***UPDATE – FULL: Wave one filled up fast, no need for 48 hours. We actually went over 100 during the night and hit about 130. We’re letting all of those in, but are taking down the signup form now.

Stay tuned for news about Wave Two Smile


If Ebenezer Scrooge Were Alive Today, He’d Use PowerPivot.  And He’d Love This Post.
(Believe it or not this is an original image I commissioned ten years ago)

Taking my “High Priest” Role VERY Seriously

There are a few themes that I just keep hammering on, month after month.  Most of those revolve around the stunning new future opening up for Excel Pros.  I believe every thing I say about that stuff.  It is REAL.

One of the biggest and most transformational changes is this:  taking your workbooks to the web.  Workbooks were being emailed around back when Roxette topped the worldwide music charts.  PowerPivot workbooks published to a server are a very, VERY different experience, one that inspires MUCH more respect from the person consuming them.

Short Version: Free Forever for Lighter Workloads

This week, Pivotstream is launching something that I’ve been dreaming about for a long time: a way for you (yes YOU, dear reader) to harness the power of PowerPivot server (publishing workbooks as interactive web apps)… for free.

Not a trial. This is more of a Dropbox-style model where lighter usage is completely free, and you only pay if you want more capacity.  I want to remove any barriers I can so that you can experience what I’m talking about (without bankrupting my company of course), and I think we’ve figured out how to do that.  But before I get into details, let me show you something.

Just Add Upload

Thanks to a recent focus group I recruited here on the blog, I learned that many people expect there to be some sort of intensive conversion process – it seems like you would need to put a lot of work into a workbook before it becomes an interactive web application like the ones on our demo site.

So I recorded a video showing that it’s much, MUCH simpler than that.  Just upload Smile

Upload and Share – Short Video Illustrating an Even Shorter Process Smile
(I recommend watching in HD and Fullscreen)

Benefits to Excel Pro

I didn’t have time to cover this in such a short video, so here’s a quick table comparing the old way to the new way, through the eyes of you, the Excel Pro:

Distributing Spreadsheets:  Comparing Email and File Shares to the Web (Via PowerPivot Server, such as Cloud PowerPivot)

Distributing Spreadsheets:  Comparing Email and File Shares to the Web
(Via a PowerPivot Server, such as Cloud PowerPivot)

Details of the Free Version:  What You Get

Here’s what you will get as part of the free version:

  1. A password-protected site that can only be accessed by you and your consumers (your chosen audience).
  2. A site with a custom name on our CloudPowerPivot.com domain, and one whose appearance you can customize in simple ways.
  3. Up to five accounts – two for you (you get Admin and Consumer roles) plus three Consumer accounts for other people.
  4. Up to 20 MB of total workbook capacity – this might not sound like much but with PowerPivot’s compression, you can fit a LOT of data into 20 MB.  This is not driven by our storage costs – it’s essentially free to store 20 MB of data these days.  Total workbook size is a good indication of how much strain is placed on the servers by your workbooks – primarily RAM usage, but also CPU.  It’s not perfect of course, but it’s something simple that everyone can understand and predict.  (Current O365 trials, by comparison, limit you to 10 MB per workbook – a similar but slightly different limit).
  5. Unlimited usage – upload new workbook versions as often as you want.  Click slicers as often as you want.  Have a slicer-clicking party, every day.  Use it to death.  We do not plan to meter usage, just your number of users and total workbook size.
  6. No credit card required – this isn’t designed as a “gotcha.”  If you exceed your 20 MB cap for instance, we just refuse to let the workbook upload.  It’s not like you can stumble over the limit and then receive a surprise bill.
  7. No expiration date – again, this is not a “30-day trial” or something like that.  You get a fully functional site that does not go away.  I want you to try this out in useful ways.  Professionally, semi-professionally, or even as a serious hobby or potential side business.  You can’t do that if you’re afraid we’re going to pull the plug.
  8. All of Pivotstream’s platform features – the video above shows off MANY improvements above and beyond the default software that Microsoft sells.  It’s a much simpler, cleaner experience end to end.  Plus, our servers are the fastest in the business – you won’t find servers anywhere that process slicer clicks faster than what you will see with Cloud PowerPivot.
  9. Support for PowerPivot V2, Excel 2010 workbooks – our V1 server farm is being retired and the 2013 server farm is still in early testing.  So this offer supports only the Excel 2010, PowerPivot V2 workbooks.  We’ll add 2013 sometime early next year.
  10. Power View V1 Support – since this is PowerPivot V2, that means you get Power View V1 as well.  Power View V2 will come along with the 2013 release.

“OK Rob What Are You Leaving Out?”

Yes, there are two capabilities that we cannot offer for free because they cost us too much to provide:

  1. Autorefresh – today this requires a lot of data “plumbing” to be created first.  AND it consumes a lot more resources on our servers than normal interactive usage.  We’re working to change both of those.  But for now, this is only available to paying customers.
  2. Custom domains – you get a custom site name on our domain for free, but if you want to be Analytics.BobsFancySkeet.com, we can only do that for you as a paying customer.

“How Much Does it Cost to Upgrade?”

If you do eventually decide you want more capacity, we want that to be something you can cheaply do – no big first steps.  Something measured in double digits per month for the smallest upgrade packages.

This is very much a domain where there is no good precedent – we are discovering the right thing much more than we are deciding it.  In other words we’re blazing trails here Smile

(There’s been internal debate as to whether we should share our current tentative thinking on pricing, so I’ve now edited this section of the post a few times.  The important thing I want you to know is that the first “step” for upgrading is something I want to keep in the $30-$40 per month range if we can).

First Wave is Limited to the First 100 Signups (or First 48 Hours)

We have tremendous capacity on our cloud servers, and we could open this up to an unlimited number of signups, but we’re going to do this in waves for another reason, which I will be completely honest about:

The software licenses, hardware, electricity, and manpower required to operate our cloud platform all cost money of course.  If we found ourselves serving a million free sites and no one was paying, that would be…  bad.

And it is very, very important to me that we never “retract” the free sites we’ve granted.  If we give you a free site, I want that to be yours forever.  When it comes to keeping that promise, it’s much safer to do this in waves.  If we grant 100 (or even 200) free sites, and no one ever converts, we haven’t hurt ourselves very much.

On the flip side, we do NOT need everyone to convert to paying in order for this to remain viable.  In fact, we don’t even need a majority.  I don’t want to disclose the exact “break even” percentage, but trust me, I’ve modeled this a LOT in Excel Smile

Signup Forms Go Live Tomorrow (Wednesday), 4 PM US Eastern Time

I think we will activate the signup forms tomorrow at 4:00 PM US Eastern time.  Watch this space for an announcement.  By delaying one day like this, everyone will have a chance to see today’s post before the 100 site window opens up.  It will be first come, first served until we have the first 100, or until 48 hours has gone by, whichever comes first.  Only one site per organization, please.  If this goes well, we’ll add another wave shortly.