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Microsoft 365

Updates for Excel Services and BI in SharePoint 2016 on-premises

If your organization enables Excel Services for SharePoint to enable BI, we have some updates on what has changed with SharePoint Server 2016 BI. Updates include architecture changes to the SharePoint-based on-premises Microsoft BI Stack and how you can benefit from upgrading your BI farms to SharePoint Server 2016, SQL 2016 and Office Online Server with Excel Online. We also examine various aspects, such as upgradeability, backward compatibility and licensing. For more information, please read “Deploying SQL Server 2016 PowerPivot and Power View in SharePoint 2016.”

First, let’s look at the history of Excel web solutions on-premises:

From the diagram above, you can see that Excel Services has evolved from an optional add-on application for SharePoint Server 2007 to an inherent part of Office Online Server for on-premises. In this newest 2016 release, Excel Services capabilities are moving to Office Online Server (which used to be called Office Web Apps Server) and as a result Excel Services is being replaced with Office Online Server.

Here is a summary of the main benefits brought to you by moving to Office Online Server and the latest and greatest version of Excel in your BI deployment. Many of these benefits are not limited to BI scenarios, but are valuable in other setups as well.

  • More Excel features—Additional features include the ability to search in Pivot Table filters, number formatting, ability to view and insert comments and the addition of Excel JS APIs.
  • Robust, unified deployment—You can deploy it with other Office Web apps. Use it for viewing, editing and BI.
  • Basic Excel BI capabilities with SharePoint Standard CAL—Use data model and/or access external data. Refresh and save your refreshed workbooks.
  • Evergreen service—Always stay up to date, get many of the same features and improvements as Office 365.

Here is a look at the architecture of the Microsoft BI Stack 2016 for on-premises:


Key facts

The following list summarizes key facts about our on-premises offering in Microsoft BI Stack 2016 release.

  • All Excel web functionality including BI, viewing and editing of workbooks is now under one roof. Capabilities that were previously provided by Excel Services are now provided by Excel Online in Office Online Server.
  • Office Online Server is now a prominent member of the MS BI Stack. It requires a machine of its own. Deploy Office Online Server with Excel Online and bind it to SharePoint Server for SharePoint BI features to work.
  • SharePoint Server 2016 performance and scalability are no longer impacted by Excel Services footprint. Instead, Excel Online is deployed and scaled alongside other Office web applications using an Office Online Server farm.
  • Workbooks created in previous versions of Excel desktop client are fully supported and can be published.
  • Working with a data model requires SSAS (in PowerPivot for SharePoint mode) but doesn’t require PowerPivot for Sharepoint add-in. The latter is available only with SharePoint eCAL.
  • If possible, we recommend upgrading the on-premises environment before upgrading desktop clients. This will allow new workbooks taking advantage of new features of Excel 2016 to be fully supported by the BI farm.
  • MS BI Stack 2016 on-premises should be upgraded bottom-up. To leverage advanced SharePoint BI features provided by its add-ons, on-premises MS BI Stack 2016 should be deployed in its entirety. Otherwise, if you only need the ability to access external data (e.g., use data model, connect to OLAP/Tabular DBs), it will be sufficient to upgrade your SSAS (in PowerPivot for SharePoint mode) and deploy the Office Online Server. SharePoint Server itself does not have to be upgraded in such a case.
  • Office Online Server is evergreen. Meaning, it is now possible to keep end-users on the latest and greatest functionality through frequent upgrade cadence. A lot of Office 365 improvements will now find their way to your on-premises environment.

SharePoint Server 2016 licensing also incurred changes. First, SharePoint Server 2016 no longer offers the Foundation SKU. It now comes only in Standard and Enterprise SKUs, with Standard CAL and Enterprise CAL licenses. Second, licensing requirements for some SharePoint Insights features have been relaxed. Namely, accessing external data, refreshing and working with a Model is now possible with all SharePoint SKUs, but advanced capabilities such as PowerPivot for SharePoint add-in, Reporting Services add-in, Excel Web Parts and ODC file support will still require SharePoint Enterprise CAL.

Key facts

The following list summarizes key facts about our SharePoint Server 2016 licensing changes:

  • Refresh, OLAP connectivity and Data Model interactivity are now supported in all SharePoint SKUs.
  • SQL licenses still apply, where necessary. (There is no change in this respect.)

With the new SharePoint 2016 release and Office Online Server, we’ve completed the move toward a unified architecture for viewing and editing Excel workbooks using Office Online Server. Moving to the new architecture provides users with access to the latest and greatest Excel features and adds new BI-specific features, such as search in PivotTable filters, and helps IT unify the deployment around one farm of Excel servers instead of two. In addition, we’ve simplified the licensing model, and you can expect Excel to be evergreen and keep getting new capabilities on a regular basis.

Please tell us what you think by commenting below.

—The Excel team

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