Microsoft’s documentation explains that there are two types of Power BI user licenses; Pro and Free. There is a lot of confusion around whether or not the “free” licenses are in Power BI in GCC. I tell people (and officially the documentation states) that “No. Power BI Free is not in GCC”. Why then do I see “Power BI (free)” licenses in my tenant? And why do these licenses appear to work for my users?
Why these licenses show up in GCC, I still can’t explain. However, what I can tell you is that these “free” licenses are NOT in GCC. Power BI (free) uses services hosted in the Microsoft Commercial Cloud (i.e. not GCC). In other words, the Power BI (free) licenses you see in your GCC Office 365 Portal are actually licenses for the Commercial version of Power BI.
Where did the (free) licenses come from?
So where did these (free) licenses come from? When a user (ex: “firstname.lastname@example.org”) goes to powerbi.com and tries to use the service, the service checks to see whether they have a license or not. If the user does not have a license, then the service prompts them to sign up. On the back-end, when the user signs up, Power BI (free) licenses are provisioned into the tenant associated with the user’s domain (i.e. “state.gov”). These are the “unlimited” licenses you see in the admin portal (image above). Any subsequent user from the same domain can also sign-up, receive a “free” license from that pool and use Power BI (free). Again, the caveat is that anything these users do with these Free licenses is processed and stored Microsoft’s Commercial Cloud; not GCC.
I wouldn’t allow free licenses if I were you
I strongly discourage the use of the Free licenses by any organization that is in GCC for the following reasons:
- The “free” licenses use our commercial cloud. In other words, they do not use our Government cloud and do not have the same level of accreditation as GCC. If you do allow the use of these licenses you must be very careful to protect against putting data in the commercial cloud that is not supposed to be there.
- There is no migration path from “free” to paid. Anything your users do in “free” would have to be redone if/when they move to Pro in Government Cloud.
- You essentially have two (2) Power BI environments; GCC and Commercial. This can get VERY confusing for end users as they could possibly have access to both.
- Some features will not work correctly in “free”; like publish from Desktop, mobile apps, and data gateways. This also can cause confusion and frustration with your users
For these reasons, I highly discourage the use of Power BI (free) licenses by our GCC customers.
How can I stop the use of Power BI (free)?
As I mentioned, by default when one of your users goes to Power BI, if they don’t have a license, a Power BI (free) license will be provided them automatically. I recommend that you turn this “feature” off.
With a simple PowerShell command you can disable this “feature”. Follow the directions outlined here: https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/office365/admin/misc/power-bi-in-your-organization?redirectSourcePath=%252fen-us%252farticle%252fPower-BI-in-your-Organization-d7941332-8aec-4e5e-87e8-92073ce73dc5&view=o365-worldwide#how-can-i-prevent-my-existing-users-from-starting-to-use-power-bi
After disabling ad-hoc subscriptions, you will need to remove the free licenses from all users that currently have them assigned. This can be done easily in the admin portal. NOTE: users will lose access to any content that they have in the free (i.e. commercial) environment.