What is the best way to backup VMs for quick restores? Traditional backups to whatever (disk or tape) work ok but restores are always a pain. Cloning and snapshots are great but they are on the same storage. SRM looks neat but that does entire data stores.
Is there a means of cloning a VM while it's up and sending off to another ESX server for us in case of emergency?
Check out Veeam Backup and Replication. It will allow you to do full backups of virtual machines with easy restore (including file level restores). It also allows you to replicate VMs to ESX hosts at another site.
I've used Veeam Backup at many different locations and find it to be a great product. You should be able to download a trial version and see for yourself.
VCB will dump those VM's out to a location where you can get them onto tape. Not fast, and it doesn't recognize guest attached drives, but it works. There is VDR as well. You didn't mention what type of shared storage you have, but your SAN mfr might have some solutions to help. Equallogic SAN's come with a "Autosnaphot manager/VMware edition" (ASM/VE) that takes quiesced SAN snaps of those VM's on datastores that have multiple VMs.
There is also an opensource VMFS driver out there. http://code.google.com/p/vmfs/ But it's in early development, so try at your own risk.
Aside from that, there are some commercial product like Veeam, etc.
Yes, any 3rd party application or backup software which supports vStorage API can backup your VM quickly especially when it is VM hardware version 7.
I personally use Veeam Backup and Replication 4.1 for all of my VM in ESXi host and very happy with it.
backup using VCB v1.5u1 is taking too long and not efficient since it doesn't have Deduplication option (Change Block Tracking).