3 Effective Ways to Backup VMware VM to External Hard Drive

There is a 3-2-1 principle when it comes to backups, which mentions that an offsite backup is necessary. Therefore, backing up VMware VM to external hard drive is really a good idea. In this article, I will introduce 3 effective ways to do this.


By Crystal / Updated on June 17, 2024

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Case: Backup VM to external hard drive


I need to take the backup of virtual machines from my esxi to an external hard drive, and pass it to another esxi that is somewhere else incase this one would ever go down. do you know how I can do this???

- Question from communities.vmware.com

If you want to avoid VM data loss due to the storage issues or server crashes, and you have the same concerns as in the case above, backup VMware VM to external hard drive is a very good insurance measure.

Basically, there are 3 available ways to backup VMware VM to external hard drive:

  • Download VM files from datastore
  • Export VM to OVF/OVA template
  • Backup VMs using third party software

The first 2 ways are practical when you only need to backup several ESXi VMs, but if you have multiple VMs to backup, the third way can provide more efficiency.

In this article I will introduce the detailed steps of how to perform these backups.

VMware ESXi logo

How to backup VMware ESXi VM to external hard drive

There are 2 native ways that can be used to copy VM to external hard drive on ESXi.

Download VM files from datastore: A virtual machine is essentially a set of files. The VM folder is enough to recreate a copy of the original VM. In addition, it has the advantage of retaining all snapshots. To restore you just upload these files and register a new VM on original or another host.

Export VM to OVF/OVA template: Open Virtualization Format (OVF) is a file format that supports exchange of virtual appliances across products and platforms. Since OVF files are compressed, you can achieve faster downloads by exporting VM from ESXi.

How to download VM files to external hard drive

1. Access to VMware ESXi web client, and power off the VM you want to backup.

Power off the running VM

2. Navigate to Storage page and click Datastore browser.

Open Datastore browser

3. Open the VM folder and select the VM files, click Download on toolbar.

Download the VM files

4. In the pop-up windows, specify the external hard drive as the download destination,  and click Save to download the VM files.

Save VMware ESXi file to external hard drive

How to export VM to OVF and store in external hard drive

1. Access to VMware ESXi web client, navigate to Virtual Machines page and power off the VM you want to backup.

2. Right-click on the VM name and select Export.

Select Export option

3. Click OK to download the .ovf file and .vmdk file.

Confirm download the OVF file

4. Specify the external hard drive as the destination location, and click Save.

Save the OVF file to external hard drive

Above 2 native ways to backup VMware VM to external hard drive are available on all ESXi versions. However, they also have disadvantage of backing up only one VM at a time. In addition, they may need additional steps of registering or importing as new VMs when restoring.

Therefore, if you want to back up multiple or all VMs on your host, performing these backups one by one can be really laborious. You may get better help from dedicated backup tools, such like AOMEI Cyber Backup, which I am going to introduce in the next part.

Backup multiple VMware ESXi VMs to external hard drive for free

The above native backup ways are practical when backing up a single VM, but if you want to back up multiple or all VMs on your host, performing these backups one by one can be really laborious.

Therefore, here I will introduce a professional and free backup tool that can backup VMs on the ESXi host in 3 easy steps, namely AOMEI Cyber Backup. Except for this, it also has the following benefits:

✦ Agentless Backup: add VMware ESXi VMs to a central console for backup and manage without installing Agent.
✦ Backup to Internal/External Drive: backup ESXi VM to any detected external drive, or network share directly.
Automated Execution: automate daily, weekly, or monthly backups and notified by email.
✦ Restore from Any Point: quickly restore entire VM from any backed up history version.

AOMEI Cyber Backup supports both paid and free versions of VMware ESXi 6.0 and later versions. Next, I will demonstrate how to backup VMware ESXi VMs using AOMEI Cyber Backup. You can click the button to download 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.

3 simple steps to backup multiple ESXi VMs to external hard drive

1. Bind Device: Access to AOMEI Cyber Backup web client, navigate to Source Device > VMware > + Add VMware Device to add vCenter or Standalone ESXi host as the source device. And then click > Bind Device.

Add VMware ESXi host

2. Create Backup Task: Navigate to Backup Task > + Create New Task, and set Task Name, Backup Type, Device, Target, Schedule according to your needs.

create a VMware ESXi backup task

  • Device: using AOMEI Cyber Backup you can backup multiple VMs on the host.
  • Target: selecting to back up to an attached external hard drive, or to a network path. Used paths will be saved in Favorite Storage for handy selection.
  • Archive: If you want to save backups to a cloud storage. Choose "Archiving backup to Amazon S3" and add a S3 bucket. Once your VMware backup is created, the backup files will be automatically archive to the Amazon S3.

Select an external hard drive as storage

  • Schedule: choose to perform full, differential or incremental backup, and automate execution daily, weekly or monthly according to the frequency you specified.
  • Cleanup* (require Premium Edition): specify a retention policy, and the old backup files that exceed the period will be auto deleted.

3. Start Backup: You can select Add the schedule and start backup now, or Add the schedule only.

Start Backup


When it comes to backup, there is a golden 3-2-1 backup rule: keep 3 copies of data, store backups on 2 types of media, and keep at least 1 backup offsite.

Therefore, you may need to copy VMware ESXi VM to external drive, for example, copy ESXi VM to USB to keep an offsite backup. In this article I introduced 3 available ways to backup VMware VM to external hard drive.

With native backup ways, you can easily backup single or several ESXi VMs. However, if you want to backup multiple VMs on the host, AOMEI Cyber Backup, the professional and free backup tool may help you better.

In addition, it allows you to backup VMware virtual machines while running, greatly increasing your productivity and maintaining business continuity.

Crystal · Editor
Crystal is an editor from AOMEI Technology. She mainly writes articles about virtual machine. She is a positive young lady likes to share articles with peolpe. Off work she loves travelling and cooking which is wonderful for life.