Upgrading Power BI Desktop Models to Tabular

One great feature of Microsoft BI has been the continuum from personal BI to organizational BI. For example, a business user can start small with an Excel Power Pivot model which IT can restore at some point to a scalable Tabular model. In fact, if you know Microsoft personal BI (Power Pivot or Power BI Desktop), you already know 80% (or even more) of SSAS Tabular.

Unfortunately, currently there isn’t a supported way to restore Power BI Desktop models to Tabular or create a Tabular project from a pbix file. The reason is that because Power BI Desktop is changing on a monthly basis, it’s ahead of Tabular and currently Power BI Desktop doesn’t support backward compatibility. However, the following approach worked for me to upgrade Power BI Desktop to Tabular 2016.

  1. Power BI Desktop has a Tabular child process which is the workhorse for all data crunching you do on the desktop. This process uses a dynamic port. As a first step, you need to find that port. The easiest way to do so is to run Windows Resource Monitor (in the Windows search bar, type resmon). Then, flip to the Network tab, and in the Listing Ports section, find “msmdsrv.exe”, and then note the port number. In my case, I have a few instances of msmdsrv because I run dedicated instances of Multidimensional and Tabular but I found that the PBI Tabular instance ports start above 10000 so it should be easy to identify the instance.


  2. Now that you have the port number, open SSMS 2016 (you can download it from here), and connect to that Tabular instance, using the syntax: localhost:<port number>. For example, to connect to the highlighted instance, in SSMS I’ll Connect ð Analysis Services, and then enter localhost:42030.

TIP: You can also use the SQL Profiler to connect to the PBI Tabular instance and do profiling using SQL Profiler, as Adam Saxton demonstrates here, or using DAX Studio, which by the way automatically enumerates the Power BI Desktop instances.

  1. Right-click the database (the database name is a guid), and click Script ð Script Database As ð CREATE TO ð Clipboard. This will export the database schema in the new JSON format.
  2. Connect to the Tabular instance that will host the database, and create a new Analysis Services XMLA Query, and paste the script. One of the changes you want to make here is to rename the database by change the name element at the beginning of the file so you don’t end up with the same guid for the database name.
  3. Execute the script to create the new database. If you get an error, you should be able to change the script and strip code for features that Tabular doesn’t support. Now that we have JSON-based schema, making such changes should be much easier.

Now you can use SSDT to create a project by importing the Tabular database and continue making changes to the project.

  • Nujcharee Haswell

    I got an error when running the script at the position where square bracket occurs “[“. What do you mean wby “change the script to unsupported features”? Many thanks

    • Prologika

      You have to deploy this to SSAS 2016. By unsupported features I meant that in time, Power BI Desktop will get ahead of Tabular 2016. Then, you strip out these features from the script file that cause the script to fail.