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VMware Converter P2V tool: Mostly thumbs up, despite glitches

VMware Converter users say that the free P2V tool works most of the time, but by no means all of the time.

VMware Converter, the free successor to VMware's P2V Assistant, is starting to see widespread use, and end user reviews have been largely – if not unanimously – positive. Glitches, however, have made some users less enthusiastic.

Announced in October, VMware Converter added features like the ability to do multiple simultaneous conversions, a "hot" migration feature where you P2V a system while it is running, and broader hardware compatibility. VMware Converter is available free as part of support and subscription for VirtualCenter Management Server.

Network Support Specialist for Connecticut-based Johnson Health Network, Rob Kozaczka, has successfully done three "cold" (offline) P2V migrations using VMware Converter Enterprise.

"The wizard makes the process very easy," Kozaczka said. "We would not have been able to do this project if Converter did not become free." His only complaint? "It took about 30 minutes longer than I planned to copy the files over. Downtime was a little longer than I planned for."

Still, Kozaczka has been pleased with the end result. The new server has been running flawlessly, and it's more highly available now because of the ability to use VMotion, he said.

Failed VMware Converter P2V migration attempts
But a fourth attempt at a P2V migration didn't go so well. Kozaczka had to revert to the physical box and abandon the migration.

Kozaczka had to revert to the physical box and abandon the migration. 
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"I was attempting to do a cold migration but this failed," Kozaczka said."I then attempted to do a hot migration and this seemed to go a little better. However, when we tried to bring the server live on the virtual box, the application was not running properly," he said. "This may have been my fault, since I installed a lot of the HP drivers, and this may have broken something. It's still running on physical hardware because I blew my maintenance window. This server is going to be live for another month, so we gave up on the process."

Even so, the failure has not put Kozaczka off of virtualization. Now he knows to request larger time windows to do the migrations.

Preston Gallwas, network systems specialist at the Puyallup School District, Information Technology Center in Washington, wanted to P2V legacy apps running on dying hardware to newer boxes.

"We wanted to P2V them so we could upgrade them to Server 2003 from NT4 and consolidate them into a single Windows installation," Gallwas said. "We used VMware Converter 3 (final) to do the P2V. Everything appeared to go well -- as smooth as in the VMware Converter beta in which we tested single server P2V that went flawlessly." But then, when the conversion was 99% complete, it suddenly failed with an unknown error, he said.

When the conversion was 99% complete, it suddenly failed with an unknown error.
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Other users on the VMware forums had had the same problem, but didn't have any answers for Gallwas other than to upgrade to Windows Server 2003 before doing the P2V. Unfortunately, he couldn't perform a 2003 upgrade because of remnant software that won't upgrade or uninstall from the aged that hardware, Gallwas said.

For now, Payallup's P2V plans are on hold. "We abandoned the plan until the VMware conversion goes more smoothly. It is on a backburner at the moment, as we're planning to purchase ESX server."

Gallwas will have to sell management on the idea of P2V and convince them there won't be any more snags before moving forward.

VMware Converter P2V success stories
For Adam Baum, an IT architect for the City of Mesa in Arizona, virtualizing his physical machines has been a breeze.

"Like most companies, we are moving towards virtualization to cut down on capital costs and maximize utilization of existing equipment," Baum said.

Some of the applications Baum has taken virtual include Active Directory, Blackberry Enterprise Server, Lotus Notes, various FileNet components, Citrix Presentation Server, and SQL Server.

"We have many more scheduled over the next few months as we move toward our goal of about 70 production systems running in a virtual environment," Baum said.

Not that the path to virtual machines has been completely obstacle-free. "We like the new VMware Converter, but we've run into some minor 'gotcha's,'" Baum said. "No matter what I configure a guest to be, VMware Converter always seems to create a dual vCPU system," he said, adding that he had yet to read the documentation.

The other problems Baum encountered were easily fixed.

"Our biggest problem is forgetting to disable a number of the device-specific drivers that the P2V software does not deal with. In particular, a few of the HP drivers needed to be manually disabled," Baum said.

VMware Converter is available in two editions. The first, VMware Converter Starter, is a free download available for anyone. VMware Converter Enterprise allows for "cold cloning" or a virtual machine (from a boot CD) and multiple simultaneous conversions, and is is included as part of a VirtualCenter license.

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Bridget Botelho, News Writer

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