverage the tool actively and is ready to invest in BI, Tableau is the right choice.
- For companies that need good data visualization and reporting tool but aren’t ready to sink money into it, Power BI is a perfect option. Besides, as Microsoft is heavily investing in its BI tool, it’s quickly closing the functional gaps and gaining ground on Tableau.
- Power BI’s Premium license is great for working with large datasets and includes the on-premise deployment option. With these features, Power BI becomes as powerful as Tableau yet loses its “free of charge” benefit.
That said, there are few reasons to think Tableau is going through tough times. Yes, Power BI fortifies its positions, but Tableau keeps abreast of it. What is more, now that it’s acquired by Salesforce but continues to operate under its own brand, Tableau is unlikely to lose ground. With Salesforce's vast amount of data and BI expertise, the tool has a chance to accelerate its growth.
Yet, that is just a tiny glimpse into the future. As for today, Power BI and Tableau stay opponents that both deserve their users’ trust, and it’s too early to announce either of them an ultimate winner.
Iflexion’s team of experts is here to give you a helping hand.
Business Intelligence software rivals QlikView and Tableau have been battling for pole position for over fifteen years. Check out our comparison study to find out but which now has the edge for the modern enterprise.FULL ARTICLEPublished: July 02, 2019Updated: August 13, 2019By Martin Anderson
Find out about the ecommerce business intelligence tools to keep an eye on in 2020, and learn more about their features.FULL ARTICLEPublished: February 12, 2020Updated: May 08, 2020By Ekaterina Pioryshkina
Looking for an open-source machine learning library? This guide explains the pitfalls and advantages of two of the most popular libraries from Google’s and Facebook's AI portfolios.FULL ARTICLEPublished: May 23, 2019Updated: October 23, 2019By Martin Anderson
WANT TO START A PROJECT?