VMWare’s P2V is mildly disappointing but can still save the day

The order came from higher up: Migrate these seven servers to VMWare. That would be easy if you were running Linux, FreeBSD, OS/2, or basically any operating system not made by Microsoft. Give me an OS/2 hard drive out of a 386 with Microchannel, and I can have it booting on a P4 in a matter of minutes and probably have it operational in half an hour.

But Windows ties itself to the hardware too tightly. So you need a $10,000 software package to migrate it. That package is P2V, which stands for "PC to VMWare." I assume.Actually it’s a $2,000 software package with $8,000 worth of training. Whether you need that training, well, that’s another story.

P2V advertises that it’ll take an image of a server, replace all of its hardware drivers with drivers for the hardware VMWare emulates, and off you go.

It does the most critical part of it just fine. It doesn’t matter if the original server was SCSI, IDE, or something nasty like RLL or ESDI–unlikely, but I’ve seen what desperate times sometimes cause to be put into a production server–and it’ll get it booting on VMWare’s emulated LSI Logic SCSI card.

The biggest thing it doesn’t do is migrate your TCP/IP settings to the new network card. If you happen to have an AMD PCNet-based NIC in the server you’re migrating, you’ll have no problems, but the chances of that are slightly better than my chances of finding an 1897 Carlisle & Finch train set at that estate sale on Itaska Street this weekend. More likely, you’ll have a 3Com or an Intel card in your source server.

That may not be a problem for you. But if you’re migrating a web server that’s hosting twelve dozen sites, each with its own IP address, you’ll be stringing together some curses after paying that kind of money.

Worth it? It is in the sense that a telephone saves you thousands of dollars in travel costs, so you could justify paying $600 for it. If you’ve got a fleet of aging NT4 servers and an expensive maintenance contract to match, and it’s over someone’s dead body that the applications they host will go away, you can save that 10 grand in a fiscal year, get those servers moved to newer, better hardware that’s cheaper and easier to maintain, and get them moved in less than a week. It could take you nearly that long to get NT4 running on brand-new hardware. Once.

So, yes, you can justify it to your accounting department.

As far as the time involved, there’s the time it takes to image and re-image the server. That depends on how fast your network is. There’s the time it takes to build a helper VM that P2V runs on. It’ll take you about 5 minutes per server to set up the VMWare instance. If you’ve got new hardware, it’ll only take a few minutes for P2V to run. Then you have to boot the VM, reconfigure anything that needs reconfiguring, boot it again, and repeat until you fix everything that’s broken. Sometimes that’ll be nothing, and sometimes it might be a lot.

I budgeted 4 hours per server. A couple of them took less than an hour. A couple took 8.

Do I wish it were a better product? You bet your boots I do. Was I glad to have it at my disposal this week? You bet that Carlisle & Finch train set I’m not gonna find this weekend I am.

Thanks to P2V, I get to do something fun this weekend instead of building servers.

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