Efficient Data Retrieval from VMWare vSphere ESXi with VMFS: Proven Methods

In this tutorial, we’ll demonstrate how to recover virtual machine data from VMWare vSphere ESXi Hypervisor with VMFS file system. Whether you’ve experienced accidental deletion, disk corruption, or other data loss scenarios, we’ll guide you through the process of retrieving your valuable data efficiently and securely.

Efficient Data Retrieval from VMWare vSphere ESXi with VMFS: Proven Methods

We will explore how to create a Windows virtual machine on ESXi Server, how to manage snapshots, how to recover virtual machine files from the disk of a non-operable server, how to restore operability of a virtual machine, and how to recover information from .vmdk files.

VMWare ESXi is a hypervisor that can be installed onto a physical server and lets you run several operating systems on a single host computer. These operating systems work separately from each other but they may interact with other computers over the network.

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How to Recover Virtual Machine Data from VMWare vSphere ESXi Hypervisor with VMFS File System

How to Recover Virtual Machine Data from VMWare vSphere ESXi Hypervisor with VMFS File System

How to create a virtual machine

For starters, let’s explore how to create a virtual machine. On the client machine, open a browser and type the server’s IP address. In the login page, enter the administrator’s login and password.

Log in to vmware server

Open the Navigator and go to the tab “Virtual Machines.” In the window on the right, click “Create/Register VM.” In the window that opens, choose “Create a new virtual machine.”

Create/Register VM

Then give the name of the virtual machine, and specify its operating system family and version.

Give the name of the virtual machine, and specify its operating system family and version

After that, choose the storage for the virtual machine files.

Choose storage

While configuring the parameters, select the number of processors and the amount of RAM to be allocated for the virtual machine. Also, don’t forget to allocate some disk space.

Select the number of processors, the amount of RAM, and the disk space

Click “Add other device” and select CD / DVD Drive. Select the disk type for it – Datastore ISO File, and give the path to the ISO file of the operating system.

Add new device - CD / DVD Drive

If there is no such image on your server, then at the top of the window that opens, click “Upload” and give the path to the previously downloaded ISO image of the operating system that is stored on the client machine, then click “Open” and wait for the upload to be completed. After that, highlight it and click “Select” – “Next” – and then “Finish.”

Finish creation of the virtual machine

The only thing left to do is to start it and install the operating system. Select the virtual machine and click “Power on.” The actual process of installing an operating system to a virtual machine is the same as if you were installing it to your computer, so just follow the installer directions.

Installing the operating system

When the installation process is over, the virtual machine will be ready to use.

How to take a snapshot in vSphere web client

The vSphere hypervisor lets you take snapshots of your virtual machine. A snapshot captures the state and data of a virtual machine at the specific time when the snapshot was taken. Snapshots can helps you revert the operating system when files are deleted accidentally, or when you want to return to previous settings.

To take a snapshot, select a virtual machine that is powered off, select “Snapshot” – “Take snapshot.” Specify a name and click “Take Snapshot.”

Snapshot – Take snapshot

Now that you have the snapshot, you can revert the operating system to that snapshot at any time.

How to revert to a snapshot in vSphere web client

When you go back to a snapshot, all settings, changes, or disks added after the snapshot was taken will be restored to their previous state.

If you need to do it, right-click on the virtual machine – “Snapshot” – “Restore snapshot.”

Snapshot – Restore snapshot

You will see a warning saying the current state of the virtual machine will be lost unless you save it in a snapshot. Click “Restore” to confirm your decision.

How to remove a snapshot

In the snapshot manager, you can always remove any snapshot you have taken before. Select the snapshot you want to delete, click “Delete snapshot” and then click “Remove” to confirm.

Delete all snapshots

In the manager, you can choose to remove a single snapshot, or all of them by clicking “Delete all snapshots.”

How to recover virtual machine files from vSphere hypervisor

If you have accidentally removed a wrong snapshot or virtual machine files, if your server broke down or if you lost access to your virtual machine – don’t worry, but use the specialized data recovery tool – Hetman Partition Recovery.

The tool recovers data from any devices, regardless of the cause of data loss.

As we know, files of virtual machines managed by ESXi hypervisor are stored on the disk, in volumes having the VMFS file system. The biggest problem is that when an ESXi host breaks down, there is no way to retrieve the information stored on its disks – unless you use some specialized software. The matter is that classic Windows and Linux operating systems cannot recognize volumes or partitions with the VMFS file system. However, Hetman Partition Recovery offers complete support for VMFS file system including its latest version, and it supports SEsparse snapshot files as well.


SEsparse is a new virtual disk format similar to VMFSsparse, but with some improvements and new features. One of the differences between SEsparse and VMFSsparse is that SEsparse uses 4 KB blocks in contrast with 512-byte blocks in VMFSsparse. In the end, it supports files up to 2 TB thanks to having a 64-bit structure.

Differences between SEsparse and VMFSsparse

Most often, virtual machines are stored on a RAID system, and even with the well-known reliability of disk arrays, we cannot exclude the chances of their breaking down. To rebuild a damaged RAID system inside the broken server and recover the virtual machine files, use Hetman RAID Recovery.

Recover data from damaged RAID arrays inaccessible from a computer.

Take the disks out of the server and connect them to a Windows computer. Download, install and run the program. Hetman RAID Recovery will automatically rebuild the damaged RAID system with the available disks. All you need to do is to scan it and restore the files you need. In my case, the virtual machines are stored on one disk without RAID.

Hetman RAID Recovery

Right-click on the disk and choose the scan type to start searching for files. “Fast scan” will check it in a few seconds and display the files. If the program failed to find the lost files with “Fast scan,” go for “Full analysis,” specify the file system and start the search. In more complicated situations, you can find files by their signatures; to have the program do it, check the box for content-aware analysis. In my case, “Fast scan” will be enough.

Fast scan

After that, go to the directory where virtual hard disk files were stored. By default, they are located here: Volume name \ virtual machine name

Look for the files with the name of your virtual machine and the extension .vmdk; snapshot files will have the extension sesparse.vmdk, and configuration files can be distinguished by the extension .vmx. To avoid any issues with importing files in the future, it is better to completely recover the virtual machine folder.

Recovering the virtual machine files

Select the files you want to recover, click “Recovery,” select where you want to save them, and click “Recovery” again. When the entire process is over, you will find the recovered files in the folder you have chosen.

How to import files, and restore operability of the virtual machine

Now, if you need to restore operability of the virtual machine, the recovered files should be uploaded to the server and registered with the vSphere web client.

Method one

To do that, enable SSH access to the server and connect to it by SFTP. Copy the virtual machine files to the server – and into this specific folder:


Enable SSH access to the server

Then open the web client, click “Host” - “Create or register a virtual machine,” open the last option – “Register an existing virtual machine.”

Register an existing virtual machine

After that, specify the folder containing the recovered virtual machine files by choosing “Select one or more virtual machines, a datastore or a directory.” Select – Next – Finish.

Specify the folder containing the recovered virtual machine files

The program will upload the files and the virtual machine will appear on this list. Now you can start it and access the files you need.

Method two

If you tried the first method, and the virtual machine starts with an error, then try another method instead. Create a new virtual machine, and while configuring its hardware, remove the hard disk. After that, click “Add hard disk,” choose the second option “Existing hard disk.”

Existing hard disk

Give the path to the folder containing virtual machine files - .vmdk – Select, Next and Finish.

Give the path to the folder containing virtual machine files

Now try to boot the virtual machine and see if there are any errors. Sometimes this method helps to fix the boot problem.

How to recover data from a virtual disk (VHD) file

If you try to boot a virtual machine and encounter an error because the files were damaged, or if you accidentally removed some information while working with the virtual machine - don’t worry: with Hetman Partition Recovery, all the lost data will be back.

Our program supports data recovery from dynamic and fixed-size virtual hard disks, restore points and operating system snapshots.

Hetman Partition Recovery lets you restore both virtual machine files - VMDK - and any data removed from VMDK disks. Also, it can recover data files from formatted virtual hard disks, and it doesn’t matter if the disk used to be a dynamic or a fixed-size one.

After you have recovered .VMDK files or copied them to the computer, you need to upload them to our program.

In the main window, open the Tools tab and choose “Mount disk.” There are two ways to mount it: choose a RAW disk image if necessary, or choose Virtual Machines. The second item displays the list of files and tools that our program supports.

Tools - Mount Disk

Check the required image type, give the path to the folder containing virtual hard disk files, and click “Open.” The program will upload and display all virtual disk and snapshot files which exist in such folder. In addition to the main disks there are also restore point files, and snapshots of the virtual machine. The virtual disk file which is currently in use by the virtual machine will be marked as “Active.” Other files are snapshots and restore points, and using the date of their creation, you can decide which one you need to recover.

Select a virtual disk to add

Check the box next to the disk you are interested in, and click Next. It will appear in the Drive Manager immediately. Right-click on the disk and choose “Open.” Select the scan type, and choose “Fast scan” for starters. If the “Fast scan” can’t find the required files, then go for “Full analysis.” Right-click on the disk - “Analyse again” - “Full analysis” - and specify the file system for this disk.

File system analysis

Then go to the folder where the files used to be stored, and look for the ones you need to restore, select them and click “Recovery,” select the disk and folder where to save them, and click “Recovery” again.

Recovering data
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⬆️ Top Tools to Recover Data from VMFS, ESXi, vSphere Hypervisor Virtual Disks

⬆️ Top Tools to Recover Data from VMFS, ESXi, vSphere Hypervisor Virtual Disks

Vladimir Artiukh

Author: , Technical Writer

Vladimir Artiukh is a technical writer for Hetman Software, as well as the voice and face of their English-speaking YouTube channel, Hetman Software: Data Recovery for Windows. He handles tutorials, how-tos, and detailed reviews on how the company’s tools work with all kinds of data storage devices.

Oleg Afonin

Editor: , Technical Writer

Oleg Afonin is an expert in mobile forensics, data recovery and computer systems. He often attends large data security conferences, and writes several blogs for such resources as xaker.ru, Elcomsoft and Habr. In addition to his online activities, Oleg’s articles are also published in professional magazines. Also, Oleg Afonin is the co-author of a well-known book, Mobile Forensics - Advanced Investigative Strategies.

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