Backing up ESXi VMs with ghettoVCB

We’ve been using the free ESXi ghettoVCB backup utility for the last 5 years to backup about 150 VMs daily without a glitch. ghettoVCB snapshots the VM, copies away the files (with a configurable retention period) and then removes the snapshot. The resulting backup is a snapshot of the VM which means that when you need it, you can directly run the backup copy of the VM with ESXi and start it without having to restore it. ghettoVCB is fast and reliable (it copies sparse disks correctly to an NFS backup share so the resulting backup is as compact as the original VM disks).

ghettoVCB has no deduplication capabilities, so its usually not appropriate for offsite backup of VMs. We use borg to archive the ghettoVCB backups offsite. This has the advantage that you get indefinite retention offsite (since borg does very efficient deduplication). You can also mount any borg backup (using its FUSE mounting), so you can run any backed up VM straight out of the archive.

ghettoVCB is available at

Highly recommended!

Borg backup

Borg backup ( is an open source backup tool which, in addition to the usual backup features like strong client-side encryption and compression, has several important characteristics which make it particularly suitable for handling large offsite backups (like virtual machine backups):

  1. Deduplication: this ensures that even if the source files move or change names, that they will not be re-backed up unnecessarily.
  2. The backup can be moved. Borg backups are just directories – this means that you can make the first, full backup locally, copy it to the destination via a USB disk and the continue incremental backups over the network.

We are currently using borg for several offsite backups, including a weekly offsite backup of VMWare ghettovcb local backups (VM image clones) and the resulting backup traffic is less than 10% of the file size of the local backups (this obviously depends on how much change is occurring between backups, but 90% deduplication is the average over 15 VMs backed up offsite).

The steps to do an initial backup of the directory (data_dir) locally, move it to a remote server (server1) and resume incremental backups to that server (via ssh to user1@server) are as follows:

# initialise a local borg backup repository
# in directory borg_repo_dir
$ mkdir borg_repo_dir
$ borg init borg_repo_dir

# make an initial backup
# to the local repository
$ borg create --stats --progress borg_repo_dir::backup1 data_dir

# copy borg_repo_dir to server1 via USB disk
# make further (incremental) backups via ssh
borg create --stats --progress user1@server1:new_borg_repo_dir::backup1 data_dir

(1) borg should be installed on both the client machine and the server machine.
(2) When you move the backup (repository), the name of the directory you move it to does not need to match that which it was moved from.

Thanks to Gabriel for recommending borg!