I run a VMware ESXi (free edition) host server with several VMs in my home lab. I’ve been on the lookout for some time for a backup product for them. Since I’m not a company, I prefer the price of “free”. There are some products out there, but most of them have onerous requirements unless you get the “pay” version, which is pretty far out of most of our price ranges.
I did find Thinware vBackup. I takes a bit to setup, but it’s free, works well, and has a CLI you can use to schedule backups so you can automatically back up one or more VMs without user intervention
Below I’ve detailed my setup experience and how to get your own free backups running.
– Thinware vBackup is a Windows product. You need a Windows machine to run the backup software from.
– For the free version, you need VMWare Converter Standalone installed on the Windows backup machine.
– You also need the VMware Virtual Disk Development Kit from VMware’s website.
You need a license to use the software, even for the free Standard edition. To get the license, you have to do a few things first:
First, you need to visit Thinware’s website and register for an account. Registering is free. Once you’ve done that, you can download the latest vBackup product version (v 4.0 as of this writing).
Decide which Windows machine will run your backups. Then install the product on that machine. Once installed you can launch it and it will immediately complain about licensing. Go to the licensing screen (Click “Tools” in the drop-down menu and select “Configure Licensing”). The licensing screen will show you the hardware ID of your machine. You *must* make sure and do this from the machine you will be running your backups from! I’m pretty confident the key you get will only work on that machine.
Once you’ve obtained your Hardware ID, then you go to the thinware.net site again, click the Products tab then click the Request a License link under the Standard Edition column. Fill out the form thoroughly. Do not forget to fill out your organization name (or your name if this is for personal use) and your FULL address (be sure to include City, State, and Zip code) Also fill in the contact name and e-mail address. If you forget to include all of this, your license will be denied (then you have to do it again). They will email your license key in a few days. Plug they key into the licensing screen on the software and you are ready to rock.
Adding your VM Entities
Once you are licensed, you have to tell Thinware what VM hosts and VMs it will be dealing with. For each VM host, click Inventory -> Add Host server.
Incidentally, the software supports connecting to vCenter but that’s outside the scope of what we’re doing here today.
Fill in the details of your server including hostname and login credentials. The port defaults will suffice in most environments and Management Server only applies if you have a vCenter server running.
The next screens allow you to review your details, validate connectivity and add any VMs discovered on the host. In my environment, it didn’t detect the VMs automatically. I had to add them later. Finally you assign a license to the host, review the settings again and finish.
Right-click the newly-added host and click “add virtual machine” to add new machines.
Create a Backup Job
Before you can run backups, you have to define a backup job for each VM. Click a VM and on the left-side pane click the Jobs tab. Right-click the empty pane below and click “Add Job”.
I recommend you make the job name [vmname]-backup. This makes it easy to remember later, but you can name it whatever you want. You have three backup types to choose:
- This is the only option you must choose if you are using the free version and are running ESXi 5.x.
- NOTE: The SSH service needs to be enabled on the host server.
- This only works with the “paid” version of VMware VSphere.
- Uses the vStorage APIs to perform the backup.
- This uses VMware Consolidated Backup, which must be installed on your machine.
- Used for older, vSphere 4.x and older
I chose the Backup-Image-SSH, which works great for a small home environment with free ESXi.
On the next screens, you specify the root directory you want your backups to go in (e.g. C:\thinware). It will create a subfolder for each VM automatically when you run the first backup. Specify the number of backups to keep before it automatically purges old backups. Disk Exclusion is cool, and allows you to skip certain virtual disks from the backup process. However, this does not work with the standard (free) version of Thinware.
The next screen has you configure quiescing of the guest file system (recommended). Compression can be configured here too at three levels: none, basic and advanced. Unfortunately, you can’t choose any compression if you have the free version of Thinware.
Once complete, you submit the job and it shows up in the jobs pane. You can right-click it and “Execute Now” to run it on-demand.
Scheduling a Backup Job
Scheduling a backup job is pretty easy. From your Windows station with Thinware installed open the task scheduler. Add a new task. For the action, you will use the following:
“C:\program files (x86)\Thinware\vBackup\vBackup.exe” -v vmname -j backup-job-name
“C:\program files (x86)\Thinware\vBackup\vBackup.exe” -v myvm01 -j myvm01-backup
Easy enough. Each backup takes a full image backup of the VM. Depending on how large your .vmdk files are, these can get rather large. With the free version, there’s no differential/incremental type backup scheme. For the price in a home lab though, I can’t complain.