Veeam and Free ESXi – the history of innovations

Note: This post was first published on June 4, 2009. It was updated (last time in February 2016) to reflect the changes over the time.

In June 2009, the world was a bit different. Steve Jobs was about to present iPhone 3GS with iOS 2.0, Windows 7 was just around the corner and VMware released ESX/ESXi 4.0. With this release, VMware updated its licensing policy and asked its partners to follow these changes accordingly.

On June 4, 2009 Veeam published the following press release:
“As a longtime Premier Technology Alliance Partner and supporter of VMware’s product strategy, Veeam Software takes great pride in creating innovative software products that enhance the customer value of VMware ESX, ESXi and ESXi Free,” said Ratmir Timashev, Veeam president and CEO. “One such example is support for the free edition of VMware ESXi in Veeam Backup & Replication. Recently, VMware requested that Veeam discontinue support for ESXi Free in Veeam Backup & Replication in order to comply with VMware’s updated licensing policy,” Timashev continued. “In light of VMware’s request, and our close technical partnership, Veeam Backup & Replication will no longer support ESXi Free (licensed ESXi is fully supported). We will still continue to offer support for ESXi Free to existing Veeam customers who purchased Backup & Replication prior to version 3.1.”

Thus, starting from Veeam Backup & Replication 3.1 and free ESXi 4.0, these 2 products and their new versions don’t work together.

Fast forward to 2016: Even though the world has changed a lot — for example, ESX was discontinued in favor of ESXi — the situation remains the same and the latest Veeam Backup & Replication v9 doesn’t support free ESXi 6.0 environment. In the article below, I will explain from the technical point of view why it occurred that way and what can be done if you happened to use free ESXi.

In order to overcome the limitations of traditional (physical) backup policies and legacy approaches, VMware used a VMware Consolidated Backup (VCB) in ESX/ESXi prior to version 4.0. VCB was a module that ran on a dedicated proxy backup server, gathered snapshots of each VM’s disk image and backed them up by itself. The VCB feature was a step forward toward simplicity compared to traditional backups. However, in addition to requiring a separate server (the proxy), it had some limitations, including the absence of incremental backups and the temporarily doubled I/O load on production storage.

Starting with ESX/ESXi 4.0, VMware replaced its VCB technology with innovative VMware vSphere Storage APIs (VADP) along with the Change Block Tracking (CBT) mechanism. VADP was next generation of VMware’s data protection framework and extremely useful for backup utilities. Using VADP, the backup application triggers the API to kick off the snapshot process and then backs up the resulting data set by mounting the snapshot and storing the data in a backup file. This provides an easy way for the backup software to take image-level backups of VMs directly.

On the other hand, CBT allows applications to get a list of blocks that have changed since the last backup point (or time point in the past) and makes subsequent backups using the changed data only. This obviously requires less time and space for incremental files.

Another great and important feature of ESX/ESXi 4.0 is called Hot-Add. This mechanism adds disks on the fly from one VM to another. It allows users to copy data directly from one disk to another without using network stack, which significantly reduces network traffic and time needed for the process. Backup and recovery products can offload specific VM and storage management operations to compliant storage hardware so the host executes these operations faster and consumes fewer resources.

With these advancements, backup solutions were able to perform their operations much faster, substantially reducing the backup window and decreasing the system’s recovery point objectives (RPO) and recovery time objectives (RTO).

As a price for the innovations, VMware didn’t make new APIs to be available with free ESX/ESXi, so Free ESX/ESXi have had several limitations ever since, including:

  • No support of vCenter agent;
  • VMware APIs are in read-only state
  • VMware APIs, including VADP, cannot be launched

Unlocking these settings is easy if one applies a paid VMware license. The minimum VMware licensing (VMware vSphere Essentials Kit) does that, and it gives the administrators all of the beauty of modern virtualization technologies, including ability to use Veeam Backup & Replication or Veeam Backup Free for VM data protection.

Now, here’s a quick Q&A round.

Q: What if I use Veeam Backup & Replication (Veeam Backup Free) for free ESXi?
A: If you attempt to perform a backup operation with Veeam Backup & Replication (or Veeam Backup Free Edition) for a VM running on free ESXi, you will see the following error message: “Error: Can’t create snapshot, current license or ESXi version prohibits execution of the requested operation.”

Veeam Backup Free and free ESXi 5.1
Veeam Backup Free and free ESXi 5.1

Q: Ok. What about restore operations? Is that the same?
A: Restore operations like Instant VM Recovery, entire VM restore and hard disks restore fail with the same error. However, the VM files restore operation works fine. It will gently upload files as if you were doing it via the vSphere datastore browser. When the operation is complete, you will need to go to the host and register the restored VM by right-clicking its VMX file and selecting add to inventory. At this point, the restored VM will be registered on the free host and you’ll be able to use it. This is a great tip if you want to play with a copy of your production VM at home.

Q: I use free ESXi already, how can I protect VMs?
A: There is always a workaround, and in this case, it’s not that complicated. You still can treat VMs working on a free ESXi like you would treat physical servers. For instance, install Veeam Endpoint Backup FREE inside of Windows guest OS, select the backup scope and schedule the job. Data residing on such VM will be fully protected and ready to be restored at your convenience.

Q: What about my Linux VMs?
A: As for the Linux VMs, you can use the manual VM export (turn VM off and copy VM files from ESXi datastore to your backup storage). However, we are going to have a new product that will make the things much easier here: Veeam Backup for Linux. We expect it to be available on the market soon. This product will take care of any Linux VM regardless of its nature (physical or virtual), allowing you to protect the data easily and efficiently.

Q: Is there any other product helping me with free ESXi management?
A: In addition to that, let me remind you that Veeam ONE Free Edition does support vSphere Hypervisor (free ESXi). With this instrument, you get powerful monitoring, reporting and capacity planning of your virtual infrastructure allowing you to prevent issues before they have any operation impact on the system.

VMware developed powerful APIs for vSphere hosts, but they are only available with a paid license. As a third-party vendor, Veeam requires a licensed host to provide full ESXi backup and recovery support for 100% quality. The backup and recovery support also relies on VADP and its features. This is the only VM backup and recovery method VMware recommends, and it establishes differences between physical and virtual environments, which allows admin to take advantage of agentless backup solutions in virtual infrastructures.

For small or branch office environments, check out the VMware vSphere Essentials Kit and the Veeam Backup Essentials bundle.

I hope you found this post useful. Please leave your comments below or follow us on Twitter.

  1. VADP in details
  2. PDF: VMware vSphere Storage APIs – Array Integration (VAAI)
  3. Veeam Community Forums: Veeam with vSphere 5 Hypervisor (e.g. free ESXi)
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  • I’m really not sure I’m happy about this.
    Why is VMware dictating what Veeam can and can’t do and why is Veeam allowing it. Ok so there are business reasons I’m sure but where does this leave the consumer.
    I need to fully digest this and see how it will effect my business.
    Or have I missed the point, which is also possible.


  • vmdoug says:

    Nope, you didn’t miss the point…

  • Sean Clark says:

    Why release a free product with no restrictions and then penalize an innovative partner for building on top of it? It’s kind of like telling your neighbor, “Yeah, I’m okay with you building a fence on our shared property line.” And then a couple months later suing them to take it down because it’s on your property line.

  • Ian Beyer says:

    For those of us that bought Backup in the last month or so, any chance of converting it to Essentials? We bought 10 sockets in mid-April and haven’t gotten it implemented yet.

    We’re probably gonna go with vSphere essentials on our current ESXi free for a number of reasons.

    I just wish VMware’s pricing wasn’t such a moving target.

  • MadHADR says:

    Which licensing policy was updated and when?

  • vmdoug says:

    @MadHADR Not sure when it was changed, Veeam is just doing what VMware asked in order to be a good partner. Also, the statement from Veeam had to be released to help our customers understand why Veeam Backup and Replication would no longer work with ESXi Free.

    Dropping the support for the Free version of ESXi has caused a number of support calls as well as questions from our partners, it was difficult to explain to them what was going on without an official statement, I’m sure you can understand.

  • Eric says:

    You’ve got to be kidding me

  • Dwight Ordway says:

    …and this is good why?!

  • vmdoug says:

    @Dwight – You’ll have to ask VMware that question

  • SteveLavoie says:

    I think Vmware missed a good opportunity for SMB. I am a current Veeam and Vmware partner. We are using a lot of Free ESXi. My client are SMB, they don’t need a licence for 3 host of 2 CPU (vSphere Essential). They have 2 to 5 servers to consolidate, so one physical host is enough, but I must be able to backup them to make my setup secure and reliable. Even their cheapest option is too large for SMB. For this reason, I will have to considerate another choice like Hyper-V or Xen Server for many SMB I consult for.

    Steve Lavoie, VCP

  • Pete says:

    Ouch, chalk up a lost sale here then.

  • vmdoug says:

    @Pete – Sorry to hear that. Lost sale for VMware or lost sale for Veeam? What direction will you be going now, just curious.

  • steve says:

    I believe VMWare wanted to dominate the business.
    ESXi was a strategy meant to capture many SMB into the trap that VMWare setup long ago. The intention was for SMB to go into it and use it for production. They know that you need a good backup tool like Veeam, VRanger Pro.

    I might be wrong. However it’s seems the stragegy works now and suprises many SMB.

    I am in the same shoe as well. I have not find a good tool to backup Citrix Xen Server.

    I will definately move to Citrix Xen Server if there is one available good backup tool for it.

    I do hope Veeam will extend it tools to backup Citrix Xen VM’s and also Hyper-V as well since many customer from SMB needs it.

    It’s a bad thing that Veeam it’s just a follower and servant to VMWare.

  • kevin says:

    For a small business combo, vmware esxi / veeam backup looked to be an ideal combo. However, now that this option is no longer available, xenserver is back on the table leaving veeam highly vulnerable to a lost sale.

  • H in OH says:

    “This combination costs exactly the same amount of money as purchasing 6 sockets of Veeam Backup at regular list price for use with free ESXi, but it is actually better…”

    What if you don’t need 6 sockets? What if you only need one or two? ESXi free and Veeam Backup were looking like a great combo that we were just starting to experiment with. Forget it now.

    A smart idea on both companies’ parts would be to at least allow Veeam Backup to work with ESXi free for licenses of one or two sockets (or pick any other number less than six).


  • Joel says:


    I was on my way over to Veeam to purchase a couple of copies of backup as I have two single server environments running ESXi Free. Guess I’m SOL. Shame on VMWare. I’m a huge VMWare fan and we run Enterprise in our data centers, but I have a couple of SMB and charities as clients that just don’t want/need to spend the money on ESXi licenses. They only have one server… why do the need to pay for 6 sockets. Dumb…

    Don’t they deserve a decent backup product, or is their data not important?

    Short-sighted and arrogant of VMWare. I have to admit that although I understand the motiviation, I’m more than a bit disappointed in Veeam for caving.

    Just to ensure that VMWare sees the errors in its ways, please be sure to add support for Xen, Hyper-V, and any additional free hypervisors that seem reasonable.


  • Joel says:

    …or, even better… release the bits that use the “unsupported API” as open source, via an “unaffiliated” company/person. Make it a plug-in for your product.

    I’ll keep my mouth shut, I swear!


  • Joe says:

    Vmware = EMC
    EMC = normous onetary osts

    Just finished an Email Archive solution RFP, EMC was a finalist…. The only company more arrogant IMHO is Micro$oft.

    I wish VMware had never sold out!

  • John White says:

    The discontinued support for ESXi is really screwing up what was a great DR solution for SMB’s and others who have a Single VMWare server and just 2 to 3 physical servers it gave a great solution at a low cost.
    In the current economic climate this is a very big step back by Veeam to cave in to VMware pressure and an even larger step back by VMware.

    VMware had a great chance to fight Microsoft by seeding the market but GREED and SHAREHOLDERS seem to be taking priority over clients and the future of the product.

    I will just add remember Digital Research and Novell.

  • David Jones says:

    Well, I’m researching into putting together a solution for my first SMB client who’s agreed to go virtual. I think this deal is only making the Hyper-V or Xen solutions even more attractive. A spectacularly bad move by VMware and shame on Veeam for not standing your ground.

  • Will says:

    Nice to know *after* moving a bunch of servers over to ESXi Free that there isn’t apparently any good way of cheaply backing VMs up! The next week will be an open source adventure, a land where people don’t trap you in proprietary formats and try to extract money from you.

  • Mark P says:

    As disappointed as I am with Veeam not working with Free ESXi, I have to say, “Geez people, don’t be so cheap, if it’s a good solution for you, cough up some money and buy it.” I’m a SMB consultant and I started with free ESXi on a lark and quickly became a firm believer that virtualization was going to give me all kinds of capabilities I couldn’t get with physical boxes. Do you know how much it would cost in my time alone to upgrade a Windows Server to a new hardware box? Converting the same server to virtual took a couple of hours. Wow. Sign me up, here’s my money, let’s keep you in business and developing more products. VMWare is worth it. So maybe you have to buy more sockets than you really need, hey! how many have more cylinders in your car than you actually need? So what? More is good, it’s the American way!!

  • ssstofff says:

    When testing around with an evaluation version on Esxi free … nothing is mentioned, never is mentioned that this will not work when you buy a license and install it. That moment, the software isn’t working anymore.

    I don’t understand this marketing point …

  • DIY ideas says:

    In June 2009, the world was a bit different. Steve Jobs was about to present iPhone 3GS with iOS 2.0, Windows 7 was just around the corner and VMware released ESX/ESXi 4.0. With this release, VMware updated its licensing policy and asked its partners to follow these changes accordingly.

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