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Last updated: Jul 15, 2024

Recovering a Deleted VMFS Datastore on VMware ESXi/vSphere

VMware's ESXi platform stands as a cornerstone solution for managing and orchestrating virtual machines (VMs). While the platform is robust and feature-rich, it is not immune to the pitfalls of accidental data deletions or corruptions. One such critical scenario is the unintended deletion of a VMFS (Virtual Machine File System) datastore. A VMFS datastore serves as a storage repository for hosting VMs, and losing it can be devastating, putting both data and operational continuity at risk.

This article is a comprehensive guide designed to walk you through the critical steps to recover a deleted VMFS datastore on VMware ESXi. Whether you are a system administrator, IT professional, or an advanced user looking to troubleshoot issues, this resource aims to provide you with practical instructions, best practices, and expert insights to aid in a swift and successful recovery.

By the end of this tutorial, you will understand:

  • What a VMFS datastore is and how it functions within VMware ESXi
  • Common scenarios that lead to datastore deletions
  • Prerequisites for VMFS datastore recovery
  • Step-by-step procedures for recovering a deleted VMFS datastore
  • Tips to prevent future data loss events

Our objective is to help you restore your VMFS datastore with minimal downtime and data loss, leveraging both built-in VMware utilities and third-party tools. So let's dive in and explore the road to recovery.

What a VMFS datastore is and how it functions within VMware ESXi

What is a VMFS Datastore?

VMFS (Virtual Machine File System) is a high-performance file system developed by VMware specifically for storing virtual machines. It is designed to provide strong performance, scalability, and capabilities that are optimized for virtual environments. A VMFS datastore is essentially a storage container that holds the files, folders, and disks that make up a virtual machine. This can include configuration files, virtual disk files (VMDKs), and other important data. Datastores can reside on a variety of storage types, including SAN (Storage Area Network), NAS (Network-Attached Storage), and local disks.

How Does VMFS Function within VMware ESXi?

In a VMware ESXi environment, the VMFS datastore plays a critical role as the foundational storage layer. Here’s how it functions:

Centralized Storage:

VMFS datastores allow for centralized storage management, simplifying storage space allocation and de-allocation. Multiple ESXi hosts can read and write to the same VMFS datastore concurrently, making it easier to manage resources in a clustered environment.

Dynamic Scalability:

VMFS is highly scalable, supporting large storage capacities and numerous files. It enables dynamic growth of virtual disks, allowing for more efficient use of storage.

High Performance:

The VMFS file system is optimized for virtual machines, offering excellent performance even under high levels of load and concurrency. Features like hardware acceleration and advanced queuing mechanisms improve data access speeds.

Snapshot and Cloning Support:

VMFS includes built-in support for snapshots and cloning. Snapshots capture the state of a VM at a specific point in time, while cloning allows for the duplication of existing VMs. This is invaluable for backup, testing, and development scenarios.

Atomic Operations:

VMFS employs atomic test and set (ATS) operations to ensure that only one host can update a particular file or metadata at a given time. This ensures data integrity even in multi-host environments.

Fault Tolerance and Resiliency:

VMFS datastores are designed with fault tolerance in mind. Features like Distributed Resource Scheduler (DRS) and High Availability (HA) ensure that VMs can continue to run even if one or more ESXi hosts fail.

Simplified Management:

VMware provides a suite of management tools for handling VMFS datastores, including the vSphere Client, which offers a graphical interface, and ESXi Shell or Secure Shell (SSH) for command-line operations.

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Common scenarios that lead to datastore deletions

Accidents and errors in managing your virtual environment can lead to the unfortunate circumstance of a deleted VMFS datastore. While VMware ESXi is a robust and reliable platform, it's not completely immune to human errors, misconfigurations, or unforeseen situations that could result in the loss of critical data. Below are some of the most common scenarios that can lead to the deletion of a VMFS datastore:

Human Error

  1. 1. Accidental Deletion: One of the most common causes, this occurs when an administrator mistakenly deletes a datastore, confusing it with another or assuming it is no longer needed.
  2. 2. Incorrect Command Execution: Using ESXi Shell or SSH for management tasks offers great power but also exposes the system to risks if commands are not executed correctly.


  1. 1. Storage Array Changes: Modifying the settings on the storage array without proper coordination with the ESXi setup can result in loss of access to the datastore or its deletion.
  2. 2. Network Configuration: Incorrectly configuring network settings can disconnect the host from the storage network, making the datastore inaccessible and potentially leading to deletion in attempts to troubleshoot.

System or Software Bugs

  1. 1. Firmware or Driver Issues: Incompatible or outdated firmware/drivers can lead to various issues, including accidental datastore deletions.
  2. 2. Software Glitches: Sometimes, the VMware software or other third-party management tools might have bugs that lead to unintended deletion or corruption of datastores.

External Factors

  1. 1. Hardware Failure: Disk failures or issues with SAN/NAS hardware can make a datastore unusable and may lead to intentional or accidental deletion while troubleshooting.
  2. 2. Malicious Activity: Unauthorized users gaining access to the ESXi management interface could intentionally delete datastores.

Cleanup Operations

  1. 1. Resource De-allocation: While trying to free up storage resources, administrators may inadvertently delete datastores that are still in use.
  2. 2. Migration Mistakes: During data migration, a datastore may be deleted assuming that all data has been successfully moved, which might not be the case.

Cluster Operations

  1. 1. Cluster Reconfiguration: Mistakes in configuring or reconfiguring VMware clusters, such as DRS or HA clusters, can lead to accidental datastore deletion.
  2. 2. Automated Scripts: Scripts or automated processes meant to manage cluster resources could have errors leading to unintentional datastore deletions.

Prerequisites for VMFS Datastore Recovery

Before diving into the recovery process for a deleted VMFS datastore, it’s crucial to have all the necessary components and information at your disposal. This ensures not only a smoother recovery process but also minimizes the risk of further data loss or corruption. Below are some of the key prerequisites you should consider:

Access and Permissions

  1. 1. Administrative Credentials: Make sure you have administrative access to the VMware ESXi host and the storage hardware.
  2. 2. SSH or Console Access: You might need Secure Shell (SSH) or direct console access to the ESXi host for command-line operations.

Software and Tools

  1. 1. VMware vSphere Client: Ensure you have the vSphere Client installed and accessible as it is commonly used for datastore management.
  2. 2. Data Recovery Software: Specialized VMFS recovery software can be a lifesaver; consider having one at hand.
  3. 3. Backup Software: Access to your backup management software, if you have datastore backups.

Hardware Resources

  1. 1. Sufficient Storage: Ensure you have enough storage space available either on another datastore or external storage for recovered data.
  2. 2. Stable Network: A stable and fast network connection between the ESXi host, storage hardware, and your administrative console is essential for speedy recovery.

Documentation and Information

  1. 1. Storage Layout: Documentation regarding the logical configuration of your storage array can be invaluable.
  2. 2. Deleted Datastore Details: Any available information about the deleted datastore such as its size, name, and the types of VMs it hosted.
  3. 3. Logs and Audits: Review logs for information that could help identify the cause of the deletion, which might aid in the recovery process.

Backups and Snapshots

  1. 1. Most Recent Backup: Make sure you have access to the most recent backup of your VMFS datastore if available.
  2. 2. Snapshot Information: Information about any snapshots for the deleted datastore can be helpful.


  1. 1. Technical Support: Keep the contact information of VMware technical support and your storage vendor at hand in case expert help is needed.
  2. 2. Time: Recovery operations can be time-sensitive, especially in production environments. Make sure you allocate sufficient time for the recovery process.

Readiness Checks

  1. 1. Testing Environment: If possible, try the recovery steps in a testing environment first.
  2. 2. Communication: Inform all relevant stakeholders about the recovery process, including possible downtime.

Preparation is key when it comes to data recovery. The more prepared you are, the better your chances of successfully recovering a deleted VMFS datastore with minimal data loss and downtime.

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There are multiple methods to recover a deleted VM folder/files from a datastore, ranging from using built-in tools to third-party software.

Method 1: Using Datastore Browser

  1. 1. Log in to the vSphere Client: Access your ESXi host or vCenter Server via the vSphere Client.

  2. 2. Navigate to the Datastore: Go to Storage > Datastore and select the datastore where the VM files were located.

  3. 3. Browse Datastore: Click on the Browse Datastore button to view the files within the datastore.

  4. 4. Check for Deleted Files: Sometimes, files are not actually deleted but moved. Verify if the files are still in some other folder within the datastore.

  5. 5. Restore from Datastore Backup: If you have a datastore backup, you can restore the deleted files from here by simply copying them back to their original location.

Method 2: Using ESXi Shell or SSH

  1. 1. Enable SSH: If not already enabled, turn on SSH access to your ESXi host.

  2. 2. SSH into ESXi Host: Use an SSH client like PuTTY to connect to your ESXi host.

  3. 3. Navigate to Datastore: Change directory to /vmfs/volumes/your_datastore_name/.

  4. 4. File Recovery Tools: Use file recovery commands or tools compatible with VMFS to attempt a recovery. (Note: This is risky and recommended only for advanced users familiar with the file system.)

Method 3: Third-Party VMFS Recovery Tools

  1. 1. Download and Install Software: Download a third-party VMFS recovery tool that is compatible with your version of ESXi.

  2. 2. Scan Datastore: Follow the software’s instructions to scan the datastore for deleted files.

  3. 3. Recover Files: After scanning, the software will usually provide an option to recover deleted files. Select the files and proceed with the recovery.

Method 4: Restore from Backup

  1. 1. Locate Backup: If you have a backup of your VM, locate it using your backup software.

  2. 2. Restore Procedure: Follow your backup software’s procedure to restore the VM folder/files back to the original datastore or a new datastore.

  3. 3. Verify Restoration: Once restored, verify that the VMs are operational.

Method 5: Contacting Support

If all else fails, consider contacting VMware’s support for expert assistance. Professional help can sometimes recover files in situations that seem hopeless.

Post-Recovery Steps

  1. 1. Audit: Conduct an audit to determine how the files were deleted in the first place and take preventive measures.

  2. 2. Documentation: Update your documentation to include the incident and recovery steps taken.

  3. 3. Backup: Make sure to backup the restored VM immediately to avoid future data loss.

Restore VM from OVF/OVA Template

Using vSphere Client:

  1. 1. Log In to vSphere Client: Open your vSphere Client and log in to your ESXi host or vCenter Server.

  2. 2. Navigate to Deploy OVF Template:

    • If connected to a vCenter Server, navigate to the target datacenter or cluster, then right-click and choose Deploy OVF Template.
    • If connected to an ESXi host, navigate to the host, then right-click and choose Deploy OVF Template.
  3. 3. Locate OVF/OVA File:

    • Click on Browse to locate the OVF/OVA file on your local system or network share.
  4. 4. Review Details:

    • After selecting the file, the wizard will show you details about the VM to be deployed, such as its name, size, and resources required. Click Next.
  5. 5. Select Name and Location:

    • Choose a name for the restored VM and select the folder or datacenter where it will be located. Click Next.
  6. 6. Select Resource Pool:

    • If you're using vCenter, choose a resource pool (if available) where the VM should be hosted. Click Next.
  7. 7. Select Datastore:

    • Choose the datastore where the VM will be stored. You may also have options to select the disk format. Click Next.
  8. 8. Select Network:

    • Map the networks used in the OVF/OVA template to those in your environment. This is crucial for the VM to connect to the correct networks. Click Next.
  9. 9. Review and Deploy:

    • Review your settings, and click Finish to start the deployment process.
  10. 10. Monitor Deployment:

    • You can monitor the deployment progress in the vSphere Client. Once completed, the VM should appear in your list of virtual machines.
  11. 11. Power On and Configure VM:

    • Once deployed, you can power on the VM and proceed with any additional configurations as needed.

Using ESXi Shell or SSH (Advanced):

  1. 1. Upload OVF/OVA to Datastore: Use tools like scp to upload the OVF/OVA template to a directory in your datastore.

  2. 2. Connect to ESXi Shell: Access the ESXi Shell via SSH.

  3. 3. Navigate to Datastore: Change to the directory where the OVF/OVA template is located.

  4. 4. Deploy VM: Use the ovftool command-line utility to deploy the VM. Syntax may vary based on your specific needs. Check the VMware documentation for details.

By following these steps, you should be able to successfully restore a VM from an OVF/OVA template in your ESXi environment. After deployment, don't forget to validate that the VM is functioning as expected and conduct any further configuration or restoration of data from backup as required.

How to recover an accidentally deleted ESXi Datastore in vSphere

Preliminary Steps

  1. 1. Stop All Operations: As soon as you realize a datastore has been accidentally deleted, stop all write operations to the storage device to minimize data corruption.

  2. 2. Inform Stakeholders: Notify all relevant personnel about the incident and probable downtime.

  3. 3. Check Backups: Before diving into more complicated recovery methods, check if there is a recent backup of the datastore.

Method 1: Using Storage Array Snapshots

If your storage array supports snapshots and you have snapshots of the datastore, this could be the quickest way to recover.

  1. 1. Log in to the Storage Array: Use the management interface of your storage array to login.

  2. 2. Restore Snapshot: Locate the snapshot corresponding to the deleted datastore and restore it.

  3. 3. Rescan Storage in ESXi: Go to Storage > Rescan Storage in your vSphere Client to discover the restored datastore.

Method 2: Manual Recovery via SSH

  1. 1. SSH into ESXi Host: Use an SSH client to connect to your ESXi host.

  2. 2. Locate Disk Partition: Run ls /dev/disks/ to list all disk devices and partitions. Locate the device where the datastore was.

  3. 3. Recreate VMFS Filesystem: Use vmkfstools to recreate the VMFS filesystem. For example,

    vmkfstools -C vmfs6 -S Datastore_Name /dev/disks/Disk_Name

    Note: This is a risky operation and should be performed with caution.

  4. 4. Rescan Storage in ESXi: Rescan the storage devices on the ESXi host to recognize the new datastore.

Method 3: Third-Party Data Recovery Tools

Various third-party tools can scan the raw storage to recover a deleted VMFS datastore.

  1. 1. Install Data Recovery Software: Download and install the data recovery software compatible with VMFS.

  2. 2. Scan for Lost Datastore: Follow the software's instructions to scan for the deleted datastore.

  3. 3. Recover Datastore: After scanning, proceed with the recovery steps as guided by the software.

Method 4: Professional Services

If the datastore is not recoverable by the above methods, or if the data is too critical to risk further damage, consider hiring professional data recovery services.

Post-Recovery Steps

  1. 1. Validate Data: Make sure the recovered datastore and its VMs are functional.

  2. 2. Review Incident: Conduct a thorough review to understand how the datastore was deleted and how to prevent it in the future.

  3. 3. Backup: Take an immediate backup of the recovered datastore.

  4. 4. Update Documentation: Update all relevant documentation to reflect the incident and recovery process.

Using DiskInternals VMFS Recovery to Recover a Deleted VMFS Datastore on VMware ESXi

Accidental deletion of a VMFS datastore is a scenario that no VMware ESXi administrator ever wants to face. However, it's reassuring to know that user-friendly tools like DiskInternals VMFS Recovery exist to streamline the recovery process. DiskInternals VMFS Recovery is a specialized software designed to recover data from VMFS-formatted disks, including deleted datastores, corrupted files, or damaged VM disk images. Here's a guide on how to use DiskInternals VMFS Recovery to recover a deleted VMFS datastore in an ESXi environment.


  • Administrative access to the ESXi host where the datastore was deleted
  • A Windows machine to run DiskInternals VMFS Recovery
  • Network connectivity between the Windows machine and the ESXi host
  • The storage device containing the deleted datastore should be online but not overwritten
  • Download and install DiskInternals VMFS Recovery on the Windows machine

Step-by-Step Recovery Process

Step 1: Launch DiskInternals VMFS Recovery

Open the DiskInternals VMFS Recovery software on your Windows machine. Make sure you're running it with administrative privileges to ensure full functionality.

Step 2: Connect to ESXi Host

  • In DiskInternals VMFS Recovery, locate the option to connect to a remote ESXi server.
  • Input the IP address, username, and password for the ESXi host and establish a connection.

Step 3: Scan for Lost Datastore

  • Once connected, the software will list all available storage devices.
  • Select the device that had the deleted datastore and initiate a scan. This may take some time, depending on the size and complexity of the datastore.

Step 4: Browse and Select Files

  • After the scan is complete, you will see a directory structure that represents your lost datastore. You can browse through this structure just like you would in Windows Explorer.
  • Locate the deleted VM files or folders you wish to recover and select them.

Step 5: Preview Files (Optional)

DiskInternals VMFS Recovery allows you to preview files before recovery. This feature can be helpful to verify that the data is intact.

Step 6: Recover Datastore

  • Once you have selected the files or folders you wish to recover, right-click and choose the recovery option.
  • Follow the on-screen instructions to recover the selected data. You may be asked to specify a recovery location, which can be on a local disk or another datastore.

Step 7: Verify Recovery

  • After the recovery process is complete, you can validate the recovered files by manually checking their integrity or by re-importing them into an ESXi host to see if they function correctly.

Post-Recovery Actions

  • Backup Recovered Data: Take immediate steps to backup the recovered datastore to prevent any future loss.
  • Audit the Event: Investigate how the datastore was deleted in the first place and take steps to prevent a similar incident.
  • Document: Record the recovery process, including any issues encountered and how they were resolved, for future reference.

VHD data recovery tool provides a user-friendly way to recover deleted VMFS datastores, making it a valuable tool for any ESXi administrator's toolkit. Remember, however, that the best prevention against data loss is a solid backup and recovery strategy. P.S. Learn more about VMFS 5 vs 6 recovery here!

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