How to Convert or Move VMware Workstation VM to ESXi | 3 Ways

If you want to upgrade your environment from VMware Workstation to ESXi, you may also need to move Workstation VM to ESXi server. In this article, I will introduce you 3 methods.


By Crystal / Updated on February 13, 2023

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Case: Move VM from VMware Workstation to ESXi


I need to transfer VMs from VMware Workstation to VMware ESXi. This is a new deployment. Are there any pitfalls I should be looking out for, or is it a simple case of exporting the VMs into OVF and then importing them into ESXi on the new host through vSphere client? What is the best way?

- Question from

VMware Workstation is a powerful and comprehensive type-2 hypervisor, which can seamlessly access all the virtual machines you need, including VMware ESXi. However, as your lab environment upgraded, you may want to migrate Workstation to the more specialized type-1 hypervisor VMware ESXi.

Is it a good idea? How to deal with the VMs that have been highly customized on Workstation?

In this article, I will include the answers and 4 methods to move VMware Workstation VM to ESXi. You can also jump to the step-by-step guide:

How to move VMware Workstation VM to ESXi

VMware Workstation vs ESXi, should I upgrade?

Before you take actions to convert VMware Workstation VM to ESXi, you might want to reassure that if you really should upgrade the virtual environment. To answer this, let's compare the two in the following aspects:

Device: Workstation is installed on consumer-grade laptops, desktops, etc. to virtualize PCs, while ESXi installed on enterprise-grade hardware to manage its own OS with virtualized servers and centralize management.

Performance: As type-1 hypervisor, ESXi runs on the host hardware with full control to hardware resources; Workstation, as type-2 hypervisor, runs on underlying operating system and has to access hardware through it. Therefore, VMware ESXi generally has better performance. *The difference might be negligible for 1 or 2 VMs.

Type-1 vs Type 2 hypervisor

Downtime: Workstation is better optimized for a large number of snapshots and switching between them, but it also causes machines to pause more; ESXi is designed to have large snapshots and minimize downtime.

Cost: Workstation is installed on top of an operating system which has its own overhead and baggage. ESXi is the operating system itself and comes with less operational overhead. But although ESXi has a free edition, it has many limitations. You still need to pay for advanced functions and centralized management (vCenter).

Overall, it can be said that ESXi is designed for server production environments, while VMWare Workstation is used for individual development environments.

Available methods to move VMware Workstation VM to ESXi

If your usage scenario is better suited to VMware ESXi, as described above, you can move your virtual machines from Workstation to ESXi. But the VMDK format between VMware Workstation and ESXi are different, therefore the VMDK file of Workstation VMs cannot be directly used by VMware ESXi. It needs to be converted.

In this case, you may first think of VMware vCenter Converter Standalone, a free official tool allows you to convert VMware virtual machines. Unfortunately, VMware once announced that vCenter Converter was removed from Product Downloads list on February 2, 2022.

👉 But now the renewed version vCenter Converter 6.3.0 makes a comeback, compatible with vSphere 7.0 and ESXi 7.0! You can click here to download it.

Download VMware vCenter Converter 6.3.0

The new VMware vCenter Converter supports the following platforms:

Install vCenter Converter  Hyper-V Servers VMware Products and Versions

Windows Server 2012 (64-bit)

Windows 8.1 (32-bit and 64-bit)

Windows Server 2012 R2 (64-bit)

Windows 10 (32-bit and 64-bit)

Windows Server 2016 (64-bit)

Windows Server 2019 (64-bit)

Windows 11 (64-bit)

Windows Server 2022 (64-bit)

Windows Server 2012 (64-bit)

Windows Server 2012 R2 (64-bit)

Windows 10 (64-bit)

Windows Server 2016 (64-bit)

Windows Server 2019 (64-bit)

Windows 11 (64-bit)

Windows Server 2022 (64-bit)

VMware vSphere 6.5 (Update 3)

VMware vSphere 6.7 (Update 3)

VMware vSphere 7.0

VMware vSphere 7.0 (Update 1)

VMware vSphere 7.0 (Update 2)

VMware vSphere 7.0 (Update 3)

VMware Workstation 16.x

VMware Fusion 12.x

The new version mostly focuses on improving the stability and security standards of the Converter and keeping the existing functionality and user experience.

What vCenter Converter does

Of course, if you don't want to download new software, to reach the same goal, there are alternatives you can try:

  • Export and import: Export Workstation VM as OVF, and launch ESXi server to register a new VM from it.
  • Upload VM: Use VMware Workstation to connect to ESXi server, and then upload VM from Workstation to ESXi.
  • Backup and restore: Create a guest-level backup of a VM and restore it to another VM.

Keep reading and I will illustrate these methods with screenshots.

Way 1. Convert Workstation VM to ESXi via vCenter Converter

1. Launch VMware vCenter Converter Standalone, click Convert machine button to open the wizard.

Convert machine

2. On Source System tab, select source type as Powered on option, and select VMware Workstation or other VMware virtual machine from the below dropping menu, and specify the path of the virtual machine

Provide relevant connection credentials, and click Next.

Source system

3. It will pop up a window to inform you that the Converter agent needs to be temporarily installed on the remote source machine.

Choose whether to automatically uninstall the agent when import succeeds or not. Click Yes to continue.

Uninstall VMware vCenter Converter Standalone agent

4. On Destination System page, select VMware Infrastructure virtual machine as the destination type, and provide VMware server connection credentials. Then click Next.

Destination system

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

Destination virtual machine

6. On Destination Location page, select the ESXi host, Datastore, and Virtual machine version. Click Next.

Destination location

7. On Options page, browse Current settings and optionally Edit the parameters for the conversion task. Then click Next to continue.


8. On Summary page, review the settings and click Finish to start conversion. You can see the progress in Recent Tasks.

For more details, you could refer to VMware vCenter Converter Standalone document.

Way 2. Export Workstation VM to OVF/OVA and import to ESXi

Open Virtualization Format (OVF) is a file format that supports exchange of virtual appliances across products and platforms. By using it, you can export VM from VMware Workstation to ESXi.

Note there may be hardware compatibility issues between versions of VMware Workstation and ESXi. So before you start, please make sure that the VMware Workstation VM is hardware compatible with your ESXi Server.

How to export VMware Workstation VM and import to ESXi:

1. Launch VMware Workstation, select the target VM and click VM > Manage > Change Hardware Compatibility… to open the wizard.

Change hardware compatibility on VMware Workstation

2. Select the Hardware compatibility version and click Next.

Change hardware compatibility wizard

3. Select to Create a new clone of this virtual machine, or Alter this virtual machine. Click Next to continue.

Clone before converting or not

4. If you choose to create a clone, you will need to provide a Name and Location for this new virtual machine. And then click Finish to change the hardware compatibility.

Provide name and location for the clone

5. Select the target virtual machine, click File > Export to OVF…

Click Export to OVF

6. Specify a destination location to store the exported files, and then click Save.

Select Export path

When it’s accomplished, you will find 3 files in destination location. The manifest file ends with .mf, the .ovf file which provides a complete specification of the virtual machine, and the virtual disk file ends with .vmdk.

Exorted virtual machine files

How to convert Workstation VMDK to ESXi:

1. Access to VMware ESXi web client, navigate to Virtual Machines and click Create/Register VM to open the wizard.

Create/Register VM

2. On the Select creation type tab, select Deploy a virtual machine from an OVF or OVA file, and then click Next.

Deploy a virtual machine from an OVF or OVA file

3. On Select OVF and VMDK files tab, provide a name (up to 80 characters) for the new VM, and then click the blank to specify the OVF/OVA file you exported. Click Next to continue.

Select OVF and VMDK files

4. On Select storage tab, specify a datastore to store the VM files, then click Next.

Select storage

5. On Deployment options page, select the Network mappings, Disk provisioning, and Power on automatically or not. Click Next to continue.

Deploy options

6. On Ready to complete page, review the settings and click Finish to start. You can see the progress in Recent tasks.

Ready to complete

Way 3. Upload VMware Workstation VMs to ESXi Server

As you may know, you can connect ESXi server and manage the ESXi VMs on Workstation. Likewise, VMware also provides a convenient feature to upload Workstation VMs to ESXi Server, which can be use an effective method to migrate your VMs.

How to connect to VMware ESXi server in Workstation:

1. Launch VMware Workstation, and click File > Connect to Server…

Connect to Server on Workstation

2. Provide the Server name, User name, and Password and click Connect to connect to your ESXi server.

Provide credentials to connect to ESXi server

How to upload VM from Workstation to ESXi:

1. First you need to change the hardware compatibility. Click VM > Manage > Change Hardware Compatibility…

Change hardware compatibility on VMware Workstation

2. Select the virtual machine hardware compatibility you need in the pop-up window.

Change hardware compatibility wizard

3. Click VM > Manage > Upload… to open the Upload Virtual Machine Wizard.

Upload VM on Workstation

4. Select the ESXi server you connected in the pop-up window, and click Next.

Upload virtual machine wizard

5. Provide a Name for the new virtual machine and specify a Datastore that will be used to store it. Then click Finish to start upload.

Select a datastore for the uploaded VM

Way 4. Backup Workstation VM and restore to ESXi (flexible)

Except for the above 2 built-in ways to move VMware Workstation VM to ESXi, you can also backup Workstation VM and restore to ESXi. But not all backup methods can do this.

Virtual machine backups can be divided into host-level and guest-level backup from how it works. Host-level backup is better for centralized manangement, but the backup files cannot be restored to different platforms. Therefore, if you want to restore a Workstation VM to ESXi, or even perform V2V, P2V VMware migration, you need to take the guest-level backup way.

By installing Agent on a guest VM, you can back it up as a physical machine, and restore to any VM running the same OS (Windows for example). You can also choose to back up any files, partitions, or even the system, disk flexibly.

Just be aware that when you want to create a complete system image, the backup tool you use needs to support dissimilar hardware restore to eliminate some possible boot problems.

Here I recommend you an effective guest-level backup tool - AOMEI Centralized Backupper. It can back up Files, Partitions, System, Disk, SQL Server, and works with any virtual machines & physcial machines on the network.

Next, I will demonstrate the detailed steps. You can click the following button to start a 30-day free trial:

Download Free TrialVMware ESXi & Hyper-V
Secure Download

How to move VMware Workstation VM to ESXi via backup and restore

✤Install it on any Windows or Windows Server machine as the central machine, and Install client program to the VMs (with static IP) you want to manage.

✤Then you can navigate to Computers > Uncontrolled Computers. Check the VMs from the list to Request Control. Once authorized, you can manage backup and restore for the VMs from the central console.

Request Control

1. Navigate to Tasks > New Task > Disk Backup. You can also choose other backup options as you need.

Create a Disk Backup task

2. There are 3 steps to follow. Firstly, click + Add Computers to specify the controlled virtual machine you want to move to ESXi as the source, click OK to confirm.

Add Computers

3. Then specify the disks on the virtual machine as source.

Select source data

4. Specify a Share or NAS device to store the backup, and then click Start Backup.

Add share or NAS device storage

5. Find the created task in the Tasks tab. Click Advanced > Restore, and choose Restore to another computer. Specify a new ESXi VM you want to restore to, and then click Next to continue.

Restore to another computer

6. You can Edit Disk, or Align partition to optimize for SSD in this step. Then you can click Start Restore to move everything on the Workstation VM to the new ESXi VM.

✎If you restore the system disk to dissimilar hardware, it is recommended to check the Universal Restore option.

System Restore Summary


You may be getting started with virtualization through VMware Workstation. But as your environment upgraded, you may need to move to a more professional ESXi server, and will then need to move VMware Workstation VM to ESXi. In this article, I showed 4 ways to move VMware Workstation VM to ESXi.

You can choose the way you prefer from them. If you choose to perform file-based backup, you can try AOMEI Centralized Backupper to do this with simple steps. In addition, it has many other features you can use, for example, auto backup SQL Server database.

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.