Moving VM’s between hosts

About a year ago I purchased a 1U IBM X3550 server to run VMware vSphere 5 on. While it was cool to have a server that had dual quad procs and 8 gig of ram in it, the noise it put off was too much for my family room. (Just think of half a dozen 1 inch fans running at 15,000RPM almost constantly.) Recently I have been spending more time in the family room and the noise has gotten to a level that it is almost impossible to do anything in the room with out hearing it. (Like watch tv, a movie, play a game, etc.) So I started looking at my favorite used hardware site,, for a new “server”. Well it finally arrived today, an HP XW8600 workstation. It is another dual quad proc, however it has 16GB of ram, and 12 SATA ports and a larger case, and the best of all, almost absolutely quiet.

So with it installed, I needed to start moving the VM’s from the IBM Server to the HP Server. In an enterprise environment, this usually isn’t a problem as you usually have a shared storage (SAN) that each of the hosts connect to. Well in my little home lab I don’t have shared storage. I did try to use COMSTAR in Solaris 10 to export a “Disk” as an iSCSI target. While this would work, it was going to take forever to transfer 1TB of VM’s from one server to a VM running on my Mac and back to the new server.

So a googling I went, and what I found was a way easier way to copy the VM’s over. ovftool, which runs on Windows, Linux and Mac. What it does is allow you to export and import OVF files to a VMware host. The side benefit of that is that you can export from one and import to another all on one line.

So I downloaded the Mac version and started coping. The basic syntax is like this:

./ovftool -ds=TargetDataStoreName vi://root@sourcevSphereHost/SourceVM vi://root@destvSphereHost

So if one of my VM’s is called mtdew, and I had it thin provisioned on the source host and wanted it the same on the destination host, and my datastore is called “vmwareraid” I would run this:

./ovftool -ds=vmwareraid -dm=thin vi://root@ibmx3550/mtdew vi://root@hpxw8600

where ibmx3550 is the source server and hpxw8600 is the destination server. If you don’t specify the “-dm=thin” then when it is copied over, it will become a “thick” disk, aka us the entire space allocated when created. (I.E. a 50GB disk that only has 10GB in use would still use 50GB if the -dm=thin is not used.)

There are some gotchas that you will have to look out for:

  1. Network configs, I had one VM that had multiple internal network’s defined. Those were not defined on the new server, so there is a “mapping” that you have to do. I decided I didn’t need them on the new server so I just deleted them before I copied it over.
  2. VM’s must be in a powered off state. I tried them in a “paused” state and it did not want to run right.
  3. It takes time, depending on the speed of the network, disk, etc, it will take a lot of time to do this, and the VM’s have to be down while it happens. So definitely not a way to move “production” vm’s unless you have a maintenance window.
  4. It will show % complete as it goes, which is cool, but the way it does it is weird. It will show the % at like 11 or 12 and then I turn my head and all of the sudden it says it is completed.
  5. I did have some issues with a vm that I am not sure what happened to it, but when I try to copy it, I get an error: “Error: vim.fault.FileNotFound”… It may be due to me renaming something on the vm at some point in the past.

Hope this helps some other “home lab user”…