By Alison / Last Updated September 5, 2022

Overview of VMware ESXi VM clone

If you want a secure test environment which is exactly the same to the original VM, VM cloning can be a really convenient way to go.

Rather than laboriously exporting and importing the VM, VM cloning allows you to create an instant usable copy of the original VM, or change some of the settings according to your need. For example, you can also choose to clone a VM to template.

Currently there are 3 ways for VMware ESXi clone VM.

  • A complicated process on VMware ESXi web client: If you don’t have vCenter Server, VMware ESXi also allows you to clone VM without vCenter, on its web client instead, but with more complicated steps.
  • The built-in clone feature provided by vCenter Server: VM Cloning is a simple process with the vCenter Server’s clone wizard. But vCenter Server itself requires additional license.
  • An easier and centralized feature on third-party software: Third-party software such like AOMEI Cyber Backup usually centralized VM cloning feature at a more economical price, and have easier steps.

I'll cover all the 3 approaches in the following article.

VMware ESXi

Way 1. VMware ESXi clone VM without vCenter

This part introduces how to clone virtual machine without vCenter. It will take a little more steps than using vCenter's method.

Note: Before you begin, please commit all snapshots and power off the target VM to create a consistent copy.

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

Datastore browser

2. In the pop-up window, click Create directory, and provide a Name for new VM.

3. Confirm and back to the Datastore browser window. Go to the folder where stores the disk files of the original VM. You can find where they are by right-clicking on the VM name and select Edit settings.

Select the .vmx file and .vmdk file, then click Copy on toolbar to copy them separately to the folder you just created.

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

4. Click Virtual Machines in the left inventory, and click Create/ Register VM on toolbar to open the wizard.

Register VM

5. On Select creation type page, select Register an existing virtual machine, and click Next.

Register an existing VM

6. On Select VMs for registration page, click Select one or more virtual machines, a datastore or a directory, and select the newly created folder. Click Next.

Select one or more vms

7. On Ready to complete page, click Finish to close the wizard.

8. Back to Virtual Machines, now you can see there is one newly copied VM with the same name as the old one. That’s because the name comes from the .vmx file. You can right-click the VM and Rename it.

9. Select and Power on the newly created virtual machine. There will be pop-up window, select I copied it and click Answer.

This is how VMware ESXi clone VM on web client. Please note that you cannot change the storage policy if you clone an encrypted virtual machine.

Although VMware ESXi web client provides only the most basic functionality, it can actually meet many special needs if one is willing to put in the effort. For example, vmware esxi clone VM from snapshot.

Way 2. VMware ESXi clone VM using vCenter Server

This part introduces how to clone a VM in vCenter. 

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

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.

✦ Tip:

If you are familiar with command line, you can also clone ESXi VM with command line. For example:

1. SSH into your ESXi host and create a directory to hold your new clone

#mkdir /vmfs/volumes/datastore1/Host2

2. Clone your Host1 VM to Host2

#vmkfstools -i /vmfs/volumes/datastore1/Host1/Host1.vmdk /vmfs/volumes/datastore1/Host2/Host2.vmdk -d thin

3. Register the virtual machine in ESXi

# vim-cmd solo/registervm /vmfs/volumes/datastore1/Host2/Host2.vmdk

Remember to modify these ESXi clone VM command lines accordingly.

As you can see, while vCenter Server needs additional license, VMware ESXi clone VM without vCenter Server requires more complicated steps. Therefore, in the next part I will present an easier tool with an economical pricing, namely AOMEI Cyber Backup.

Way 3. Clone ESXi VM with a backup and restore tool (easier)

AOMEI Cyber Backup's backup and restore feature allows you to create same virtual machines on original or another host, with even easier steps than cloning. Compared to mentioned methods of cloning, it owns additional advantages such as allowing you to perform hot backup VMware virtual machine while running.

Easy to use: With the user-friendly interface, connect, create task, and protect will be completed with a few clicks.
Agentless backup: It can hot back up multiple VMs in transit or at rest all at once. 
Schedule backup tasks: It can automatically back up the whole VM by setting up a scheduled task.
Onsite/Offsite restore: You can backup a VM and restore it to the same or another datastore/host.

You can download and install the free trial to experience these features and get the exclusive upgrade discount:

Download Free TrialVMware ESXi & Hyper-V
Secure Download

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

Steps to clone ESXi VM via AOMEI Cyber Backup

1. Launch AOMEI Cyber Backup, navigate to Source Devices >> Add VMware ESXi and enter the required information about device and user. Then click Confirm.

2. Click Create New Task in backup task page, and do as following:

Task Name: enter a backup task name.

Backup Type: choose VMware ESXi Backup or Hyper-V Backup accordingly.

select VMware ESXi backup

Device Name: select the device and virtual machines you want to back up. Click OK. It allows you to select unlimited virtual machines for backup.

select VMs

Target: choose a location to store the backup files such as local or network. Click OK.

backup target

3 (optional). On Schedule window, you can set up different backup strategies based on full, incremental or differential backup.

It also offers daily, weekly, monthly (by date), and monthly (by week) for backup period. You can combine these features to create a comprehensive backup task according to your need.

schedule backup

On Backup Cleanup window, enable it and set up the retention policy. It benefits to saving storage and reduces your workload since it will delete the old and unwanted files automatically.

backup cleanup

4. Click Start Backup to execute the task. After that, you can monitor the status in the Backup Task section, edit the settings by clicking the button on the right side of task, and use the backup to achieve fast recovery from any point.

5. Click “” right on the task and select Restore to configure the basic information, and select the backup content you want to restore.

restore

6. Then you will be given the following options of restore target: 

Restore to original location: It will restore the VM to the original location and replace the original VM.
Restore to new location: it will create an idential new VM from the backup to the same or another datastore/host.

Here you should choose Restore to new location to achieve VM cloning. Then specify the target host or datastore, and name the cloned new VM. You can also configure the number of RAM space and virtual processors.

restore virtual machine

7. Click Start Restore, and wait for the restoration to complete.

When it's done, you've clone your VMware ESXi VM succesfully. You can run the target VM to see if all your data stay intact.

Summary

Cloning may be convenient to create an exact copy of the VM, especially when you operate VMware ESXi clone VM with vCenter Server. But if you want to back up multiple virtual machines at the same time, performing clone using built-in feature only allows you to back up one virtual machine once. So, a professional software is necessary and high-efficient.

In this article, I introduced how to clone a VM in VMware vSphere, with or without vCenter Server. Besides cloning, you can also back up VM to another datastore for data protection.