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Recover data from damaged or formatted VMFS disks or VMDK files
Last updated: Apr 11, 2024

How to Convert VM from VMware Workstation to ESXi in 3 Ways

Converting a VMware Workstation virtual machine (VM) to VMware ESXi is a common task for IT professionals and developers who need to move their local VMs to a more robust, server-based virtualization platform. This process allows users to leverage the advanced features and scalability of ESXi, making it ideal for production environments. In this article, we'll explore three effective methods for migrating your VMs from VMware Workstation to ESXi. We'll begin with the simplest approach, using VMware's standalone converter tool, which provides a straightforward, wizard-driven process. Next, we'll delve into the manual method, which involves exporting the VM as an OVF template and then importing it into ESXi, offering more control over the migration process. Lastly, we'll examine how to utilize third-party tools and scripts to automate the migration, which can be especially beneficial for managing multiple VMs. Each method has its advantages and potential challenges, so we'll provide detailed steps, tips for troubleshooting common issues, and considerations to help you choose the best approach for your specific needs. Whether you're consolidating your virtualization environment, moving to a more powerful server, or simply looking to take advantage of ESXi's features, this guide will help you navigate the transition smoothly and efficiently.

1: Export Workstation VM to OVF/OVA and import to ESXi

Exporting a VMware Workstation VM to OVF (Open Virtualization Format) or OVA (Open Virtual Appliance) and then importing it to ESXi is a widely used method for migrating VMs. This process is favored for its flexibility and compatibility across different VMware products. Here's how to carry out this migration in a step-by-step manner:

Export VM from VMware Workstation to OVF/OVA

  • Open VMware Workstation: Start by launching VMware Workstation on your computer where the VM resides.
  • Select the VM: In the VMware Workstation library, right-click the virtual machine you wish to migrate and select "Manage."
  • Export the VM: Choose "Export to OVF" or "Export to OVA" from the menu. The OVF format exports into a folder containing several files (OVF, VMDK, etc.), while OVA exports everything into a single file, making it easier to transfer.
  • Choose Export Location: Specify a destination folder for the exported file(s) and begin the export process. Depending on the size of your VM, this could take some time.

Import OVF/OVA to ESXi

  • Access ESXi Web Interface: Open a web browser and navigate to the IP address or domain name of your ESXi server. Log in with your credentials.
  • Initiate the Import Process: In the ESXi web interface, navigate to the "Virtual Machines" section and click on "Create / Register VM."
  • Select Deployment Type: Choose "Deploy a virtual machine from an OVF or OVA file" and click "Next."
  • Upload OVF/OVA Files: Drag and drop your exported OVF or OVA file(s) into the upload area or use the file browser to locate and select your files. If you're importing an OVF, ensure you upload all the associated files (e.g., the VMDK disk file).
  • Configure VM Settings: Assign a name to your virtual machine, and select the datastore where you want the VM's files to reside. Adjust any other settings as necessary, such as network mappings.
  • Review and Finish: Review your settings, and if everything is correct, click "Finish" to start the import process. Like the export process, this may take some time depending on the size of the VM and the speed of your network and server.

Post-Import Configuration

After the VM has been imported successfully to ESXi, you might need to make some additional configurations:

  • VM Hardware Compatibility: Check and upgrade the VM's hardware version if necessary to ensure it's fully compatible with your ESXi version.
  • Install VMware Tools: If not already installed, it's recommended to install or update VMware Tools in the VM for improved performance and manageability.
  • Network Configuration: Ensure the VM's network adapter is connected and configured correctly within your ESXi network environment.

2: Upload Workstation VMs to ESXi

Uploading VMware Workstation VMs directly to ESXi is another practical method for migrating virtual machines. This approach is particularly useful when you have VMware vCenter Server available, as it allows for direct upload and management of VMs in an ESXi environment. Here's a step-by-step guide to accomplishing this:


  • Ensure Network Connectivity: Make sure your computer (with VMware Workstation) and the ESXi server are on the same network or can communicate over a VPN.
  • Check Compatibility: Verify that the VMware Workstation VM is compatible with the ESXi version. You may need to update the VM's hardware version in Workstation before proceeding.

Using VMware Workstation Pro to Connect to ESXi

  • Connect to ESXi/vCenter from Workstation: Open VMware Workstation Pro. Go to "File" > "Connect to Server." Enter the IP address or hostname of your ESXi server or vCenter, along with your username and password, and then connect.
  • Locate the VM in Workstation: In VMware Workstation, navigate to the VM you wish to migrate. It's a good idea to ensure the VM is powered off to avoid any data inconsistency.

Uploading the VM

  • Upload the VM: Right-click the VM in VMware Workstation and select "Manage" > "Upload." If prompted, select the target ESXi server (or a specific host if connected to vCenter) and datastore where you want to store the VM files.
  • Configure and Initiate the Upload: Follow the on-screen instructions to configure the upload. This includes selecting the destination for the VM on the ESXi server, such as a specific datastore. Begin the upload process. The time it takes will depend on the size of your VM and the speed of your network.

Post-Upload Configuration

  • Check VM Settings: Once the upload is complete, access the ESXi or vCenter server using the web interface or vSphere Client. Locate your uploaded VM and review its settings. Make any necessary adjustments, such as network configuration or hardware compatibility.
  • Install/Update VMware Tools: Ensure VMware Tools is installed or updated in your VM for optimal performance and functionality within the ESXi environment.
  • Power On and Test the VM: Finally, power on the VM in the ESXi environment and perform any necessary tests to ensure it operates as expected.

Additional Considerations

  • Licensing: VMware Workstation Pro is required for the direct connection and upload functionality. The free version of VMware Workstation Player does not support this feature.
  • Network Implications: Uploading large VMs can be bandwidth-intensive. Consider network usage and potential impact on your infrastructure before proceeding.
  • VMware vSphere Client: For environments using VMware vSphere, you can also use the vSphere Client to manage the upload and configuration of VMs more comprehensively.

3: Create an ESXi virtual machine with a converted VMDK file using VMware vCenter Converter

Using VMware vCenter Converter to migrate a VMware Workstation VM to ESXi involves converting the Workstation VM to a format compatible with ESXi and then creating a new virtual machine on the ESXi server using the converted VMDK file. This method is particularly useful for ensuring compatibility and optimizing the VM for the ESXi environment. Here’s how you can do it:

Step 1: Prepare for Conversion

  • Download VMware vCenter Converter: If you haven't already, download and install VMware vCenter Converter on a Windows machine. It can be the same machine where the VMware Workstation is installed or a different one, as long as it can access the VM files.
  • Check Compatibility: Ensure that the version of VMware vCenter Converter you are using is compatible with your VMware Workstation and ESXi versions.

Step 2: Convert VMware Workstation VM

  • Launch VMware vCenter Converter: Open the converter tool.
  • Start Conversion Process: Select “Convert machine” from the welcome screen or the file menu. You will be prompted to specify the source and destination of the conversion.
  • Select Source Type: For the source type, select “Powered-off machine” and then browse to the VMware Workstation VM file (VMX) you wish to convert. If the VM is stored on the same machine as the Converter, you can select “This local machine” and navigate to the VMX file.
  • Configure Destination: For the destination type, choose “VMware Infrastructure virtual machine.” Enter the ESXi server's IP address or hostname, username, and password. You will then need to specify certain details like the destination datastore, the VM version, and network settings.
  • Start the Conversion: Review the settings and start the conversion. The time it takes will depend on the size of your VM and the network speed.

Step 3: Import Converted VM into ESXi

  • Monitor Conversion Progress: VMware vCenter Converter will show the progress of the conversion. Once completed, the VM will be directly available on your ESXi server, as the converter not only converts the VM but also uploads it to the ESXi server.

Step 4: Post-Conversion Configuration

  • Access the ESXi Web Interface: Log in to your ESXi server through the web interface or vSphere Client to access the newly converted VM.
  • Edit VM Settings if Necessary: Adjust any VM settings as needed, such as CPU, memory allocation, or network adapter settings.
  • Install/Upgrade VMware Tools: Ensure that VMware Tools is installed or upgraded in the converted VM for optimal performance and integration with ESXi.

Additional Tips

  • Backup: Always make sure you have a backup of your original VM before starting the conversion process. This ensures you can revert back if anything goes wrong.
  • Network and Storage Considerations: Large VMs can take a significant amount of time to convert and upload, especially over slower network connections. Plan accordingly.
  • Compatibility Checks: Double-check the compatibility of the VMware products you are using to avoid conversion issues.

How to recover DATA from VMware ESXi?

Recovering data from VMware ESXi servers, especially when dealing with VMFS (Virtual Machine File System) volumes, can be a complex process. DiskInternals VMFS Recovery is a third-party tool designed to help in such situations, offering a way to recover files from VMFS-formatted disks, even if they are corrupted or inaccessible through normal means. Here's a step-by-step guide on how to use DiskInternals VMFS Recovery to retrieve your data:

Step 1: Prepare for Recovery

  • Download and Install DiskInternals VMFS Recovery: First, you need to download DiskInternals VMFS Recovery from the official website. Install it on a Windows machine. This machine does not need to be the VMware ESXi server but should have enough space to store recovered data.
  • Connect to the ESXi Storage: If your VMFS volumes are on a physical disk directly attached to the ESXi host, you might need to attach this disk to the Windows machine running DiskInternals VMFS Recovery. Alternatively, if you're working with networked storage (like iSCSI or NFS), ensure that your Windows machine can access these network locations.

Step 2: Launch DiskInternals VMFS Recovery

  • Open DiskInternals VMFS Recovery: Launch the program. The wizard-driven interface will guide you through the initial steps.
  • Find VMFS Volumes: Use the "Find VMFS volumes" feature to scan for available VMFS partitions. The software can find VMFS volumes even on disks that are not currently mounted or recognized by Windows.

Step 3: Mount and Scan the VMFS Volume

  • Mount the VMFS Volume: Once DiskInternals VMFS Recovery detects the VMFS volumes, you can mount them as local drives. This step is crucial as it allows the software to access and recover files from these volumes.
  • Scan for Data: After mounting the volume, initiate a scan for lost or deleted files. DiskInternals VMFS Recovery provides different scan modes, including a "Fast Scan" for quick recovery and a "Full Recovery" mode that performs a deep scan but takes more time.

Step 4: Recover Your Data

  • Preview and Select Files for Recovery: DiskInternals VMFS Recovery allows you to preview recoverable files before proceeding with the recovery. This feature is particularly useful for ensuring that the files you're about to recover are the ones you need.
  • Recover and Save Your Files: Select the files or folders you wish to recover, and then choose a location on your Windows machine to save them. It's recommended to save the recovered files to an external drive or a different partition to avoid potential data overwriting.

Step 5: Post-Recovery Steps

  • Verify Recovered Files: After the recovery process completes, verify the integrity of the recovered files by opening them with the appropriate applications.
  • Backup: Consider creating backups of important data to avoid future data loss scenarios. Implementing a regular backup schedule for your VMs can significantly reduce the risk of data loss.

Additional Tips

  • Trial Version: DiskInternals VMFS Recovery offers a trial version that allows you to scan and preview recoverable files. However, to save the recovered files, you will need to purchase a license.
  • Technical Support: If you encounter any issues or need assistance, DiskInternals offers technical support for their software. Don't hesitate to reach out to them for help.
  • Compatibility: Make sure your version of DiskInternals VMFS Recovery supports the version of VMFS used by your ESXi server. Newer versions of ESXi may use updated versions of VMFS.

Using DiskInternals VMFS Recovery can be a lifesaver in situations where critical data is lost or inaccessible. By following these steps, you can navigate the complexities of VMFS recovery and get your data back with minimal hassle.

Tip: learn more about VMware recovery.


The ability to efficiently migrate VMs from VMware Workstation to ESXi and to recover data from VMFS volumes are foundational skills in the virtualization space. These procedures not only facilitate optimal utilization of resources but also ensure that data integrity and availability are maintained across virtual environments. As we've seen, tools like VMware vCenter Converter and DiskInternals VMFS Recovery are invaluable in this context, offering both preventive and corrective measures against the challenges of VM management and data recovery.

Ultimately, the choice of method for VM migration or data recovery should be guided by the specific needs of your environment, including factors like VM size, network bandwidth, and the criticality of data. Regular backups and understanding the capabilities and limitations of your virtualization tools can also significantly contribute to a smooth and effective management of your virtual infrastructure.

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