Performing a P2V conversion to VMware ESX Server using VMware Converter Enterprise


The single most popular use for virtualization, by far, is to consolidate physical servers to virtual servers. Absolutely, the easiest way to do this is to perform a physical to virtual (P2V) conversion. With a P2V conversion, you use either an imaging application or a dedicated P2V conversion application to take all data on a physical computer, move that data to the virtualized infrastructure, modify the drivers on the transferred operating system, and boot that converted virtual machine – now virtualized.

Besides performing a P2V conversion, you may also have some VMs that are virtualized on another vendor’s virtualization platform. When you convert these virtual machines into your new virtualized infrastructure, this is called a virtual to virtual (V2V) conversion.

What is VMware Converter?

VMware Converter is VMware’s solution for P2V and V2V conversions. “Converter”, as they call it, comes in two different versions – Starter and Enterprise. The starter edition is free and available to everyone whereas the enterprise edition is only available to those who have Virtual Center management servers. Still, even the enterprise edition has no additional cost.

The starter edition is meant for “one off” conversions, backups, or clones of one or a few servers. With the starter edition, you can perform hot cloning, local conversions, and remote conversions to non-ESX VMware virtualization applications (Server, Workstation, or Player). A hot conversion is where you can convert a running physical machine to a virtual machine.

The enterprise edition does all that the starter edition does but it allows you to perform multiple simultaneous conversion, cold conversions using a boot CD, and it allows you to convert to ESX Server as well.

As we will be performing a hot conversion to VMware ESX Server today, I will be demonstrating VMware ESX Server Converter Enterprise in this article.

Where do I obtain VMware Converter Enterprise?

To use VMware Converter Enterprise, you first need to obtain a copy. There are really two ways to do this.

  1. Install the VMware Converter Enterprise Plugin – built into VMware’s VI Client 3.5 is the VMware Converter Enterprise Plugin.
  2. Download and Install the VMware Converter Enterprise standalone edition – you can download from VMware’s website, the standalone edition of VMware Converter Enterprise (see the VMware Converter 3.0.3 release notes for more information).

While either of these will perform your P2V conversions for you, I preferred the edition of VMware Converter that was already built in to my VI client and installable directly from there.

Installing the VMware Converter Enterprise Plugin

Downloading and installing the VMware Converter Enterprise plugin is much easier than downloading an installable application. To download and install the VMware Converter Enterprise plugin, open your VMware Infrastructure client (VI Client), go to Plugins on the toolbar and click Manage Plugins. From there, the window shown in Figure 1 will appear.

Figure 1: VI Client Plugin Manager

Just click Download and Install under VMware Converter Enterprise.

In a few seconds, you will be asked for your setup language and, what appears to be a regular application installation commences. Here are screenshots from that installation:

Figure 2: Converter Installation

After clicking install, you can monitor the program installation:

Figure 3: Converter Installation Progress

The installation only takes a few seconds. When done, you will be back at the plugin manager and you will see that the VMware Converter is installed.

Figure 4: Converter Plugin is installed

At this point, we are directed to the installed tab to enable the new plugin. I clicked on the installed tab, and found the Converter Enterprise client and clicked Enabled.

Figure 5: VMware Converter Enterprise Plugin Enabled

So how do we use the new plugin? Let’s find out.

Using the VMware Converter Enterprise Plugin

Once enabled, you will find that if you right-click on an ESX host system in the VI client, there will be a new option – Import Machine. This option is the result of the newly installed and enabled VMware Converter Enterprise.

Let’s say that we want to perform a P2V conversion of a Windows XP workstation into the VMware ESX Server Infrastructure. To do this, we would select the ESX Server that we want to import this new virtual machine to, right-click on the ESX host, and click import machine.

Figure 6: Importing a Virtual Machine with VMware Converter Enterprise

At this point, the 4 step import wizard will start.

Figure 7: VMware Converter Import Wizard

You will be asked what the source of your import is. In our case we will import from a physical computer. However, we could also import from another VMware ESX Server, VMware Workstation, VMware Fusion, VMware Server, a VMware Consolidated Backup (VCB) image, or other third party virtual machine or backup.

Figure 8: Source of system being converted

Next, you will be asked for the physical computer hostname and administrative credentials.

Figure 9: Physical computer hostname and administrative credentials

At this point, VMware Converter will connect to the physical computer and, very likely, as you if the VMware Converter Agent can be installed on that system.

Figure 10: Remote Installation of VMware Converter Agent Required

You will need to click YES to continue.

The agent will be installed on the physical system, information about the disk volumes on the physical host will be retrieved, and you will be asked to review it.

Figure 11: Reviewing disk information from physical computer

I chose to take the defaults an import the “C” drive from the physical host, ignoring the hibernation and page files.

Next , you will be shown the destination for the converted host system. As I originally selected “ESX4”, that was our destination.

Figure 12: Destination of the newly converted virtual machine

You will be asked for the name of the new VM and where you want it located in the virtual machine inventory.  I named this test machine “WIN-XP-1-P2V”.

Figure 13: Virtual Machine name

Next, you will be asked what datastore you want to store the new virtual guest in and what virtual NIC cards you want connected to the new virtual machine (shown in Figure 14).

Figure 14: Selecting the virtual NIC cards to be connected to the converted VM

Then, you will be asked if you want to customize the new VM. I chose to install the VMware Tools and remove all Windows system restore checkpoints (in Figure 15).

Figure 15: Customizing the imported virtual machine

You will be given the option to schedule the P2V conversion (in Figure 16).

Figure 16: Ability to schedule the P2V Conversion

And finally, you will see the “ready to complete” (are you sure?) screen (in Figure 17). In this screen, you can choose to power on the VM after it is created.

Figure 17: Ready to complete screen with power on option

After you click Finish, the P2V conversion (import) will begin. You will see its progress in the Recent Tasks window.

Figure 18: Checking the progress of the P2V conversion

After some time (depending on the size of your physical computer hard drive that is being imported), the new VM will be created and available. Notice in Figure 19 the new “WINXP-1-P2V” VM that was created and how I successfully powered it on in Figure 20.

Figure 19: After P2V Conversion

Figure 20: Successfully powered on VM created from VMware Converter Enterprise

A couple of things to watch out for:

  • Uninstall as many drivers as possible from the physical computer that will be converted
  • Make sure that your guest OS can reach fully qualified domain names on the network and that you are referring to it using FQDN
  • Delete at much data on the physical computer as possible and use the option to transfer only the smallest amount of hard drive data as is required
  • If cloning an already virtualized system, reinstalling your application, and just copying the data is not too difficult, then that is preferred to a full P2V conversion as you will end up with a “cleaner” VM (with less garbage from the previous OS installation, applications, and drivers)


In this article, you learned what VMware Converter Enterprise is and, step by step, how to use it to perform a conversion to VMware ESX Server. Server consolidation through P2V and reinstallation is, by far, the most popular use for server virtualization. Using a P2V converter tool is going to make that server consolidation much easier and if you are moving to VMware virtualization, VMware’s converter, in my opinion, is the best way to go.

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