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Rescuing ageing computers with VMware
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If you have ever had an old computer sitting around which was vital for your business because it contained the only working installation of some software, you probably haven't slept very well because of that nagging thought "what happens if that box fails one day?". Yes there are imaging programs and other means to backup that computer, and you probably used one already. But a backup in itself is not enough: Do you know whether a restore would give you a working installation back? Have you tried it? Do you even dare to try it because it might destroy the very installation you are trying to save?

I bet that most companies have got at least one such a box somewhere. It might not be business critical and there might be a chance to survive it it fails some day, but still there is this nagging thought "What if not?"

Wouldn't it be great to move that software from its ageing hardware to something more recent or even virtualize it so it will run on any computer? And of course do that without the risk of destroying that one working installation in the process?

Meet VMware and P2V

You have probably heard about VMware, a PC emulator that runs one or more virtual computers on another computer. You might even have used it and thought "Well that's all fine, but what I really need is to move that existing installation on that physical computer onto a virtual machine." Well, that's possible. VMware has got a tool called "P2V" (physical to virtual) that does this for you.

At the time of this writing, you can download beta 2.1 of this tool for free from their website (expires on 2005-11-15). I did this and tried to move a Windows 2000 installation on my desktop computer to a VM on my notebook. That Windows installation contained several games (I do my "serious" work at home under Linux and use a VM to run Delphi there) and I wasn't very confident that P2V could move that to a VM and keep it working.

Cloning a Physical Computer to a VM

The actual process is very simple:

  • Download the installer of P2V (which is a Windows program btw.) from VMware and install it on the computer where you want to create the VM.
  • You will get an email from VMware with a serial number for the program. Start P2V using an administrator account (a non admin account didn't work for me) and enter that serial number.
  • Download the bootable ISO image of a CD from VMware, burn it to a CD and boot the computer you want to clone off it.
  • That ISO image contains a modified version of Knoppix which boots into X and automatically starts a console window with a program that lets you choose a few settings and then displays an IP address and port number.
  • Enter that IP address and port number into P2V.
  • The program will give you a selection of partitions to clone and allow you to select either a virtual harddisk or a physical harddisk as destination (I used a virtual disk, but I guess a physical disk would have worked as well.). You also have a few options to change the partitioning of that disk.
  • Start the cloning process. This will take a while while the data is being transferred over the network.
  • After it has finished, create a VM that uses the created virtual or physical harddisk as boot disk.
  • Start it, install the VMware tools.
  • That's it. You now have got a virtual machine containing all the programs that were originally installed on a physical computer.


As said above, I was a bit sceptical because of the games installed on my desktop computer, but P2V copied them in a workable fashion. I could start them and even play them (albeit with reduced performance) in the newly created VM.

I was a VMware fan before this, but this nifty little tool has made VMware even more useful for me. I hope VMware will sell it at a reasonable price. The current version 2.0 seems to be available only with consulting services which suggests that it is rather pricey but I haven't really asked them.

(c) Copyright 2005 by Thomas Mueller, all rights reserved

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last updated: 2012-10-14 twm
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