By Alison / Last Updated April 26, 2022

VMware ESXi VM Backup Overview

VMware ESXi, the core of VMware vSphere enterprise virtualization suite, formerly called ESX until version 4.1, is a bare-metal hypervisor installed directly onto physical server, providing direct access and control of the underlying resources. It allows you to create and run multiple virtual machines using a single physical host.

Virtual machine backup is an important data protection measure, ensures you to recover important data in time, and keeps business continuity.

Backing up VMware ESXi VMs is different from normal file backups. Therefore, in this article, I will briefly introduce the basic knowledge and offer 3 VMware ESXi backup solutions for you.

VMware ESXi logo

Backup options for VMware ESXi

In general, there are 2 main types of virtual machine backups. Image-based backup that contains the operating system, configuration files, and all data on the disk, file-based backup that backing up the VM as if it were a physical machine by installing an agent on the guest machine. File-based backup do not include the virtualized environment, so for most times you better create image-based backups of the entire virtual machine.

As for the contents of VMware ESXi VM backup, except for the VM itself, there is also another common user concern: do you need to backup VMware ESXi host configuration?

Actually, backing up your VMware ESXi host configuration is not necessary. Because redeploying a host is not difficult, and many system deployment tools available for businesses will make the process even faster and easier.

Therefore, in this article I will only introduce ways to backup VMware ESXi virtual machines, if you want to back up host configuration, you can refer to this article: How to back up ESXi host configuration

VM snapshots cannot replace backups

VM snapshots can quickly roll back VM to the point in time when the snapshot was taken, which is also useful as a data protection measure before performing dangerous tests. However, VM snapshots cannot replace backups, and using only snapshots instead of backups can be very dangerous. VM snapshot vs backup, there are 2 main differences:

  • Snapshots are dependent on the parent disk. If the parent disk is deleted, the snapshot itself is not sufficient for VM restore. But backups are independent of the original VM, are not affected, and can be stored offsite.
  • VM snapshots can affect VM performance. Incremental disk files can grow and take up a lot of space, keeping snapshots for long can affect VM performance. But VM backups can be stored safely for a long time without affecting VM performance.

Therefore, it is recommended that VM snapshots be used as a short-term, temporary rollback measure before unsafe operations, keeping only 2-3 snapshots in the chain for no more than 72 hours each. Virtual machine backups, on the other hand, can be used as long-term, stable virtual machine protection for disaster recovery.

Use built-in features to backup VMware ESXi virtual machines

How can you safely backup VMware ESXi if you only have a standalone ESXi host without vCenter Server? In this section, I will introduce 2 ways to backup VMware ESXi using built-in features.

● Manually download VM files: VMware ESXi Web Client allows you to download all the VM files, including VMDK virtual disk file and VMX configuration file from datastore. When restoring, you can then upload these files and register a new VM, on original or another host.

● Export VM to OVF 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 this way.

Way 1. Manually download virtual machine disk files

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

2. Turn to Storage page, click Datastore browser on toolbar.

Datastore browser

3. Go to the folder of the virtual machine you want to back up, and then click Download on toolbar to download them separately to local.

Download VM files

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

Way 2. Export the virtual machine as OVF template

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

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

Export VM

3. Select 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.

Tip: You can also use VMware OVF Tool to export your VMware ESXi VMs.

Backup VMware ESXi VMs using AOMEI Cyber Backup

​In the previous section I introduced how to backup VMware ESXi VMs using the built-in features. But unfortunately, both of these methods needed to operate manually, and can only back up one single VM at a time. It’s inconvenient for enterprises that manage a large number of VMs. So, in this section I will introduce how to automatically backup multiple virtual machines at once, which builds a robust backup and recovery plan in your VMware vSphere environemnt.

Currently if you want to auto backup multiple ESXi VMs at once, you can only ask help for 3rd party software. Here I recommended you a professional backup tool, AOMEI Cyber Backup for following benefits.

Multiple VMs Backup: with 3 easy steps you can create a complete automatic backup task of multiple, or even all VMs on the host.
Auto Execution: capable of automating backup tasks, and clean old backup files that exceed the specified retention period.
Offsite Restore: capable of restoring backups to new VMs on original or another datastore, host.
Role Assignment: allows one administrator to create sub-accounts with limited privileges, effectively avoid errors caused by others’ mis-operations.
Affordable Pricing: reasonable charges only base on the number of bound devices, regardless of how many VMs are on the host.

In the next part I will demonstrate how to back up multiple VMware ESXi VMs in 3 easy steps. You can click the following button to start a free trial:

Download Free TrialVMware ESXi 6.0 & later versions
Secure Download

3 concise steps to backup multiple VMware ESXi VMs

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

Add VMware ESXi host

2. Create Backup Task: Navigate to Backup Task > + Create New Task, and then set Task Name, Backup Type, Device, Target, Schedule, and Cleanup.

VMware ESXi backup

  • Device: You can cover multiple, or even all VMs on the host within one backup task.
  • Target: You can select to back up to a local path, or to a network path. Used paths will be saved in Favorite Storage for handy selection.
  • Schedule: You can choose to perform full, differential or incremental backup, and automate execution daily, weekly or monthly according to the frequency you specified.

Schedule type

  • Cleanup: You can specify a retention period, and the old backup files that exceed the period will be automatically deleted.

Backup Cleanup

3. Start Backup: Click Start Backup and you can 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 and schedule changing.


Regular ESXi backups can effectively protect your data from loss. In this article, I briefly introduced 2 ways to back up VMware ESXi VM using built-in features.

However, they can only be performed manually and can only backup one VM at a time. If you want an auto VMware ESXi backup software, AOMEI Cyber Backup can protect your ESXi data continously in vSphere environment.