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Right some wrongs with that Windows 2003 VM

Microsoft will end support for Windows Server 2003 on July 15. Moving a physical to a virtual server provides the opportunity to improve performance.

Microsoft has announced it is ending support for Windows Server 2003 on July 15, and a lot of companies are scrambling to figure out what their next step is. While some are in a panic, it should be looked at as an ideal time to create a Windows 2003 VM for any physical server that can't migrate to a newer platform. A virtualized Windows 2003 installation has a number of advantages over traditional physical installation for a number of reasons, including:

  1. Decoupling the hardware from the operating system. Failure of a physical host no longer means reinstalling from scratch and potentially substantial downtime.
  2. The ability to create and use snapshots, making undoing updates easier.
  3. The ability to take multiple copies of the VM for backup purposes.
  4. Potentially better performance by using newer hardware to run the instance.

Making the transition

For VMware shops that are licensed for VMware vCenter Converter Standalone, migrating physical Windows Server 2003 machines to virtual ones is quite straightforward. There are a number of requirements for the physical host being migrated; as long are they are met, the migration should execute without issue.

Migrating legacy Windows Server 2003 servers is not that difficult for appropriately knowledgeable administrators. To make any potential migration as easy as possible, there are a number of steps that can help improve the chances of a successful migration.

Apply patches

First, ensure the Windows 2003 server has all the appropriate patches applied. When using the physical-to-virtual (P2V) conversion process, VMware Converter makes heavy use of certain features such as Shadow Copy and virtual snapshots. One of the top reasons a P2V migration fails is because Shadow Copy -- also known as Volume SnapShot Service -- was outdated or had not been patched.

Remove clutter

Second, remember that cleanliness is next to godliness. Before attempting any P2V, finish all required housekeeping on the physical Windows server. This includes the simple things such as cleaning the contents of the local disks. Remove files in the trash and system-generated temporary files with the disk cleanup tool built into Windows Server 2003.

It is also good practice to defragment all the local drives before migration to reduce the amount of work to locate all the required blocks that constitute the file. All the local disks should have as much space as possible. There needs to be at least 200 MB free for the conversion to work. The source physical machines also have a requirement for 384 MB minimum memory on a system. Note: That is not memory free, but total memory available to the physical host. Full requirements for vCenter Converter are here.

Trim the fat

Next, stop any non-OS-related applications and non-vital services. Although not always necessary, it is good practice as it means data is less likely to change and there is a reduced workload for the application to perform the migration.

Ease restrictions

For the duration of the Windows 2003 VM migration, disable security software such as antivirus and host-intrusion protection systems to reduce the chance they will cause the migration to fail. In a heavily firewalled infrastructure, the requisite firewall ports need to be opened. Firewall requirements can be found here.

Adjust settings

Lastly, use the migration as an opportunity to correct any lingering issues with the server. By using vCenter Converter, an administrator can make changes such as increase space to the virtual disk and give more memory to a machine. A common example is the C: drive that continually fills to capacity. Resize the C: drive with vCenter Converter to expand storage. The same principle applies for memory and CPU, although the former is quite easy to change once the migration has occurred, unlike disk space.

Use VMware Tools

All Windows 2003 VM migrations should be done with administrator-level accounts. Likewise, unless there is a compelling reason not to do so, installing VMware Tools provides a superior performance profile compared to VMs without. Be sure to use the latest version of vCenter Converter.

Advantages to going virtual

Migrating Windows 2003 servers from physical to virtual is not a full solution. Some hardware systems that run on Windows Server 2003 may never be updated without buying expensive new hardware.

What P2V does do is buy an organization time to migrate or update to new supported platforms. It makes management of the legacy infrastructure easier due to the management capabilities, such as snapshots, that provide a safety net to administrators who need to make changes. As a parting note, although we have discussed only Windows 2003 so far, the same process can be used for Linux platforms as well, as long as they are listed in the supported client matrix for the edition of vCenter server.

Next Steps

Learn how to create a VM on Windows Server 2003

How to convert physical servers to virtual machines

Dig Deeper on Creating and upgrading VMware servers and VMs