By Alison / Last Updated September 5, 2022

Q: Can you backup VMware virtual machine while running?

Virtual machines have become the core of IT systems, and need to be backed up regularly to avoid disastrous data loss in the event of unexpected failures. For users that need to run VMs continuously so as to maximize utility and maintain the business continuity, there's an advanced requirement - backup VMware VMs while runnning (namely hot backup). But can we really do that?

The answer actually depends on how you define "backup". As you may know, snapshots can be taken on running VMs, as well as the snapshot-based hot clone feature on VMware Converter. But what we often emphasize is that snapshots cannot replace backups, nor are they suitable for long-term storage.

As for built-in options that are closer to "backup" in the traditional sense, such us copying VMDK files and exporting VMs to OVF templates, they cannot be done in the power-on state. Therefore, if you want to create independent, full backup without powering off virtual machine, it's usually recommended to use professional VM backup software.

In the following article, I will explain all the available methods (snapshot, hot clone, backup software) to hot backup VMware VMs. With the above knowledge, you can may your choice accordingly.

VMware ESXi logo

Backup VMware virtual machine while running via Snapshot or Clone

In this section I will introduce how to take snapshot of running VM, and how to hot clone VMware ESXi VMs.

Before you begin, please try not to make changes to the VM during backup process, and be aware that even then, hot clone will take longer than cold clone.

How to take snapshot of running VM on VMware ESXi

1. Access to vSphere Web Client, go to Virtual Machines page in the left inventory. Right-click on the name of the VM you want to backup, and select Snapshots > Take Snapshot...

Take snapshot

2. In the pop-up window, provide a Name and optionally a Description for the snapshot. You can Edit them later in Snapshot Manager.

3. There are 2 more options to check:

Snapshot the virtual machine’s memory: record the VM’s memory, allowing you to roll back the VM to the exact running state when the snapshot was taken, but takes longer. If you leave this option unchecked, then the VM will be powered-off after you roll back.

Quiesce guest file system (needs VMware tools installed): pause the state of the processes that are running, or may modify the information stored on disk when the snapshot was taken, to guarantee the consistency. Quiescing and Memory snapshots are mutually exclusive.

Provide name and description for VM

4. Click OK to take the snapshot. You can see the progress in Recent Tasks.

When you restore from a snapshot, you will revert the VM to the state when the snapshot was taken and discard all changes afterwards.

How to hot clone running VMs via VMware vCenter Converter Standalone

VMware vCenter Converter Standalone provides an easy-to-use solution that automates the process of creating VMware virtual machines from physical machines (running Windows and Linux) and other virtual machine formats. With it, you can hot clone running VMs.

Note: VMware vCenter Converter unavailable for download
VMware has removed vCenter Converter from its product download list as a precautionary measure to protect customers from legacy technologies that do not meet security and stability standards. If you have downloaded it before then you can still use it as described in the article, otherwise you may need to find download link from some other sites.

1. Launch VMware Converter Standalone, click Convert machine on the toolbar.

Convert machine

2. In the pop-up Conversion wizard, select the Source Type as Powered-on machine, and specify the server connection information. Click Next.

Select source type

3. On Source Machine page, select the running VM you want to clone. And then click Next.

Select source running machine

4. On Destination System page, select destination type. Here I select VMware infrastructure virtual machine and provide VMware infrastructure server details. Click Next.

Select destination system

5. On Destination Virtual Machine page, provide a Name for the new VM, and click Next.

Name the destination virtual machine

6. On Destination Location page, select a datastore and Virtual Machine version. Click Next.

Select destination datastore

7. On Options page, browse the Current settings and Edit them. Then you can click Next.

8. On Summary page, review the information and click Finish to start VM cloning. You can see the progress in the Recent Tasks interface.

Among the available ways to backup VMware virtual machine while running, snapshots cannot be considered as backups because they do not create an independent copy of the VM and can affect the performance. You can also perform hot clone via VMware converter, but creating a new VM requires virtual disk space, and cannot be easily stored to other locations. It seems that they are both less convenient than independent backup files.

Therefore, to better protect your important business data, professional backup software may also be a good choice.

Reliable and free solution to hot backup VMware VMs while running

In the premise that snapshots cannot properly replace backups, many users choose to use professional backup solutions for better protection over their important virtual machines. Here I will introduce AOMEI Cyber Backup, the free VMware backup software for the following advantages:

 Easy-to-use: It is an agentless backup solution with a very intuitive central console. You can achieve VM backup and restore with simple clicks.
Image-based VM backup: Create independent, full backups that can be used to restore entire, runnable VMs.
Different backup methods: It supports backup types of full/differential/incremental, and enables you to backup virtual machines on both running and off state.
Automatic backup: Create a schedule backup to make it autorun daily/weekly/monthly
Restore from any point: Restore entire VM from any backed up history quickly and easily.

Next I will demonstrate how to hot backup VMware virtual machines while running. Before getting started, you can hit the button to download and enjoy the free edition:

Download FreewareVMware ESXi & Hyper-V
Secure Download

*You can choose to install this VM backup software on either Windows or Linux system.

How to backup VMware ESXi virtual machine while running

To use the freeware for hot backup, please first launch AOMEI Cyber Backup and navigate to Source Device > + Add VMware ESXi to add a host. And then click button next to the host name to Bind Device.

After successful binding, you can start backing up the VMs on these devices at any time.

Add VMware ESXi host

Navigate to Backup Task and click + Create New Task.

Create new backup task

In the pop-up task tab, there are 6 settings to complete a backup task.

1. Task Name. You can leave the default unique task name, or change the name as you like.

2. Backup Type. Select to perform VMware ESXi Backup.

VMware ESXi backup

3. Device Name. Click Select + to select a host and single or multiple VMs you want to backup. Click OK to save.

You can select running VMs to back up in this step. With AOMEI Cyber Backup you can hot backup VMware virtual machines while running without any worries.

Select virtual machine

4. Target. Click Select + to add a destination location for storing the backup.

The used storage paths will be saved in Favorite Storage for easy finding. Besides, you can Create a new local path or Create a new network path in this step.

Select a target

5. Schedule. Click the context to change the default backup schedule.

You can choose to perform full, incremental or differential backup daily, weekly, or monthly, and specify a start time, end time and intervals.

If you only want to perform the backup once, you can turn off the Enable Schedule button.

Set up backup schedule

After the simple 5 setups, now you can click Start Backup.

If you enabled backup schedule, you can select to Add the schedule and start backup now, or Add the schedule only. You can check the backup progress and details in Tasks.

Start Backup

✎While the Free Edition can cover most of VM backup needs, you can also upgrade to enjoy:

Backup cleanup: For better manage the disk space, you can reset the full, incremental, and differential backup retention period, and select to always retain the first full backup of every week, month, season, or year, according to your needs. If you want to keep all backups, you can turn off the Backup Cleanup button, and click OK to save the settings.

Backup cleanup

Summary

For most times, it is not recommended to backup VMware virtual machine while running, because this will result in inconsistency. So currently, there are only 3 available ways to implement this.

However technically speaking, snapshot and hot clone cannot be taken as standard backup methods, because they do not back up VMs as independent backup files. In this regard, maybe a comprehensive VM backup tool can better help you.

Therefore, I recommend you AOMEI Cyber Backup to free back up VMware virtual machines while running. It allows you to store the backup files in local or network paths, and restore the backup to another VM (requires Premium Edition), datastore, or host.

Except for VMware, it also supports Microsoft Hyper-V, allowing you to manage multiple VMs on VMware and Hyper-V with only one tool.