Migrating physical servers to Microsoft Virtual Server

I’ve spent most of this evening at a Microsoft TechNet UK event where John Howard presented Microsoft’s Virtual Server and Virtual PC products. I’ve blogged about Virtual Server before but something I’ve never seen before is Microsoft’s Virtual Server Migration Toolkit (VSMT).

Available as a free download (although, for some reason, registration is required) and also included within Microsoft automated deployment services (ADS) v1.1, VSMT can be used to migrate from physical to virtual (P2V) hardware, or indeed between virtual servers (V2V) – although that would be easier to achieve by simply copying the configuration files (I guess VSMT could theoretically be used for migrating from a VMware platform to Virtual Server and hence also Virtual PC) – but not from virtual to physical (V2P) hardware.

VSMT moves the entire operating system and installed applications, retaining all identity (SID, MAC address, etc.) intact. Microsoft stress that it is targeted for use by IT Professionals and/or Microsoft consultants as it requires some scripting knowledge as well as DHCP and ADS infrastructures (that caveat seems a little strange to me as I wouldn’t really expect anyone other than IT professionals to be administering virtual servers!).

The various stages of the migration are:

  1. Execute gatherhw.exe on the source computer.
  2. Move the output XML file to the ADS controller.
  3. Execute vmscript.exe against the output XML on the ADS controller to generate custom scripts.
  4. Execute the auto-generated capture.cmd script.
  5. PXE boot the source computer, causing an image to be captured.
  6. Power off the source computer.
  7. Execute the auto-generated createvm.cmd script.
  8. Execute the auto-generated deployvm.cmd script.
  9. Configure virtual machine settings, network storage configuration and virtual machine additions.

VSMT does have some prerequisites in that it requires ADS and Virtual Server 2005 (not Virtual PC 2004). The source machine also has to meet certain requirements:

  • Only Windows NT 4.0 SP6A, Windows 2000 and Windows Server 2003 are officially supported by the tool (although another attendee at the event indicated that Windows XP can also be migrated).
  • A minimum of 96MB physical memory is required (in order for the ADS deployment agent to be loaded). This rises to 160MB if FAT disks are used.
  • Windows management instrumentation (WMI) is also required in order for VSMT to gather information about the hardware. WMI is pre-installed with Windows 2000 and Windows Server 2003 but requires a separate download for Windows NT 4.0.
  • The primary NIC must be pre-boot execution environment (PXE) 0.99c compatible (although PXE boot floppies can be used).

VSMT looks to me to be a fantastic tool for administrators who want to consolidate legacy applications (that perhaps very little is known about and which may be running on aging hardware) onto a single modern virtualised platform, or for moving production servers into a virtualised environment for test and development purposes.

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