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Last updated: May 01, 2024

How to Backup VMware ESXi Virtual Machines

VMware ESXi stands as a pivotal figure in the virtualization landscape, underpinning countless data centers around the world. Ensuring the security of these virtual machines is of utmost importance. This guide delves into the methodologies for backing up VMware ESXi virtual machines, presenting you with essential tools and tactics to defend against unforeseen setbacks or data loss. Catering to both seasoned IT professionals and those newly venturing into the intricate domain of virtual environments, this article provides crucial knowledge and recommended practices for efficiently safeguarding your virtual assets.

VMware ESXi Backup Overview

Virtualization has revolutionized the way we manage and deploy resources in the IT ecosystem. VMware's ESXi is at the forefront of this transformation, offering businesses an efficient platform to run multiple virtual machines (VMs) on a single physical server. However, as with any critical IT system, ensuring the continuity and availability of these VMs is paramount. This is where the backup process comes into play.

1. Importance of Backing Up ESXi VMs:

  • Data Integrity and Protection: VMs host critical applications and data. Any data loss or corruption could lead to significant downtime, business disruption, and financial repercussions.
  • Disaster Recovery: Whether it's hardware failures, software glitches, or catastrophic events like natural disasters, having a backup allows for quick recovery.
  • Regulatory Compliance: Some industries are mandated by law to maintain data for specific periods, making regular backups a compliance requirement.

2. Backup Mechanisms:

  • Snapshots: These provide a point-in-time image of a VM. However, they're not a full-fledged backup solution but are often used in conjunction with other backup mechanisms.
  • VM-level Backup: This involves backing up the entire VM, including its disks, configuration files, and other related data.
  • File-level Backup: This method backs up specific files within a VM rather than the entire VM.

3. Backup Tools and Solutions: While VMware provides native tools for backups, several third-party solutions integrate seamlessly with ESXi to offer advanced features:

  • VMware vSphere Data Protection (VDP): VMware's integrated backup and recovery solution.
  • Veeam Backup & Replication: A popular third-party tool known for its comprehensive backup and replication features.
  • Nakivo Backup & Replication: Another trusted solution in the VMware ecosystem.
  • Other tools: Many other tools like Acronis, Altaro, and Zerto offer tailored backup solutions for ESXi environments.

4. Backup Storage Options: Where you store your backups is crucial for accessibility and redundancy.

  • Local Storage: On the same physical server or data center. Faster but less fault-tolerant.
  • Network Storage (NAS/SAN): Allows for centralized storage and management of backups.
  • Cloud Storage: Utilizing cloud providers like AWS, Azure, or Google Cloud provides offsite storage, enhancing disaster recovery capabilities.

5. Best Practices:

  • Regularly Test Backups: Ensure that your backups are not only successful but also restorable.
  • 3-2-1 Rule: Maintain three copies of your data (1 primary copy and 2 backups), store them on two different types of media, with one copy located offsite.
  • Monitor and Report: Regularly monitor backup processes and generate reports to ensure all VMs are accounted for.

Backup options for VMware ESXi

Method 1. Backup VMDK file of ESXi VM

Backing up the VMDK (Virtual Machine Disk) file is one of the primary methods for safeguarding your virtual machine's data. The VMDK is essentially the virtual disk of the VM, holding the operating system, applications, and other data. In this method, we will discuss how to manually backup the VMDK file of an ESXi VM.

Steps to Backup VMDK File of ESXi VM:

  1. 1. Shut Down the VM:

    • It's essential to ensure that no data is being written to the VM during the backup process.
    • Log in to your vSphere Client and power off the VM you want to backup.
  2. 2. Locate the Datastore:

    • In the vSphere Client, navigate to the host that the VM is on.
    • Click on the 'Datastore' tab to view the list of datastores.
  3. 3. Browse Datastore:

    • Right-click on the datastore where your VM resides and select 'Browse Datastore'.
    • Navigate to the folder of the VM you wish to backup.
  4. 4. Download the VMDK File:

    • Inside the VM's folder, you'll find files associated with the VM, including its .vmdk file.
    • Right-click on the .vmdk file (there might be a descriptor and a flat file, make sure to copy both) and select 'Download'. Save it to a safe location.
  5. 5. Restart the VM:

    • After successfully downloading the VMDK file, return to the vSphere Client and power on the VM.

Additional Tips:

  • Storage Considerations: Ensure that the storage where you're downloading the VMDK has enough space. VMDK files can be quite large depending on the size allocated to the VM.
  • Backup Frequency: Regularly backup the VMDK file, especially after significant changes to the VM, to maintain up-to-date recovery points.
  • Integrity Checks: Periodically verify the integrity of the VMDK backups. The last thing you want is to discover a corrupted backup file when you need it most.
  • Automate the Process: While manual backups provide more control, they can be tedious and prone to human errors. Consider using automated solutions like VMware vSphere Data Protection or third-party tools like Veeam for scheduled backups.

Method 2. Export ESXi VM to OVF template

Another effective method for backing up ESXi virtual machines is by exporting them as OVF (Open Virtualization Format) templates. OVF is an industry-standard software packaging and distribution format for virtual machines. This method packages the VM into a set of files (OVF and VMDKs), making it easier to transport and redeploy on another ESXi host or other platforms supporting the OVF standard.

Steps to Export ESXi VM to OVF Template:

  1. 1. Prepare the VM:

    • Before the export, ensure that the VM is powered off to guarantee data consistency.
    • Login to the VMware vSphere Client.
  2. 2. Initiate the Export Process:

    • Right-click on the VM you want to export.
    • Select 'Export' and then choose 'Export OVF Template'.
  3. 3. Set Export Options:

    • Name & Location: Specify a name for the OVF template and choose where you'd like to save it on your local system.
    • Format: You'll typically have options between OVF and OVA. OVF will export as a set of files, while OVA will export as a single consolidated file. Choose according to your preference and use-case.
    • Additional settings: Depending on the vSphere version, you might have more settings like advanced features or annotations. Configure as needed.
  4. 4. Start the Export:

    • Click 'OK' or 'Export' to begin the export process. Depending on the VM's size and network speed, this might take some time.
  5. 5. Verify the Export:

    • Once the export is complete, navigate to the location you saved the OVF or OVA file. Ensure that the file(s) are present and that the size seems appropriate for the VM you exported.

Advantages of OVF Template Backups:

  • Portability: OVF templates are platform-independent, making it easier to move VMs between different hypervisors or cloud platforms that support the OVF standard.
  • Compact: OVF templates can be more space-efficient, especially if the VM has unused blocks.
  • Metadata: The OVF format includes metadata about the VM configuration, ensuring you have not just the data but also the VM settings.


  • Size: Exporting large VMs can result in substantial OVF/OVA files. Ensure you have ample storage space.
  • Version Compatibility: When importing an OVF template into another environment, be mindful of version compatibility, especially with older ESXi versions.

How to back up and restore the ESXi host configuration

ESXi Command Line

Backing up and restoring the configuration of an ESXi host can be a lifesaver in case of hardware failures, misconfigurations, or when migrating to a new server. This can be accomplished using the ESXi Command Line. Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you back up and restore the ESXi host configuration:

1. Connect to the ESXi Host:

  • Directly via a monitor and keyboard connected to the ESXi host.
  • Remotely using an SSH client like PuTTY if SSH is enabled on your host.

2. Backup ESXi Host Configuration:

a) Navigate to the directory where you want to save the backup. b) Use the following command to back up the configuration:

vim-cmd hostsvc/firmware/sbackup_config

This command will create a backup file with a .tgz extension.

c) Copy this file to a safe location. If you are connected via SSH, you can use SCP or any other suitable method to transfer the backup file.

3. Restore ESXi Host Configuration:

Note: When restoring the ESXi configuration, ensure you're restoring to the same ESXi version as the backup was taken. Mismatched versions can lead to issues.

a) Copy the backup file (.tgz file) to the ESXi host. If you're using SSH, you can use SCP or a similar method.

b) Navigate to the directory where the backup file is located.

c) Use the following command to restore the configuration:

vim-cmd hostsvc/firmware/restore_config /path_to_backup_file/backupfile.tgz

Replace /path_to_backup_file/backupfile.tgz with the path and filename of your backup file.

d) After the restore is completed, the ESXi host will automatically reboot.

Additional Tips:

  • It's always a good idea to regularly backup your ESXi configuration, especially before making significant changes.
  • Ensure that the ESXi host is in maintenance mode before restoring the configuration. This will ensure that no virtual machines are running.
  • If you're planning to restore on a different hardware, make sure that the hardware is compatible and that all necessary drivers are available and loaded.
  • Always check and test the backup to make sure it's not corrupted and can be restored when needed.

Remember, this process only backs up and restores the ESXi configuration. It doesn't back up your virtual machines, datastore content, or any other data on the host. Always have a backup strategy in place for your VMs and data.

vSphere CLI

Using the vSphere CLI (Command-Line Interface) offers a more versatile way to manage ESXi configurations, especially when dealing with multiple hosts or vCenter Server. Here's how you can back up and restore the ESXi host configuration using vSphere CLI:


  • Ensure you have vSphere CLI installed on a workstation or server.
  • The ESXi host should be managed by vCenter Server if you want to leverage the full potential of vSphere CLI.
  • Ensure network connectivity between the system where you've installed the vSphere CLI and the ESXi/vCenter Server.

Backup ESXi Host Configuration:

  1. 1. Open a command prompt or terminal where vSphere CLI is installed.

  2. 2. Run the following command to back up the ESXi configuration:

    vicfg-cfgbackup --server [ESXi_host_IP_or_hostname] -s [path_to_save_backup/backup_filename.tgz]
  3. 3. Enter the root username and password when prompted.

  4. 4. This command will save the configuration of the specified ESXi host to the provided path in a .tgz file format.

Restore ESXi Host Configuration:

  1. 1. Ensure the ESXi host is in maintenance mode.

  2. 2. Open a command prompt or terminal where vSphere CLI is installed.

  3. 3. Run the following command to restore the ESXi configuration:

    vicfg-cfgbackup --server [ESXi_host_IP_or_hostname] -l [path_to_backup_file/backup_filename.tgz]
  4. 4. Enter the root username and password when prompted.

  5. 5. Once the restoration is complete, the ESXi host will automatically reboot.


  • Always ensure you're restoring the configuration on the same ESXi version from which the backup was taken.
  • For security purposes, you can also provide a username and password directly in the command using --username and --password options, but this is less secure as it might expose credentials in system logs or history.
  • If you're working with vCenter Server, you might want to use the --vihost parameter to specify which ESXi host you want to target through vCenter.
  • The vSphere CLI commands can vary slightly depending on the version, so always refer to VMware's official documentation or use the built-in help (--help) with the command for clarification.

Remember, this method only backs up the configuration of the ESXi host. Always have a separate backup strategy for VM data, datastore contents, and other critical data.

vSphere PowerCLI

vSphere PowerCLI is a powerful command-line tool provided by VMware for managing VMware vSphere components like VMs, ESXi hosts, datacenters, clusters, and more. When it comes to backing up and restoring the ESXi host configuration using PowerCLI, you can utilize the Get-VMHostFirmware and Set-VMHostFirmware cmdlets.

Here’s a step-by-step guide:

Backup ESXi Host Configuration:

  1. 1. Launch PowerCLI and connect to your vCenter Server or ESXi host:

    Connect-VIServer -Server [vCenter_or_ESXi_IP_or_hostname]
  2. 2. Backup the ESXi configuration:

    Get-VMHostFirmware -VMHost [ESXi_host_IP_or_hostname] -BackupConfiguration -DestinationPath [path_to_save_backup]

    Replace [path_to_save_backup] with the path where you want to save the backup. This cmdlet will create a .tgz file in the specified directory.

Restore ESXi Host Configuration:

  1. 1. Ensure the ESXi host is in maintenance mode. You can put it in maintenance mode using PowerCLI:

    Set-VMHost -VMHost [ESXi_host_IP_or_hostname] -State Maintenance
  2. 2. Restore the ESXi configuration:

    Set-VMHostFirmware -VMHost [ESXi_host_IP_or_hostname] -Restore -SourcePath [path_to_backup_file/backup_filename.tgz] -HostUser root -HostPassword [Your_Password]

    Replace [path_to_backup_file/backup_filename.tgz] with the path to your backup file.

  3. 3. After the restoration is done, you may need to manually reboot the host for changes to take effect.


  • Always make sure you’re restoring the configuration on the same ESXi version from which the backup was taken.
  • When using passwords directly in PowerCLI commands, be cautious as it can expose sensitive data. In production environments, consider more secure ways of handling credentials.
  • Regularly test your backups. It's not enough to have backups; knowing that they can be restored successfully is just as crucial.
  • This method only backs up the configuration of the ESXi host. Always have a separate backup strategy for VM data, datastore contents, and other critical data.

Always refer to VMware's official documentation or use PowerCLI's built-in help for any cmdlets to ensure that you are using the correct parameters and syntax for your specific environment and version.

P.S.: How to backup VMware virtual machines


The VMware ESXi host's configuration backup and restoration are critical tasks for ensuring business continuity and disaster recovery. Depending on the tools and access levels available, there are several methods to accomplish this:

  1. 1. ESXi Command Line:

    • Direct and straightforward, this method is best suited for standalone ESXi hosts or when only a single host backup is needed.
    • Requires direct or SSH access to the host.
    • Utilizes built-in vim-cmd commands for backup and restoration.
  2. 2. vSphere CLI:

    • Offers a more granular approach compared to the direct ESXi Command Line and is suitable for environments managed by vCenter.
    • Requires the vSphere CLI tool to be installed on a separate workstation or server.
    • Utilizes vicfg-cfgbackup for backup and restoration tasks.
  3. 3. vSphere PowerCLI:

    • Ideal for scripting and automation, providing the highest versatility among the three methods.
    • Particularly powerful in larger or complex environments managed by vCenter Server.
    • Uses cmdlets like Get-VMHostFirmware and Set-VMHostFirmware for backup and restoration, respectively.

It's essential to select the method that best aligns with the infrastructure, the available tools, and the administrator's proficiency. Regardless of the chosen approach, regular backups, validation of those backups, and practicing restoration procedures are vital to ensure data integrity and the overall resilience of the virtual environment.

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