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Migrating VM from VMware Server 1.0.x to ESXi 3.5

by on Dec.21, 2008, under virtualization

In response to Microsoft releasing free Hyper-V Server (actually a full Windows 2008 Server with only one role – Hyper-V) VMware followed with crippled version of their flagship product, ESX Server. The product is called VMware ESXi Server and the current version is 3.5 update 3. Unlike VMware Server it does not require operating system to be installed first as it is actually heavily modified and customized linux-based hypervisor.

I decided to give it a try and migrate couple of my virtual machines from Windows 2003 + VMware Server to ESXi. Since it uses its own file system (vmfs3) I had to move all the VM’s to another server before installation. And that’s where my problems started.

Booting and installing the ESXi is quite simple, on IBM xSeries 3250 it detected all required hardware (LSI controller, Broadcom network adapters) and the system was ready within 10 minutes.

The only way how to manage ESXi is through VMware Infrastructure Client, GUI application that you need to install on your client machine – you can download it from the ESXi host.

I connected to the ESXi server and tried to transfer the original VM’s I moved out earlier, but there is no obvious way. You can create a new virtual machine or import virtual appliance, but nothing else.

After spending couple of hours googling and reading various forums I finally succeeded and here are some tips I found:

1. enable SSH access to the ESXi for the file transfer
On the host server press Alt-F1, type ‘unsupported’, then root password and you are in.
Then you modify inetd.conf file and remove the # on the line beginning with #ssh, restart the server and SSH should work.

Too bad it didn’t for me.

2. using the GUI open one of the datastores and upload the files from your local machine to the ESXi. However, you cannot add existing VMs, you have to create a new one – so make a new empty one and then replace it with the right one.

Well, didn’t work for me either, I was getting plenty of very ugly errors.

ESXi is a bitch when it comes to the virtual hard drives – it doesn’t like the (default) expanding ones, it doesn’t like IDE, it didn’t work for me with BusLogic SCSI adapter. The built in help is a joke and it doesn’t really help at all.

So after some more experiments and lot of cursing I found out that there is only one way how to do it properly:

Use VMware Converter!

The free version works fine, however there is an ugly trick – when installing you HAVE to install the Agent. Even when the installer says you should do that only if you plan to migrate the physical computer you are installing the converter on, it actually allows you to convert any kind of VMs.  If you install only the Manager, you are able to convert only remote physical computers. I tried three times on three different machines and it was always like that.

Just start the converter, choose Convert Machine and follow the wizard.

Source Type – Other (if you don’t see this one, you don’t have the Agent installed)
Virtual Machine – browse for the vmx file
Source Data – here you specify the virtual disks, you can even resize them
Destination – VMware Infrastructure Virtual Machine
Destination Login – ip address and login to the ESXi machine
VM Name – probably should be same as the source VM
Host – for ESXi there is always one (same as the IP above)
Datastore – place where to store the VM files
Networks – by default there is only one (VM Network), but you can create more
Customization – here you can check that when the VM is booted it will have VMware Tools updated automatically

And thats it. It takes couple of minutes but it works quite well.

Moving Virtual Server machines to Hyper-V Server is in my opinion much much easier.
1. start Hyper-V Manager
2. select ‘Import Virtual Machine’ and browse for the folder
3. wait until it is done.

Oh well, guess I’m too old and spoiled for this…


2 Comments for this entry

  • Jason Bankhead

    I just did this last week and found out what you did. And because of this problem, I decided to stop using VMWare from this point on and stadardized on Hyper-V. ESXi seems great, but what these guys forget is the ease of use and manageability makes the product!

  • mart

    I agree, I find Hyper-V more friendly and easier to use, it is free product and does its work quite well. It might not have all the extra special functions of ESX but I don’t think it was meant to be the direct competition (at least not at this moment).

    I have a feeling that all non-Windows products suffer from some kind of ‘we are not just for anyone, we are special, so we don’t have to be user friendly’ attitude.

    On the other side, there are two things that Hyper-V requires – x64 server with CPU’s that support virtualization (some C2D lack this, but those are not for servers anyway) and Vista/2008 Server for the Hyper-V Manager. ESXi runs on almost anything, including ancient s603 Xeons.

    Since I was too lazy to migrate from VMware to Hyper-V, I chose this way – I didn’t expect it to be so painful.

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