By Alison / Last Updated September 5, 2022

WMware backup solutions to protect your VMs

Whether in enterprise production environments or individual development environments, virtual machine backups are extremely important. You need an effective VMware backup solution to protect your virtual environment and gain the ability to quickly protect and recover your virtual machines when needed.

Choosing a suitable solution can further promote your work efficiency and ensure your business continuity. And given the amount of knowledge involved and the wide range of options, you may struggle to choose the best VMware backup solution.

Here, I will list 5 VM backup solutions for VMware ESXi. And the best part is that you can use them for free.

VMware ESXi logo

VMware backup solutions comparison | how to pick

👉In summary, the commonly used VMware VM backup solutions include:

Specialized vmware backup software, copy VM files, export VM templates, clone VMs, VM snapshots.

The last 4 backup solution for VMware are self-contained (both in ESXi and Workstation), but users who are not proficient in virtual machines may not be able to tell the difference and applicable scenarios between them. So I'd like to make an intuitive comparison and help you to pick the one best suitted to your case.

*You can click on the anchor text below to jump to the detailed solution description.

  Backup software Copy VM files Export VMs Clone VMs VM snapshots
Usage Long-term VM protection and complete VM recovery Download VM files for archive or re-creation Create a OVF template for re-deploy Create an identical new VM Short-term rollback measure before unsafe operations
Batch operation Yes No Use PowerCLI Use PowerCLI Use PowerCLI
Backup schedule Yes No No Use vCenter Use vCenter
Cost Varied Free Free Requires vCenter Free

enlightenedAlthough in a broad sense, snapshot can be used as a short-term VM backup method, it is primarily used as a rollback point before major operations, not long-term data storage. Keeping a snapshot for too long will also affect the performance of virtual machines. So it's not recommended to use snapshot as regular backup means.

So all in all, if you are computer savvy and familiar with VMware's tools, you can use the built-in backup solutions to achieve many data protection goals. But if you want a long-lasting VMware backup solution without spending too much time on operation and management, then a reliable VM backup software is a more effective option.

In the following, I will introduce these backup solutions in detail with screenshots. The steps are based on VMware ESXi, if you are using Workstation, please turn to: VMware Workstation backup solutions

Solution 1. Best free VM backup software for VMware ESXi

Professional VM Backup software captures point-in-time state of the entire VMs without resource contention, and creates independent backups that allow for fast and complete VM recovery.

Besides the basic functionality, backup tools nowadays usually contain more useful features to relieve your burden, such as sheduled backup, centralized management, full or incremental option, etc. The only problem is that many professional VMware backup software are expensive and not always suitable for all users.

Therefore, I'd like to present to you a free VMware backup software - AOMEI Cyber Backup. It includes the benefits I mentioned above, or to be more specific:

Agentless Backup: create complete and independent image-level backup for VMware ESXi VMs.
Multiple Storage Destinations: backup to local or network share destinations.
Automated Execution: create backup schedules to automate virtual machine protection.
Restore from Any Point: restore entire VM from any backed up restore points.
Perpetual Free: you can use AOMEI Cyber Backup Free Edition with no time limit.

AOMEI Cyber Backup supports VMware ESXi 6.0 and later versions. Here I will demonstrate how to quickly schedule an automatic backup task of multiple ESXi VMs. You can click the following button to download the freeware:

Download FreewareVMware ESXi & Hyper-V
Secure Download

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

How to create auto VM backup with VMware backup software:

1. Bind Devices: Launch AOMEI Cyber Backup web client, navigate to Source Device > VMware ESXi > + Add VMware ESXi to add a host. And then click > Bind Device.

Add VMware ESXi host

2. Create Backup Task: Navigate to Backup Task > + Create New Task, and then set it up according to your needs.

Create a VMware ESXi backup task

  • Device: cover multiple VMs (10 on Free Edition) on the host in one backup task.
  • Target: selecting to back up to a local path, or to a network path. Used paths will be saved in Favorite Storage for handy selection.
  • Schedule: choosing to perform full, differential or incremental backup, and automate execution daily, weekly or monthly according to the frequency you specified.

Schedule type

3. Start Backup: Click Start Backup and select Add the schedule and start backup now or Add the schedule only.

Start Backup

Created backup tasks will be listed and monitored separately for progress checking, editing and restoring.

While the Free Edition covers most of VM backup needs, you can also upgrade to enjoy advanced features:
Backup cleanup: Configure a retention policy to auto delete old backup files and save storage space.
Restore to new location: Create a new VM in the same or another datastore/host directly from the backup, saves the trouble of re-configuring the new VM.

Solution 2. Download VM files from VMware

Manually downloading the VM files is probably the most direct one of VMware free backup solutions. By re-deploy (or “Open” on Workstation) the downloaded virtual disk files (.vmdk) and the configuration files (.vmx), you can directly create an instantly usable copy of the VM.

How to manually download the VM files:

1. Access ESXi Web Client, navigate to Storage in the left inventory, and click Datastore browser on the toolbar.

Datastore browser

2. Go to the folder of the virtual machine you want to back up. Select the .vmdk files and .vmx files and click Download on toolbar to download them to a local path.

Download VM files

3. Close Datastore browser window, and you can see the progress in Recent tasks.

✎To create a new VM using the downloaded VM files, you can refer to VMware restore from backup.

Solution 3. Export VMware VM as template

By exporting VM to OVF/OVA templates, you will gain faster downloads since the OVF files are compressed, and supports exchange of virtual appliances across products and platforms.

How to export the ESXi VM to OVF:

1. Access ESXi Web Client, commit all snapshots and power off the virtual machine you want to back up.

2. Navigate to Virtual Machines page, right-click on the virtual machine you want to back up and select Export. Click OK in the pop-up window to continue.

Select Export option

3. Click Save File option twice to download the .ovf file and .vmdk file. Click OK to close the window. You can see the progress in Recent tasks.

When it’s done, you can click Download button on toolbar to find where these files are stored.

Solution 4. Clone VMware ESXi VM

VM cloning is the process of creating an exact copy of a virtual machine, including the virtual hardware and guest operating system. There are 2 kinds of clone - a full clone takes longer time, while a linked clone takes shorter, but the cloned VM may be unusable if the parent VM fails.

Cloning may be different from other backup solutions for VMware whose main focus is on data protection, but it's a convenient way to migrate virtual machines, or create multiple same VMs.

How to clone VMware ESXi VM using vCenter:

1. Access vCenter Client, right-click on the VM name and select Clone > Clone to Virtual Machine.

Except for this option, you can also select Clone to Template… or Clone to Template in Library.

vCenter Clone ESXi VM

2. Provide a Name and select a destination datastore folder location for the new VM. Then click Next.

Specify name and datastore

3. Select a destination host for the new VM, click Next.

Select host

4. On select storage page, Select virtual disk format as Same format as source, and VM Storage Policy as Keep existing VM storage policies. And then select a datastore location to store the VM files. Click Next to continue.

Select storage

5. Select further clone options, you can customize the operating system, the VM’s hardware, or select whether to power on the VM after creation. Click Next.

Select clone options

6. Review your selections and click Finish to start. You can see the progress in Recent Tasks.

✎VM clone is a free feature in VMware Workstation. But for ESXi, it is supported by vCenter Server.

Solution 5. Take snapshot of VMware VM

A VMware snapshot is an image that captures the complete state and data of a virtual machine at a specific point in time. The state includes the power state of the VM (powered-on, powered-off, or suspended), and the data includes all the files that make up the VM (disk, memory, and other devices). It is a quick and efficient way to roll back VM to a specific point in time, just like the undo function.

How to take a snapshot of the ESXi VM:

1. Launch vSphere Web Client. Right-click on the VM name in the inventory 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 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.

✎As said above, it's not recommended to use VMware snapshots as regular, or even the only backup means. Depending on your usage scenario, you can combine it with other VM backup solutions to build an all-round data protection strategy.

Summary

Backup is one of the most important jobs for VM users, and choosing a suitable way can maintain the business continuity and improve efficiency.

In this article I presented 5 VMware backup solutions, 4 of them are built-in features. They may be enough for Workstation VMs. But if you want a comprehensive and cost-effective software to backup VMware ESXi VMs, I recommend you a professional backup tool, AOMEI Cyber Backup. Besides backup and restore, it also allows one administrator to create sub-accounts with limited privileges for efficient collaboration.