By Alison / Last Updated April 24, 2022

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.

However, in general, you cannot create an independent full VM backup without first powering off it. For example, you can neither copy VMDK files from datastore, nor export VM while it is running. This is inconvenient because VMs often need to be run continuously to maximize utility and maintain the business continuity, especially for enterprises.

There are few ways to back up VMware virtual machine while running. For example, as you may know, snapshots can be taken while the VM is running. Also, based on snapshot mechanism, the hot clone feature on VMware Converter and backup feature on professional backup software can also be used to hot backup VMware VM.

Here I will introduce how to perform hot backup of VMware VMs in these 3 ways.

VMware ESXi logo

How to perform hot backup on VMware ESXi

In this section I will introduce how to take snapshot and hot clone of the VMware ESXi VM while it is running. 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 VMware ESXi VM

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 perform hot clone using VMware vCenter Converter Standalone

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 clone. You can see the progress in the Recent Tasks interface.

Hassle-Free VM hot backup with AOMEI Cyber Backup

Among the 3 available ways to perform VM hot backup, 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. Here I recommend you AOMEI Cyber Backup.

Image-based VM Backup: backing up all VM data in agentless way that can be restored to a complete runnable VM, supporting backup types of full, differential, and incremental.

Automatic Backup Schedule: creating automatic backup schedule to run daily, weekly, or monthly and specify start date and time accordingly.

Space-saving Cleanup: automatically clearing the backups that exceed the retention period to save disk space and costs, avoiding errors such like Hyper-V stuck in saved state.

Offsite Restore: capable of restoring backups to new VMs on original or another datastore, host.

Here I provide a free trial for you. And I will demonstrate how to backup VMware virtual machines while running in the next part.

Download Free TrialVMware ESXi 6.0 & later versions
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How to backup VMware ESXi virtual machine while running

Before you start, first you need to 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, without repeating these operations.

Add VMware ESXi host

Access AOMEI Cyber Backup client and log in your account. 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

6. Backup Cleanup. Click the context to change the default backup scheme.

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 Scheme button, and click OK to save the settings.

Backup cleanup

After the simple 6 steps, 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


For most times, it is not recommended to back up 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 hassle-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, 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.