VMware Converter

This morning as I was browsing the del.icio.us feeds that I subscribe to I came across an application that I’ve been playing with for most of today. It’s from one of my absolute favorite software vendors, VMware. The software is called VMware Converter. I’m not sure how long it’s been out and I am really sorry that I missed this one if it’s been out for a while.

Let’s say that you’ve got an aging computer or an aging server. You’ve also got a newer computer. You could take the old computer’s operating system and import it into a virtual machine. The virtual machine could then be run on your newer computer without taking up as many resources. You also get the added benefit of freeing up space. More importantly, you also save energy. Your newer computer may take a little bit more electricity to power the virtual machine but it’s not going to be near as much as having to power on another computer. In my experience you also make things quieter since older hardware tends to be noisier.

Businesses have been flocking to virtual machines for all of the reasons mentioned above. It’s simply no longer cost effective to buy a new piece of hardware to simply run a piece of software. Businesses have also been using virtual machines for legacy applications. They take their old applications and put them into a virtual machine which frees up rack space and saves energy by getting rid of the dedicated box that was running the software.

Another reason that someone might want to do this is if they were upgrading to a new computer and were going to get rid of the old one. They could import every file and setting on their current machine and access those files or settings through the virtual machine. People who are switching to Macs could use this to run Windows on their Mac, in theory. They could take the virtual machine of their old computer and run it in VMware Fusion (currently in Beta) or they could buy Parallels and convert the image type and run it on Parallels.

Ease of Installation

The installation on my main desktop machine went without any hitches. It’s just a standard installer. However, the installation on the target computer was a little bit more difficult. The computer I was going to turn into a virtual machine is my aged Toshiba Satellite 315 CDS (200 Mhz, 32 MB of RAM and 6 GB of hard disk space running Windows XP Professional). I ran the installer the first time and I kept getting this error message: “Error 1920: Service VMWare converter service (ufad-p2v) failed to start. Verify that you have sufficient privileges to start system services.”

I googled the problem and then I went to VMware’s discussion forum where someone suggested that the user that was running the application needed to be able to run as a service. I went into the Local Security Policy of the laptop and explicitly gave the Administrator account privileges to logon as a service. I rebooted the machine and I installed the VMware converter agent without a hitch.

I then turned to my server and tried to import the laptop as a virtual machine. It continued to fail. I kept trying to find solutions to the problem but could not find anything. I then decided that I would install both the converter agent and the converter manager onto the laptop so that I could simply do an import of the local machine. I then kept getting the error message that I mentioned above. I looked around for solutions to the problem and then finally I decided to look in Windows Services to see if maybe I had a service disabled that the software was needing. Sure enough when I looked at the dependencies for the VMware Converter Service, the services it needed were not enabled. I enabled them and had the installer to keep retrying to start the VMware Converter Service. It would not so I went back into the Windows Services and tried starting the service manually. However, I kept getting an error message that said “Error 1053: the service did not start in a timely manner.” I thought, “OK, this is a slow machine. I’ll just try again.” Finally, about the fourth time the service started and I was able to install the software.

I turned to my server again and tried to import the computer but it kept getting to 97% and failing. I turned to the laptop and tried to create a virtual machine on the laptop itself. VMware Converter on the laptop would also get to 97% and fail.

Unfortunately, this problem has not been solved. I’ve submitted my problems to the VMware forum and hopefully someone will be able to suggest something or they’ll update the software.

Physical to Virtual

I was finally able to convert a physical machine to a virtual machine. I decided to try creating one of my server and it completed successfully. The process took about 20 minutes to complete. It will vary depending on how large your hard drive or partition is.

A couple of things to note is that whenever I did this and started up the virtual machine, Windows said that there was a significant hardware change and that I would have to re-activate my copy of Windows and that I only had 3 days to do so. This means that after 3 days you’ll no longer have access to your Windows virtual machine. However, if you’re re-installing Windows and trying to get back up and running this will at least let you be able to get settings for your software or get your files. Just make sure when you create a virtual machine of your physical computer that you check all the drives you save files onto when it asks you which drives you want to be a part of the virtual machine. Make sure you’ll have room to actually create the virtual machine! Example: If you’ve got 20 gigs to back up, make sure you’ve got a 40 gig hard drive.

Another thing that I had to adjust when I created a virtual machine of my physical machine was that I had to decrease the amount of RAM in the virtual machine. I have 1 gig of RAM in my physical machine and VMware was trying to give the virtual machine 700+ megabytes of RAM. I reduced this to 256.

Also, once you get the virtual machine up and running, you’ll definitely want to get VMware Tools installed as quickly as possible. Otherwise, working with the virtual machine is unbearable.

Cost of VMware Converter

As far as I can tell, VMware Converter is freeware from VMware. They do have an Enterprise version that allows you to do simultaneous imports, export local and remote virtual machines and gives you the ability to clone a computer using a boot CD. For general purposes VMware Converter free edition is enough and I am truly appreciative of VMware for giving it away.

Running your new virtual machine

Now that you have a virtualized copy of your physical computer how are you suppose to run it? There are several options available to you. The free options are to install one of VMware’s free virtualization products. Either VMware Player or VMware Server (which is what I use and prefer). With VMware Player you can “play” virtual machines but cannot create them. With VMware Server you can create virtual machines and run as many as your computer can handle.

VMware Converter

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