VMware Converter 4 versus PlateSpin 9

This is one of many articles on PlateSpin Migrate  hosted on my site. For a complete overview of PlateSpin Migrate postings with info on troubleshooting, best practices etc see this link:

June 2011: for an overview of VMware Converter 5 beta and PlateSpin Migrate 9.1 see this blogposting 

In June 2011 VMware announced the public beta of VMware Converter Standalone version 5. This version will have alignment. Alignment is important to get the most out of the storage. See this posting for more info.

Two of the most used tools for converting physical servers to virtual machines are VMware Converter and PlateSpin Migrate (formerly known as PlateSpin PowerConvert). While the VMware tool is free to use, for the use of PlateSpin counterpart you need a paid license.  

I have been using PlateSpin Migrate 8.1.3 and version 9 for a couple of months and got quite some experience with it. I am also familiar with the use of VMware Converter 4 . My experience:

Setup of both products is fairly easy. VMware Converter setup is basicly next,next, finish. Setup of PlateSpin Migrate is a three step process: install the free SQL Server Express database (or create a database instance on one of your SQL servers), install the PlateSpin Migrate Server and last install the client. Make sure you are local admin and User Access Control is disabled as this can cause issues during installation.

PlateSpin  Migrate has a lot of features. Not only is it able to convert from Physical, Virtual and Image to all three media, it also supports conversion to Hyper-V and XenServer. VMware Converter is limited to P2V conversions to VMware workstation and ESX hosts. PlateSpin Migrate is able to reverse back a virtual machine to a physical server. Such a V2P conversion can be needed in cases where a software supplier is only willing to deliver support in case the application is running on bare metal servers
Another very usefull feature of PlateSpin Migrate is the ability to perform the IP-configuration on the target server. After the data transfer has ended, the target vm is started and PlateSpin configures the IP-configuration. This can be the same ip address, netmask, gateway etc as the source, it can also be a different configuration.
VMware Converter does not do post configuration. After conversion has finished you will need to either manually enter IP details or use a script. Obviously this is more time consuming and likely to create errors.

VMware Converter Standalone is free. I believe VMware does not give support on this. 
PlateSpin has great support on the product. If there is an issue, a Support Request can be issued on the Novell website and a support engineer will contact you. The response is fast and almost always very helpfull.   

Discovery: while PlateSpin was able to discover most of the servers instantly, I found VMware Converter had some problems. Initially it could not connect to the source server, the next try it did with nothing changed. This problem is reported on several sites. One of the solutions mentioned is to install the VMware Converter client on the source server. Also restarting VSS services might help.

support of vSphere features: while PlateSpin Migrate is regarded as the top tool for performing conversions, it lacked for a long time support for vSphere distributed switches. Support was added in version 9, long after distributed switched became available. It also does not support the creation of thin provisioned disks. VMware Converter Standalone Edition supports both distributed switches and thin provisioned disks.

Support for platforms: VMware Converter supports P2V conversion to VMware ESX 3 and 4 hosts and vCenter Servers. PlateSpin Migrate supports conversions to VMware ESX, vCenter, Hyper-V hosts, Citrix XenServer and Virtual Iron.

 Disk alignment: PlateSpin Migrate is able to align the first partition of the virtual disk while doing a X2V conversion. Alignment can be important in cases where diskresources are used intensively. See various articles on the internet on how to align the disks of the guest operating system. VMware Converter does not align disks. A not aligned partition can reduce disk performance with 10 to 30%.

conversion: VMware Converter is able to tranfer data to the newly created virtual machine without a helper virtual machine. This is an advantage over PlateSpin migrate in my opinion. Migrate is creating a target virtual machine during conversion. This loads a Windows PE operating system. This connects over the network to the source server. In my experiece this is most more funerable for errors. In some cases Windows PE does not have enough internal memory assigned and the conversion stops because of that.

Post conversion: Using VMware Converter you will need to delete devices like the network adapters before being able to manually reconfigure the IP-settings of the adapter(s). The adapters are hidden. PlateSpin Converter however is able to delete the adapters, and automatically configuere the IP-configuration as defined in the conversion job. This will save you some time and prevents making errors in the post conversion stage. Deletion of hardware like Dell OpenManage can be scripted.

Synchonization: PlateSpin Migrate has two types of transfers jobs available:

  • a full migration job is which a virtual machine is created and all the data is being copied from the source server to the target server.
  • a server sync tranfer job in which only the changed data is being tranfered from the source to the target server.

The server sync option (for either file or block based synchronization) will save the downtime of an application and the number of working hours. A source server having lots of data can be ‘prepared’ by performing a full migration. All the data is copied to the virtual machine disk files. This can be done during office hours using a hot migration: the server and application remains online. This works even if the application is using a database. Prerequisite is that the database support VSS and the operating system is Windows Server 2003 SP1 or later.

When the server has been prepared, it can be tested by the application owner. This test however is a bit limited as the prepared virtual machine is not connected to the production network. In most cases it will have the same servername and ip-configuration.

During off hours the server sync can be performed. As most data is already available in the virtual machine, the tranfers will take much less time than a full copy. After the data sync has completed, the source server can be switched off and the virtual machine can be connected to the production network.

VMware converter is able to perform a post-conversion synchronization. Initially it will convert the phyisical server. At the end of the conversion it will tranfers the data which has been changed during the conversion. It is not able to sync data between physical server and virtual server with a couple of days or hours between the initial creation and sync as PlateSpin Migrate does.  

Ease of use
VMware Converter has a simple to use interface. It does what it has to do. PlateSpin Migrate has far more options and is less easy to use. I experienced quite a lot of issues while doing the conversions. The errors displayed in the logs points to URL’s on the Platespin website. However, it does not show any solution to solve the problems. It is very difficult to troubleshoot because you do not know what is going on under the hood of PlateSpin. A support contract is a must if you are performing critical  conversions with tight deadlines.

Unfortunately Platespin Migrate is not able to perform file based tranfers if the source volume has many files. In my case a source server had over 30.000 small files on a volume. The file transfer stalled at 1%. The solution was to use block level tranfer.

If you want to limit downtime to a minimum and want to reduce working hours during off hours for performing conversions, PlateSpin is the right tool. A conversion can be run while the source server is operational during office hours. During the off hours or in the weekend, the delta can be synchronised reducing the hours needed to convert the server. This is very handy for servers with lots of data (over 100GB of data)
Be prepared for a steep learning curve on PlateSpin as you are likely to run into issues some time or later.

For a small number of conversions with source server having small partitions, the free VMware Converter will in most cases be a good solution.

About Marcel van den Berg
I am a technical consultant with a strong focus on server virtualization, desktop virtualization, cloud computing and business continuity/disaster recovery.

One Response to VMware Converter 4 versus PlateSpin 9

  1. Sat says:

    thank you for your contribution
    I have a question, I installed version 9.0.2 of PlateSpin Migrate it impossible to have fonctione sync server. the option is grayed out

Leave a Reply to Sat Cancel reply

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