How to Setup Free VMware VM Backups with ThinWare vBackup

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.

Prerequisites

–  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.

Licensing

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.

Licensing

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.

AddHost1

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.

AddVM1

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:

  • Backup-Image-SSH
    • 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.
  • Image-VADP
    • This only works with the “paid” version of VMware VSphere.
    • Uses the vStorage APIs to perform the backup.
  • Image-VCB
    • 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.

BackupJob1

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

Example:
“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.

Enjoy!

7 thoughts on “How to Setup Free VMware VM Backups with ThinWare vBackup

  1. Dan Drinnon

    Thanks for the K.I.S.S. tutorial! I have a FreeBSD 9.3 system A that hosted everything – ZFS NAS, Plex, SMTP, DNS, DHCP, HTTP x2, Wiki, Shoutcast, and other services and just started moving the backend stuff over to FreeBSD 9.3 vm’s on a separate ESXi system B. System A has been backed up to tape but I wanted to offload the backend services to vm’s so that only NAS and Plex were left on system A. I’m testing out ThinWare’s backup solution now, but need that license to go any further. I hope they don’t take too long – reading their forums, it looks like sometime people had to bug them to get it. I could use my existing tape backup to backup the vm servers, but I’m trying (really hard) to get away from tape 🙂

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    1. Brandon Post author

      Hey, no problem. I haven’t seen any updates on the company’s website in some time, so I’m not 100% sure how viable they are, but I requested a new license as recently as a few months ago. They replied within a business day. Make sure and check your junk folder, that’s where my reply ended up.

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  2. evamgarciava

    Great tutorial. You say to enter the hardware ID for the license: You *must* make sure and do this from the machine you will be running your backups from. Then you say when configuring the host: Finally you assign a license to the host. Do we need to purchase a license for the host then that is different from the license of the machine I run my backups from?
    Thanks a lot!

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    1. Brandon Post author

      Hi there. No need to license hosts. You have to generate a hardware key from the Windows host you are setting up your Thinware software and backup jobs. Once you get your license from Thinware, you plug it into the Thinware software. Later, you can add ESXi servers… no licensing here. I hope that clears things up.

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  3. William

    Hi Brandon.

    Your article was very helpful. Could you confirm that I can install vbackup on a Windows virtual machine so that I can add my esxi free server later ?

    I’m not sure this could work.

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  4. Brandon Post author

    Hi William, I can’t confirm 100% but I can’t see any reason you can’t run it from a VM. The only issue there being you would want to make sure to land your backups on something not hosted in the VM environment you are backing up for recovery reasons.

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