ABF Backups

Power BI Sentinel offers a robust automated backup solution for your Power BI reports, we simplify this process while ensuring consistent and reliable PBIX backups. However, there are certain limitations inherent to the PBIX format and some less-known scenarios that might cause you to wonder, "Why are my backups failing?"

This is where ABF backups come into play. While formally known as SQL Server Analysis Services Backup Files (ABF), this can also be used to back up Power BI datasets in scenarios where the typical PBIX format is not suitable.

ABF's allow dataset only backups to be taken directly from your premium workspaces and are sent to an azure storage account that has been linked to each workspace.


When to Utilise ABF Backups

ABF backups are not only a technical work around, but they can also offer significant value for organizations with stringent data residency requirements. In such scenarios, data must never leave the tenant's boundaries. Power BI Sentinel can leverage ABF backups to address this need, by triggering the Power BI tenant to export backups directly to a configured Azure Storage Account. This will mean that thre backups never leave your tenant, and nothing will be processed by us, Sentinel purely acts as a backup scheduling engine.

There are however several scenarios where ABF must be used as an alternative to PBIX backups. Datasets (semantic models) configured to use the "large storage format" files are actuall stored as SQL Server Analysis Services Cube files within Power BI, and they require an ABF backup to support this file type.

ABF backup is also a requirement for when reports are created directly in the Power BI service, or via Power BI deployment pipelines. Restrictions in the Power BI service mean that any reports created on the power bi service or deployed via pipelines do not have a PBIX attributed to them, and they cannot therefore be downloaded as a PBIX file.

Datasets utilizing incremental refresh also require ABF functionality to back up the underlying dataset, and cannot be downloaded as a PBIX.

Summary of ABF Scenarios

  • Strict Data Policies or Sensitive Data
  • Large Dataset Storage Format Semantic Models
  • Reports created via the PowerBI Service
  • Datasets deployed via pipelines
  • Datasets using incremental refresh
  • Datasets modified via XMLA

Restoring ABF Backups


When you use Power BI Sentinel to restore an ABF backup, it will overwrite the dataset (semantic model) with the backed up version, effectively rolling back the dataset.

It's crucial to note that ABF backups only capture the underlying dataset. Report visuals and formatting are not included in the backup. Potentially leaving hours of report building to rebuild the front end pages…

Fortunately, Power BI Sentinel offers a clever solution: visual-only backups. Power BI Sentinel not only triggers the ABF dataset backup, but can also back up the report visuals as a 'Direct Connection' PBIX file.

Once the ABF has been restored, you can then download the visual only PBIX to Power BI Desktop and re-publish this in live connection mode to the cloud dataset. This will then give you a fully restored report and dataset.

What if you don't want to roll back the dataset?

You can either access the raw ABF file from your Azure Storage Explorer or Azure portal, or you can use SQL Server Management Studio to select a Sentinel backup and restore it with a new name, alongside your live dataset.

Restrictions & Pre-Requesits

Before utilizing ABF backups, you'll need to configure a dedicated Azure Storage Account and link this to each workspace where ABF backups need to be taken. This account serves as the destination for storing your ABF backup files. This is a manual process but needs only completing once.

Information on this setup can be found here: https://learn.microsoft.com/en-us/power-bi/transform-model/dataflows/dataflows-azure-data-lake-storage-integration

We recommend creating a new storage account for ABF backups, separate to the storage account used for PBIX backups, to increase your security. This is because they have different firewall requirements.

Once the storage account is configured, ABF can be enabled in the Sentinel portal. There are 3 options to select here.

  1. is to enable ABF in the event that a PBIX fails
  2. is to force ABF on all backups. ABF becomes the default backup format and PBIX backups will not be attempted
  3. is to also request a visual backup to be taken of the report visuals.
Portal ABF

The only platform based restriction to using ABF backups is that they require a Premium or Fabric workspace to function. This is a Microsoft limitation within Power BI itself.

Should you have any questions on ABF backups or anything else about using Power BI Sentinel within your organization, don’t hesitate to email us at Help@PowerBISentinel.com, or use our contact form here.