August 2017 Power BI Report Server preview
The August 2017 Power BI Report Server preview added an Excel Workbook integration and additional data sources

Microsoft added muscle to Power BI Report Server (PBRS), its on-premises self-service analytics and enterprise reporting solution, in the latest preview release.

The report server is already a powerful analytics and business intelligence app, but this version added support for data sources outside of those provided by SQL Server Analysis Services.

Power BI Adds Data Sources

According to a blog post by Christopher Finlan, senior program manager for Power BI, in addition to the new data sources, this version allows users to view and interact with Excel Workbooks.

Connecting to additional data sources requires no special configuration:

“With this August 2017 preview, users can create Power BI reports in Power BI Desktop that connect to any data source, and publish their reports to Power BI Report Server,” Finlan explained in the post.

“There's no special configuration required to enable this functionality — simply install and configure the August 2017 preview version of Power BI Report Server on your machine.”

Power BI Report Server

Microsoft released Power BI Report Server in May to provide a place for users to host reports that have been created internally with existing analytics and intelligence applications.

In June, Microsoft added an integration with SQL Server Analysis Services data sources, which provided the ability to create and publish Power BI reports on premises.

It was a big move, but not enough. According to Finlan, the company received repeated requests from users to extend the number of data sources. The result is the August Preview release.

“The June 2017 version of Power BI Report Server gave users the ability to create and publish Power BI reports on-premises by connecting to SQL Server Analysis Services data sources,” Finlan's post read.

“Since then, we’ve heard repeatedly from customers about their need to publish Power BI reports created against other data sources and are pleased to give you an early preview of our progress.”

Power BI With Excel Workbooks

The Power BI integration with Excel Workbooks gives users a single location to publish, view and interact with their self-service content.

The Excel viewing feature requires a separate download of the Office Online Server software. It gives access to workbooks that contain a PowerPivot data model and have a live connection to SQL Server Analysis Services data sources.

Microsoft has been pulling the knot between Power BI and other apps a lot tighter. It has also recently announced the release of the Power BI solution template for Microsoft Dynamics 365 for Field Service.

Microsoft Keeps up With Power BI Releases

Earlier this year, Gartner named Microsoft a Leader in its Magic Quadrant (registration required) for Business Intelligence and Analytics Platforms, giving it top marks in terms of vision.

While Gartner noted Power BI enables users to author complex data mashups involving on-premises data sources easily. And while its customer reference scores placed it in the top quartile for ease of use and complexity of analysis, its pricing, which is putting downward pressure on the market, is also a major selling point.

However, the report also pointed out that customers often use Microsoft Power BI in combination with other BI tools, which is not surprising for a newer product with gaps in functionality.

Since the report's February release, Microsoft has released a number of updates, releasing the first preview in May, the general release in June and now this second preview.

“In a market that is constantly evolving with new innovations, leaders must demonstrate they are focused not only on current execution, but have a robust roadmap for the future. Microsoft engineers, partners and users collaborate to continually upgrade Power BI, so its tools get better every day,” Miguel Martinez, Power BI senior product marketing manager wrote in response to the Quadrant report.

While it is unclear what that roadmap will be, the release of the August preview shows Microsoft moving forward at a brisk clip.