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Converting physical servers to virtual machines

A number of tools are available for migrating physical servers to virtual machines. Which tool to choose will depend on the source operating system, the target virtualization platform and the type of server being migrated. All the available tools support converting physical servers running Microsoft operating systems but only a few support Linux server conversions. I’ve compiled a brief list of some of the tools and options available for converting physical servers to virtual machines.

Platespin PowerConvert – A commercial product that has the broadest operating system support. Supported source operating systems include Windows NT, 2000, XP, 2003 and Red Hat and SUSE. Virtual platform support includes VMware Server/Workstation/ESX, Microsoft Virtual Server, XenSource and Virtual Iron. The Acronis True Image, Symantec Ghost and Live state image formats are supported as well. Platespin’s product also converts virtual machines to physical machines.

Ultimate P2V – A cheaper alternative with some freeware tools such as BartPE, but this product requires an imaging tool such as Symantec Ghost to perform the imaging. It also requires some work to build the boot CD and can be a bit complicated.

Vizioncore vConverter – Another very robust commercial product that has broad platform support. Optimized to work with VMware ESX but also supports Microsoft Virtual Server, XenSource and Virtual Iron as target formats. Only supports Windows 2000, 2003 and Vista source operating systems.

Microsoft Virtual Server 2005 Migration Toolkit – Only supports Windows NT, 2000 and 2003 source operating systems and only supports Microsoft’s virtual machine as a target format. Free but requires the Automated Deployment Services add-on to Windows Server 2003 Enterprise Edition. The conversion process is somewhat complicated and may not be a good choice for most users.

VMware Converter – A free tool (standard version) provided by VMware to convert physical servers running Windows NT, 2000, XP, 2003 and Linux servers to VMware virtual machines. Also supports Symantec Ghost, Livestate, Backup Exec, Acronis True Image and StorageCraft ShadowProtect image formats.

HP Server Migration Pack – Supports converting Windows 2000 & 2003 servers to VMware ESX, XenServer and Microsoft Virtual Server target formats running HP Proliant hardware. Also supports virtual to physical conversions.

Leostream P>V Direct – I thought I would mention this tool even though Leostream recently dropped this product to focus on other areas. Supports conversion of Windows NT, 2000, XP and 2003 source servers to VMware Server/Workstation/ESX, Microsoft VirtualServer and Xen target servers.

Other useful tools:

Robocopy – A free tool from Microsoft that is included in the Windows Server 2003 Resource Kit. Simply create a new virtual machine and copy the data from the physical server to the virtual server. Robocopy preserves all the date/time stamps and security when copying data from server to server. This is useful for migrating non-application, file servers where you only care about the data files on the server.Sysprep – A Microsoft tool to prepare an existing server for cloning and restoration from a disk image.NewSID – A Sysinternals utility to change a Windows server’s SID (security identifier) after a server has been cloned.

Imaging tools like Symantec Ghost and Acronis True Image create images of your physical servers. Once completed, you can create a new VM and restore the image to the virtual machine. has a good write-up on the procedure here.

You can always do a P2V by backing up a physical server using your traditional backup software, creating a new virtual machine, installing the same operating system on the VM and a backup agent, and then performing a restore from the backup taken of the physical server. Not the cleanest method for doing a P2V but can be used as a cheap alternative to other tools.

But for certain servers, it is less risky and just as easy to build a new server and migrate the data to it. Examples of this include SQL Servers and Domain Controllers. It’s a simple process to build a new virtual machine, install the operating system, dcpromo it and then shutdown your physical domain controllers. Likewise, building a new virtual SQL server then detaching the databases from a physical SQL server and attaching them to the virtual one is an easy process and reduces the risk of data corruption that can occur during the P2V cloning process.

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Good summary! I particularly liked the inclusion of roll-your-own solutions with ultimatep2v. Is anyone picking up the Leostream product? I used it for a couple of one-off conversion and liked it.
Microsoft now sells System Center Virtual Machine Manager that allows to migrate windows 2000/XP/2003 machines to Virtual Server 2005 R2 VMs. A trial is available at Acronis True Image ECHO Server with Universal Restore can directly convert a working server image by injecting VMs drivers (Microsoft or VMWare) and getting it to boot. Nice article though :)
Hi Eric, you missed one of the best tools out from Microsoft for doing P2V. Thats System Center Virtual Machine Manager 2007/2008. Both versions can do P2V and are the recommended way in a Microsoft Virtualization World. Version 2008 is currently in beta and supports Hyper-V RC0. Best wishes from Austria Peter Forster MVP Virtual Machines
Thanks for pointing those out also. There are definitely numerous options available for performing conversions. As far as the Leostream product goes they've been very quiet about it and have not mentioned any future plans for it. I'm guessing that because there are so many P2V products available that they dropped it in favor of focusing on their Connection Broker product. You can read more on this