ESXi (free) backup solution

  • This may not be the place for this, but I'd like to backup my VM's in ESXi (free) - particularly my pfSense VM. After doing some research some sources say that it is not possible (with the free version) and some say that it is. Can anyone shed some light on this and recommend a solution?

  • Banned

    Shut it down and copy the entire library on the host where the VM resides.

  • Unless you need to hold on to historical data like logs or reports, you're better off just saving a config backup.  Reinstalling pfSense take about 5-10 minutes, and then you restore your config backup.  Done.  Diagnostics - Backup/Restore -  Backup configuration - Backup Area: All - Download configuration.

  • I'm helping test out a custom script/program for pfSense that has some files that need to be backed up so just backing up the config won't work. I'd also like to backup the other VM's, pfSense just has the priority. If possible I'd like to be able to make backups once a week while the VMs are running.

    Some of the sources I looked at said that only file level backup was possible with ESXi free, while others said that full backup was possible.

  • You have two backup method options when using ESXi:  1) Treat the virtual machine like a real machine and back it up using any of the numerous tools/methods available to back up a real computer  and/or  2) Use tools/methods available for backing up ESXi virtual machines in their entirety.

    The goals for each method of backup would probably be slightly different and somewhat complimentary. For instance, using BackupExec to back up a vmWare host server and the VMs running on it would probably be used for disaster recovery…not efficient for recovering individual files within a VM that may have been accidentally deleted or changed. Backing up the VMs is useful and I do it myself by shutting down a VM and then making a full copy of the files that make up the VM and dumping them onto a "backup" ESXi datastore. This gets you a full point in time disaster recovery, but is a poor choice for just recovering a file or two inside a VM.

    For file-level backups, that's where you treat the VM like a real computer and just use an appropriate backup method for whatever OS is running in the VM. With pfSense, you'd use the backup methods provided via the webconfigurator.

    If it were me, I'd maybe use snapshots with your ESXi. That's probably your fastest/easiest method for running your tests, unless your just dealing with a couple of config files that you can manually copy and back up online. With the snapshots, just take a snapshot, then do your tests, and if you need to revert to the latest snapshot, simply shutdown or kill the VM and select "revert to snapshot". All of your changes since the snapshot get wiped as if they never happened. VM Snapshots are ideal for testing/evaluating programs/updates/etc that you aren't certain of the results of. That way if you install the latest major service pack to your Windoze VM and the service pack just goes completely haywire and destroys your OS, you can easily revert back to the snapshot you took just prior to beginning the installation. ...and voila! it never happened.

    Lastly, I believe that ESXi hypervisor-only (free version) doesn't have any direct support for backing up a VM while it's running. Need the full version license for that.

  • Moderator

    Take a look at    VMware vCenter Converter Standalone Client

    You can make Full Backups of VMs when they are powered down.

  • VCP5-DCV here –

    SSH into it -- turn off VM -- zip /datastore/VM directory and download via SSH to a remote PC.

    It is what I do, and another 'auto' task.

  • Check out

    I'm using it to backup my pf and win server vm's.  Good thing with this it'll back in snapshot mode so you do not need to power down your vm's  I also schedule the back to run from within a window server and use blat.exe to email me the logs.

    Ahh but then I am not using free esxi so I cannot now hold my hand on my heart about snapshot mode.


  • LAYER 8 Global Moderator

    You can use this free tool to backup VMs

    But I agree don't really seem much need to take a actual backup of pfsense - can be deployed from scratch in a few minutes.  I take snapshot before I let it do any sort of update.  Backup of the config should really all you should need.  Other option if you want a full copy that is really easy to put back is just export an ovf template..  Prob is the vm has to be shutdown to do that.

  • No need to shut down machine before copy vmdk and vmdx. Just take a snapshot before copying them and the mahine will be up and running when you take backup/copy files.
    Remember to delete the snapshot afterwards :)

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