I previously wrote about backing up virtual machines directly from ESX and ESXi onto both Amazon S3 and Google Storage, but there was actually a third online file hosting company that I wanted to get working, Dropbox. Dropbox is a relatively new file hosting company that launched back in 2008 and has gain popularity for its ease of use and ability to access and share files across multiple devices. While researching Dropbox initially, I discovered there was a python-based CLI which I was hoping would install and function on ESX(i). This unfortunately did not pan out due to the various python library dependencies including a newer version of python.

While scouring the web, I recently found out that Dropbox actually released a Linux client binary and I thought I'd kick the tires and see if I could get it running on ESX(i). After a few minutes of testing, I found out that it was possible to get it running on classic ESX, but there are still certain python dependencies that prevent the Dropbox client to run on ESXi.

Before you begin, you will need to sign up for a free Dropbox account. With the free account you automatically get 2GB of free online storage, if you want more, you can pay for up to 100GB of online storage. The following has been validated on ESX 4.1, I have not tested this on any other ESX version and your results may vary. ESXi is not supported as mentioned earlier.

1. Download the latest Dropbox Linux Client here.

2. You will need to upload the Dropbox tar ball to your ESX host, you can use scp on UNIX/Linux or winSCP if you are using a Windows system.

3. You should not have the tar ball file sitting in the root directory of your ESX host:

4. You will now need to extract the contents of the tar ball, by running the following:

tar -zxvf dropbox-lnx.x86_64-0.7.110.tar.gz

5. You should now have a hidden directory called .dropbox-dist in your current working directory:

6. If you are starting the Dropbox client for the first time, it will default to using home directory of the current user to access your Dropbox share. In our case, it will be stored as /root/Dropbox which is probably not what you want. We will actually update our home directory to point to a VMFS volume path, by setting the HOME environmental variable:

As you can see, now our new home directory is set to a VMFS datstore. Once the Dropbox client starts, it will create a 64bit encoded string of the path which is stored in a configuration file once you have authorized the addition of this system to your Dropbox account.

Note: Once the default Dropbox path is set, you need to ensure that environmental HOME dir is always set to the one you specified above, else when you start Dropbox it will think it is a new setup.

7. We will now start the Dropbox daemon and ensure that we run it in the background:

If you have successfully started the Dropbox daemon, a unique URL will be generated based on your system which is used to authorize this system to access your Dropbox account. Take the URL and paste it into a browser, it should ask you to login to authorize the system.

8. If this is the first time you are using Dropbox, once you have signed in, you will be brought to the files tab in which all the folders and files that are currently accessible to you. By default, you will have a Public and Photos folder in which both are empty:

9. If you go back to your ESX host, you will now notice some output regarding nautils, you can ignore this error as the packages are not required for functionality:

10. Now, if you remember when we set the home directory to trick Dropbox to put folders under a VMFS datastore, you will now see a new directory called Dropbox which will contain the Public and Photos folder you saw on your web browser:

11. For demo purposes, I created a Backup directory in Dropbox root folder on the ESX host which will be visible from your web browser:

I then created a dummy 1MB VMDK in the same folder as if you were copying a VM to Dropbox account:

You can now go back to your web browser and see the VMDK file that was just created in the Backup directory:

There you have it, you can now transfer files or backup your virtual machines from your ESX host to your Dropbox account.

Earlier I mentioned that there are configuration files that tells the Dropbox client that this system is authorized to connect to your Dropbox account and it stores both the system ID along with the Dropbox path. If you do a long listing in your VMFS volume that was used to store your Dropbox folder, you will notice a hidden directory called .dropbox:

There are two database files, dropbox.db that contains the files and folder structures as it is being synced down to the host and host.db which contains the system's ID and Dropbox path which is encoded as 64bit string. You can decode and verify the path by using this website: http://webnet77.com/cgi-bin/helpers/base-64.pl

Here is what the host.db file looks like:

The second line contains the Dropbox path and you should not try to edit this file manually as it may cause synchronization issues. If you look at the Dropbox documentation, there is a python script that allows you to change the path but it requires sqlite3 to be available which is not available by default on ESX.

5 thoughts on “How to backup VMs in ESX onto Dropbox

  1. I was wanting to try this for fun. I’m following your instructions. I’m on latest 5.1 hypervisor. I did fresh install then untar. When I untar I get a message saying:

    “tar: can’t create hardlink from .dropbox-dist/dropbox to .dropbox-dist/library.zip: Function not implemented”

    so i just copy “library.zip” to “dropbox” and when i run dropboxd i get this message and cant get any further:

    “The client is having trouble connecting to the Dropbox Servers. Please check your network connectivity.”

    I confirmed i can ping dropbox.com and google.com not sure if you had additional advice/steps for getting this to run

  2. can you copy the vmdk files while the virtual machine is running?

    if not, is it possible to do it from a snapshot so the virtual machine doesnt have to be offline during the copying process?

    are the vmdk files compressed or would it be worth GZIPing them?

    I’m trying to make a script to copy all files, does it matter that we have 4 ESX servers with vMotion? I assume I can do this all on one of the hosts as they all have access to the SANs

Thanks for the comment!