How to Copy ESXi VM to USB Device | Image-Level & File-Level

If you want to keep VM backups offsite, store at least 1 on external USB drive is a good idea. In this article, I will introduce 3 ways to copy ESXi VM to USB drive, and 2 ways to transfer files from VM to USB.


By Crystal / Updated on June 14, 2024

Share this: instagram reddit

Can you copy ESXi VM files to USB drive

When talking about backups, there is a golden 3-2-1 backup rule: keep 3 copies of data, store on 2 types of media, and keep at least 1 offsite. This explains well the importance of storing backups offsite.

Therefore, you may be wondering, can you copy a VMware ESXi VM or files inside the VM to USB drive?

The answer is YES. However, backing up an entire VM is not the same operation as backing up some of the files inside the VM.

VMware ESXi logo

Available ways for copying ESXi VM to USB device

Basically, there are 3 ways to copy an entire VM (image-level) to USB drive.

And there are 2 ways to copy the files inside a ESXi VM (file-level) to USB device.

In this article, I will introduce the specific steps of these ways, and you can click on the anchor text to jump to the section you need.

Note: please do not use a regular USB flash drive to store your VMs, as the USB controllers and flash cells cannot afford the constant reads and writes.

How to copy entire ESXi VM to USB drive

If you want to copy an entire VM which can be restored to an instantly usable new VM, what you are doing is performing image-level backups. To do this, you can download VM files, or export VM to OVF. Both of these need to be done manually, so if you have a large number of virtual machines or need to do this frequently to keep the latest copy, then you can also use virtual machine backup software to simplify the whole process.

In this section, I will demonstrate all the 3 different ways to back up an entire ESXi VM to USB drive at image level.

Way 1. Manually download VM files to USB drive

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

Power off the running VM

2. Navigate to Storage > Datastore browser.

Open Datastore browser

3. Find and open the folder of the VM you want to copy, select the files and click Download.

Download the VM files

4. In the pop-up window, specify the USB drive as the destination storage, click Save to download.

Save VMware ESXi file to external hard drive

Way 2. Export ESXi VM to OVF and save in USB

1. Access the VMware ESXi web client, and navigate to Virtual Machines. 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 respectively.

Confirm download the OVF file

4. In the pop-up window, specify the USB drive as the destination storage, and click Save.

Save the OVF file to external hard drive

Way 3. Copy ESXi VM to USB drive via agentless backup software (free)

AOMEI Cyber Backup is an image-level backup freeware for both paid and free versions of VMware ESXi and Hyper-V. It runs in an agentless manner that can centrally back VMs in a bound host to USB drive, local disk, network location, and Amazon S3. In addition, you can automate the backup process of VMs, monitor the status and send email notifications if there's an error.

With a very intuitive user-interface, you can create a backup task in several simple steps, and restore the entire VM from the backup. You can download this perpetual free edition to experience these features:

Download FreewareVMware ESXi & Hyper-V
Secure Download

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

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

Provide the credentials including IP address, username and password, and click Confirm to add the ESXi host. Then click button next to the host name and select Bind Device for authorization.

Note: You only need to do this step when you first bind the device.

Add VMware ESXi host

2. Navigate to Backup Task, and click + Create New Task.

Create a VMware ESXi backup task

In the pop-up window, click Select + next to Device Name to specify the ESXi host and the VMs you want to back up. Click OK to confirm.

Select ESXi VMs to backup

3. Click Select + next to Target and specify the USB drive as the destination storage.

Select USB drive to store ESXi backup

You can also specify Backup Schedule for this task (daily/weekly/monthly).

If you only want to perform full backup for once, turn off Enable Schedule and click OK.

Backup schedule

✎If you want to save storage space by auto deleting old backups, you can also upgrade to Premium Edition to enjoy the Batch Backup and Backup Cleanup feature.

4. Now you can click Start Backup to back up these ESXi VMs to USB drive.

Start Backup VMware ESXi VMs

How to copy files or folders inside ESXi VM to USB device

If you just want to transfer files from VM to USB drive, the most convenient way is accessing USB drive directly from the VM. Luckily, ESXi USB passthrough allows you to do that with simple steps.

In addition, by installing a backup agent on VMs, you can backup them flexibly as they were physical machines.

Way 1. Copy files from VM to USB device via ESXi USB passthrough

1. Access the VMware ESXi web client, navigate to Virtual Machines and right-click on the VM name, select Edit Settings.

ESXi VM Edit settings

2. In the pop-up window, Virtual Hardware tab, click Add other device > USB device.

Then a New USB device column will be added in the device list.

ESXi VM add other device

3. Click on New USB device to specify the USB device from the dropping menu. Click Save.

Specify new USB device

Way 2. Backup files or drives inside VM via agent-based software

Agent-based and agentless backups are two different sets of solutions. When you are using the free version of ESXi, or when you want to specifically select the files to be backed up in a virtual machine, you need agent-based backup solution.

AOMEI Centralized Backupper is such a mechanism that allows you to use one computer as the central console, and install Agent on all the client computers/VMs to back up them as physical machines.

You can download the 30-day free trial and follow the tutorial below to have a try:

Download Free TrialWindows Server & Client OS
Secure Download

1. Install and launch AOMEI Centralized Backupper on a computer as the central console, ,then install Agent packages on these VMs you want to backup. After that, you can navigate to Computers > Uncontrolled Computers, check your VM (with a static IP) and click Request Control.

It will pop up a request window on the VM. Once you are authorized you can perform backups whenever you like without request again.

Request Control

2. Navigate to Tasks, click New Task > File Backup to create a file backup task.

File backup

3. Follow the 3 steps to specify the VM, the files you want to backup, and a share folder on the USB device to store the backup.

File backup 3 steps

Note: Click Settings you can also encrypt or compress the backup.

Compression levels

4. Click Start Backup, the task will be listed separately for later manage or restore.

Start backup

Tips for backing up ESXi to external USB hard drive

Backing up ESXi (VMware vSphere hypervisor) to an external USB drive is a smart way to ensure data protection and disaster recovery readiness. But don't forget a few things when using USB as a storage medium:

  • Choose a high-quality external USB hard drive with enough storage capacity to accommodate ESXi backups, and make sure the drive is ESXi-compatible
  • Before using an external USB drive for backups, format it to a compatible file system supported by both ESXi and your backup software. Common file systems include FAT32, NTFS, or exFAT.
  • Use specialized ESXi-compatible backup software to simplify the backup process and ensure data integrity. Commonly used ESXi backup solutions include those listed above, as well as highly effective software such as AOMEI Cyber Backup.
  • Develop a backup plan that suits your organization's needs. Consider scheduling daily, weekly, or monthly backups, depending on the frequency of data changes and the criticality of your virtualized environment.
  • Choose incremental backups whenever possible to minimize backup time and save storage space on external USB drives.


Keeping at least 1 VM backup offsite protects VM data from unexpected local drive corruptions. You can either backup VM to Synology NAS, to cloud, or to external USB devices.

In this article, I demonstrated 2 ways to copy ESXi VMs to USB drive, and 2 ways to transfer files from ESXi VM to USB. You can choose a suitable way according to how much data you need to backup.

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.