Best Practices to Backup Virtual Machine for Free

This article will reveal everything related to backing up virtual machine, including reasons, issues to consider, VM Snapshot and a step by step guide.


by Delia Updated on November 7, 2022

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Why Backup Virtual Machine

Virtual machine provides customers a complete operating system based on virtual hardware, which is similar to physical computers. And as the number of server virtualization grows, backing up virtual machines has become an increasingly important issue. Here are two main reasons:

  • Avoid critical data loss. Suppose you have hundreds of virtual machines but never backed up your virtual machines, your loss will be immeasurable in case of system crash or other accidents such as virus attack, disk failure, hardware failure, etc.

  • Reduce business downtime. A fast and reliable disaster recovery solution is essential for your business. If your virtual machine is unavailable and cannot be recovered in the short term, the business loss could be incalculable.

Host-level vs Guest-level Virtual Machine Backup

Backup is a very broad concept, and when it comes to virtual machine backups, we can generally divide them into host-level backup and guest-level backup (or image-based backup and file-based backup). Simply put, host-level backup captures files, application data and virtual hardware. Guest-level backup, on the other hand, protects files and applications by treating the virtual machine as physical assets.

Both of these forms have their advantages and disadvantages. Host-level backup works at the hypervisor level and backs up entire VMs, including their configurations, making management and recovery easier. Guest-level backup is similar to physical machine backup and requires an agent to be installed on each VM, but it allows you to select what to back up specifically, such as individual files.

Here I'll focus on a Guest-level backup method - it may be more economical in smaller virtual environments. If you want to learn more methods, please refer to this virtual machine backup guide

backup virtual machine

Is VM Snapshot Equivalent to VM Backup?

Snapshots (or restore points) can capture state, data and hardware configuration of a running virtual machine, so you can quickly and conveniently restore virtual machine to its previous state. The data files are stored as .Avhd files and it will take up much storage space if you create multiple snapshots. 

However, VM snapshots work in a "chain". It relies on the base virtual disk infrastructure and delta disks in place to reflect the current virtual machine state. What's worse, if any of the disk in the chain is damaged, the whole chain becomes damaged. 

Also, VM snapshots have some disadvantages. First, you cannot go back to the current state of your machine. Second, you cannot simply restore individual files, or data/system partition, it's limited to entire machine. Third, increasingly number of snapshots make LUN to be locked and decrease the performance of a VM.

Therefore, snapshots can be used as a means of protecting VMs, but should be used in conjunction with other VM backup solutions.

Snapshot or backup?

Best Practices to Backup Virtual Machine for Free

We already know that snapshots are not a substitute for backups and there are no traditional backup options come with VMware or Hyper-V, so most of users would choose professional backup tools to protect virtual machine data.

Here I will introduce a guest-level backup freeware AOMEI Backupper Standard. It can be installed on a Virtual Machine to back up the operating system, configuration files, installed programs, personal data, etc. With it, you can backup disk to physical computer or other computers via network. Also, you can backup virtual machine to external hard drive, such as, USB flash drive, HDD, or SSD.

Different from snapshot, the backup created with AOMEI Backupper has the following advantages:

  • First of all, it can backup and compress everything on the virtual machine to a small image file.

  • Second, it can be used to restore your system or files as needed

  • Third, it can have multiple copies if you schedule backup virtual machine. 

  • Fourth, it can be stored on different locations, such as, physical drive, external hard drive, cloud drive, NAS, etc. 

  • Last but not least, it does not rely on any part of the production infrastucture.

  • In addition, the usability and security is guranteed, so you can encrypt backup, compress backup, split backup, check backup integrity, manage backup disk space.

You could download the freeware to try it out.

Download Freeware Win 10/8.1/8/7/XP
Secure Download

*If you want to run it on Windows Server, please choose the specialized Server edition.

Step by Step Guide: Backup Virtual Machine Effortlessly

With AOMEI Backupper, you could try the following two virtual machine backup strategies:

>> Backup Virtual Machine as physical machine: A virtual machine is based on a physical machine, but works exactly the same as it and in isolation, you can use it to do anything what a physical machine can do and more. To backup it as physical machine, you just need to install a backup software on the virtual machine and schedule backup it.

>> Backup VMDK files: VMware store each VM as a VM file (typically a VMDK file), so you can choose to backup these files to protect your data. It does not consume significant system resource and take a lot of time. And the backup is performed and resourced by the ESXi server.

If you want a schedule automated way for specific data in virtual machine, try the first way. If you want an simple method that does not affect the performance penalty on the target machine, try the second.

Method 1: Backup VM as a Physical Machine

This is the first VMware backup strategy to backup Virtual Machine Vmware/Hyper V/Virtualbox with free backup software. The premise is to download and install AOMEI Backupper Standard on your virtual machine, and connect your target drive to virtual machine in advance.

Step 1. Launch this software, click Backup and Disk Backup. Also, you can backup system, partition or personal data of your virtual machine. 

Disk Backup

Step 2. Click Add Disk to select the disk you want to backup.

Add Disk

Step 3. Select a destination to save the backup image.

>> To backup to a physical computer or other computers, please click the inverted triangle button    and Select a network location, then pitch on Add Network Location and type required info, including IP address, username and password. Then, select a shared folder as destination path. 

>> To backup to external hard drive, please click where the arrow point and click This PC to find your disk. 

Select Backup Destination

Step 4. Click Schedule to set automatic backup per day, week, or month. Then, run the backup task by clicking Start Backup.


◕ To prevent unwanted access, please encrypt the backup image during the process. To make it, click "Options" and "Enable encryption for backups".
◕ To check backup integrity, please click the Settings icon during the backup process and tick "Check backup integrity on completion".
◕ To ensure everything is included during the backup task, you can select "Backup Mode" and then "Use Microsoft VSS" under the Backup Service. And you can backup vmware virtual machine while running. 

◕ To backup only changed data and newly installed applications, it's suggested to use daily incremental backup or daily differential backup. And you can change backup interval as you like. Please at least upgrade to AOMEI Backupper Professional to enjoy these feature.
◕ To backup the disk without interrupting the use of computer, you could consider using "Wake up the computer to run scheduled task" at the bottom. Please set the backup time to off-peak hours, such as, midnight.
◕ To prevent insufficient disk space, you need to delete old backup images regularly with Backup Scheme (supported by AOMEI Backupper Professional). 

Method 2: Backup VM Files in Physical Machine

This is the second VMware backup strategy. Here we take VM as a file in a real computer that contains many .vmdk files. These .vmdk files can be backed up quickly, so it is easier. You can choose to copy the entire virtual machine folder and paste it to another folder. But it will be time-consuming if the file is very large.

If you don't want to waste time, you can try to backing up files with a free backup software, AOMEI Backupper Standard, for example. It can complete this process easily and quickly. And It can avoid any unwanted access by compressing it to an image file and require the image file to be restored in advance. And you don't need to run virtual machine.

Before you start any operation, please make sure the virtual machine is in a power off state. You can check the status by a virtual machine, such as, VMware.

Step 1. Launch AOMEI Backupper Standard. Then, click Backup and File Backup in turn.

File Backup

Step 2. Click Add Folder to select the folder contains all items of your virtual machine. 

Add Folder

Step 3. Select a destination path for your VM files. It can be any detected storage in Windows. 

Select Destination Path For Vm Files

Step 4. Set schedule backup and click Start Backup.

Backup Virtual Machine Files

Note: The above methods are also applied to VMware Workstation backup virtual machine, backup virtual machine hyper V, backup virtual machine VirtualBox, and so on.

Written in the end

That's everything related to backing up virtual machine. With the help of AOMEI Backupper Standard, you can backup VM in simple steps. Even more, you can customize the backup interval and backup it to any storage device, such as, external device, USB, CD/DVD, NAS etc.  It's easy, isn't it? Try it now.

In addition, it still has more useful features, including scheduled incremental or differential backup, event triggers, USB plug in, create bootable media, PXE boot tool, universal restore, encrypt, and more.

Delia · Editor
Delia owns extensive experience in writing technology-related blog posts, and has been a part of AOMEI since 2020 to provide expertise in data security and disaster recovery. She works with Windows operating systems, SQL databases, and virtualization platforms such as VMware and Hyper-V, specializing in troubleshooting and advising on data protection and migration.