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VMware vCenter Converter adds longevity to legacy OSes

Microsoft no longer supports Windows Server 2003, but virtualizing that OS in vSphere offers several advantages.

The end of support for Windows 2003 spurred quite a few administrators to make the move into a virtualized environment. Going virtual has a number of useful outcomes. It insulates the administrator and the business from hardware failures that require a rebuild. Rebuilds and activations could be problematic after end of extended support. Virtualizing these machines also allows administrators to create snapshots and roll back patches or updates should they fail. The overall advantage is the ability to more easily manage legacy operating systems.

The process of converting physical machines to virtual instances is not difficult.  Virtualization best practices suggest an administrator should do the following housekeeping tasks prior to a conversion:

  • Clean up the machine's local disks. Empty the trash can and run the disk cleanup wizard to remove all the clutter. The wizard is located under Programs/Accessories/System Tools
  • Ensure the server has all its Java patches. This is a frequent cause of failure as there are several patches required to get the machine into top condition.
  • Ensure DNS resolution is working correctly on the physical source, the convertor machine and the vCenter in question.
  •  Run the inbuilt disk defragmenter to both reduce migration time due to head movement as well as provide better performance in general post conversion.
  • Lastly, ensure that any services or applications are closed down. Any non-Windows services should be stopped for the duration of the migration.

Once these activities are done, download and install VMware vCenter Converter. I recommend installing it and running it from a utility server rather than the vCenter or the server being migrated. Running from a utility server also means that an administrator only needs to set up the converter application once to be able to do several P2V conversions. Once installed, it becomes quite a simple process to migrate additional physical servers.

Step 1: Open the converter

Open the converter tool and choose File/New/Create Machine -- selecting "Convert Machine" does the same thing.

Step 2: Input the details for the physical Windows 2003 machine

Select the machine type to convert from the drop down. Under normal migration operations, an administrator should select "Powered-on machine." Assuming a utility server is being used, select "A remote machine" option from the selection menu, as shown in Figure 1. Enter the details required to connect to the source server. This should be an administrator level account. 

Input details
Figure 1: Fill in the details for the source system using administrator-level credentials.

The administrator will also be asked to decide how the converter is to deal with the converter agent, which does the heavy lifting. Normally, I would suggest letting the converter app install and remove the agent automatically. 

Step 3: Select the physical machine's destination

The next item concerns where the administrator wants the server to be placed in the virtual environment. As mentioned previously, unless the admin knows otherwise, leave the destination type as "VMware Infrastructure virtual machine." On the same screen, the administrator needs to enter the vCenter that will hold the Windows 2003 machine. Enter credentials with sufficient rights to complete the import. If you get a warning about certificates, click "ignore" and install the certificate to prevent more popups.

VM server destination
Figure 2: The administrator needs to select the server where the VM will be put.

Step 4: Where is the machine going?

The next step is to select the correct folder for the VM to reside. This is entirely dependent on your layout. It's important to note that when choosing an appropriate folder, it will not automatically refresh. Therefore, if you want to add a new folder, you will need to use the vSphere client to create it from the hosts and clusters view and restart the conversion again.

Choose the VM name and folder
Figure 3: The administrator gives the name for the VM and either creates a new folder or uses an existing one.

Step 5: Select the desired destination host

Select the hosts where the machines will reside. In a modern Distributed Resource Scheduling (DRS) enabled cluster configuration, it doesn't really make much of a difference. DRS activity and migrations mean a migrated VM could move to a different host as cluster resources are adjusted. An admin can either select the cluster or a specific host. Using the cluster as the selection means it will select an appropriate host automatically. Also, select an appropriate data store from the drop-down list on the right for the storage requirements. Further down on the right-hand side is the "Virtual machine version" menu. Unless there is a need to -- for example, the business requires a virtual machine version as a standard -- leave this and it will go to the latest version available. Note that managing version 10 VMs means only the vSphere Web Client has the ability to edit the VMs. 

Destination location
Figure 4: The administrator selects the host or cluster where the VM will reside.

Step 6: Check and modify settings as required

At the Options screen we can fine-tune the state of the VM and modify the disk sizes, CPU and RAM. Click the Edit button to the right-hand side and change what is required. One suggestion I would make is to select "Install VMware Tools." It is one less thing the administrator has to do after the conversion. I would also suggest that any powering down of physical boxes or powering on of VMs is done manually and is controlled by the administrator rather than the application.

Step 7: Execute the conversion

At this point, review your changes and select Finish to submit the changes and start the conversion.

If you get any errors you can use the Export log bundle at the bottom of the page. This will create a log bundle you can review or send to VMware if you need troubleshooting help.

First, make sure the ports required for the converter are open and working. You can follow the guide here to verify the required connectivity.

Ensure that the source machine is running as few processes as possible. I would also advise disabling the antivirus and/or host intrusion prevention system and any firewalls for the duration of the change, if possible.

Make sure you install VMware Tools otherwise the performance could be very poor.

Lastly, make sure you allow plenty of time for the migration. The time to complete can vary wildly for a number of reasons. The last thing that an administrator wants is to back out a change because you underestimated the amount of time required for the conversion.

Next Steps

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Best practices for migration after support for Windows Server 2003 ends

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