VMware rechristens, revamps P2V Assistant

VMware P2V Assistant is now VMware Converter, and is available as a free download. But, VMware isn't the only one eyeing virtual machine conversion.

VMware's P2V Assistant has a new name, new features and perhaps best of all, a new price: free.

Now called VMware Converter, the revamped physical-to-virtual (P2V) tool will come either as a free download for users who just need to do a few conversions, or as a bundled feature within VMware's VirtualCenter management platform, as part of the support subscription.

The free download version is good "if you're doing one or a few conversions," said Karthik Rau, VMware senior director of infrastructure products, while the version bundled within VirtualCenter will be more appropriate for shops doing multiple concurrent migrations of "10, 20, 30 or 40" machines.

The changes to VMware Converter aren't exclusively about packaging; the changes also include new features, Rau said. VMware Converter can now create "hot" images of a system by installing a filter driver on the source. With P2V Assistant, you had to take the system down to create an image.

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Installing the converted virtual machine (VM) image to the target host is also smoother, Rau said. Historically, he explained, P2V Assistant users were limited as to the hardware on which they could move system images. That's because the boot CD created by P2V Assistant wasn't recognized by all systems. Now, leveraging Microsoft Windows driver technology, "we have far broader hardware compatibility," said Rau. "We are fairly confident that [VMware Converter] will cover most all Windows systems."

What's missing

But VMware Converter has some serious limitations. For one, it is still a Windows-only product; it cannot be used to P2V a Linux system into a VM.

That's probably fine for the vast majority of shops, Rau says. While VMware has not ruled out adding Linux support to VMware Converter, "we see the most demand from Windows machines; with Linux, it tends to be greenfield deployments."

In fact, Rau said, even Windows shops tend to prefer "greenfield" conversions, i.e., installing the operating system into the VM from scratch, rather than use a P2V process. P2V conversions, Rau said, are more prevalent for older "untouchable" applications or on older operating systems, such as Windows NT 4, that don't support a plug-and-play device drive model.

Nor can VMware Converter be used in any other direction than P2V -- not in virtual-to-virtual (V2V) or virtual-to-physical (V2P), for example. V2P is particularly useful if a vendor does not support its applications running in a virtual environment, said Brendan Reid, senior manager of product marketing at Toronto-based PlateSpin Ltd., which makes the PowerConvert virtualization conversion tool. Using V2P, you can move an application "back within the bounds of your support agreement," said Reid.

Being able to move freely between physical and virtual environments is very important to Manish Gupta, who manages IT production services at a Northeastern pharmaceutical firm. (See Support concerns repel user from free VMware.) Over the years, Gupta has learned that some applications do well within virtual machines and others do not. Every once in a while, the company will move a server into a VM but it doesn't work out. "It looks like it will be a good candidate [for virtualization], but things go wrong," said Gupta.

When that happens, Gupta uses PowerConvert. In fact, Gupta uses PowerConvert for all sorts of server migrations: "P2V, V2V, V2P, P2P -- you name the combination, we've done it," he said.

In the past, Gupta also used VMware's P2V Assistant but found that it was "like a 1.0 product, kludgey." Among its faults were that it only worked about 50% to 55% of the time and that it took about twice as long as PowerConvert to migrate a machine. Adding insult to injury, the VMs created by P2V Assistant seem slow, sluggish, compared to those created by PowerConvert.

PowerConvert allows users to schedule unattended migrations, and it features an intuitive drag-and-drop GUI. Of course, PowerConvert isn't free, like VMware Converter. According to Cadman Chui, PlateSpin vice president of marketing, PowerConvert can either be purchased as a perpetual license, or per migration, which starts at about $280 per conversion.

More P2V players on the way

Meanwhile, virtualization's early adopters have happened on another way to do P2V: using block-based cloning and imaging tools designed for system backup and recovery. Examples include Symantec's BackupExec System Recovery, formerly Livestate Recovery, and Acronis True Image.

"A very good percentage of our sales are now driven by virtualization," says Walter Scott, CEO at Acronis Inc., which makes True Image, a Windows imaging tool. Scott confirms that Acronis is developing a virtualization-focused version of True Image, which it plans to launch in early November at VMworld 2006.

How these tools will compete with the free VMware Converter remains to be seen. But, if nothing else, ISV's interest in developing P2V products should bode well for IT managers that want a cheap and easy way to convert their servers into VMs.

VMware's Rau agrees. "Our view on P2V is that the ability to convert in and out of a [Virtual Machine] should be easy and widely available," Rau said. "We've been saying that for a while."

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