Sunday, 9 July 2017

Converting a physical machine for use in VirtualBox

I recently had an interest in converting a physical machine (Windows) I have into a virtualised environment. For my personal Virtual needs, I tend to use and favour VirtualBox - so my end goal is to have the system running in VirtualBox.

A quick google with these keywords reveals this VirtualBox article: https://www.virtualbox.org/wiki/Migrate_Windows. However, this talks about Windows XP, and then one of the software it references is 10 years old. And for some extra context, Windows XP was first released in 2001 and the last release (SP3) in 2008. Ok, so I'm deciding not to go down that path.

Putting aside the previous article, I happen to know there are two solutions that support converting a physical machine.
  • VMWare
  • Microsoft (Disk2vhd)
So, I will go with the VMWare option for this article/guide. The software is found over at: https://www.vmware.com/ca/products/converter.html. So, I download and install the software (note, you will need a VMWare account in order to download this software).

The software includes official documentation in the form of a PDF document, so if you want to review that, head over to: https://www.vmware.com/pdf/convsa_61_guide.pdf - chapter 6 is the relevant chapter.

Firstly, you will want to start the program as Administrator to ensure you have full privileges. Search for VMWare and right click the relevant entry, and then click "Run as administrator".  Once it's opened, click on the "Convert machine" toolbar button - this will begin the wizard.

For the source, it's pretty safe to leave the default options


On the second step, Destination system, I will opt to target VMWare Player 7.x. And I think it goes without saying you should be targeting this to be saved on an external disk. So, the desitnation configuration ends up looking like:


After this step, you will be presented with all the system options that you may want to update - such as reducing the memory, since your virtual environment would probably have far less memory than your physical machine. I also change the number of virtual cores down to 2 (from 4).

That's all done we can run the conversion. Click Finish and the process will begin. After the job submits, the process will take some time, so you can re-visit the process later (it offers a time estimation - for me, it estimated 1 hour, but jumped up and down periodically).

In the meantime, we can go and grab VMWare Workstation player, if we don't already have anything to verify the conversion in VMWare. This can be found here: https://my.vmware.com/en/web/vmware/free#desktop_end_user_computing/vmware_workstation_player/12_0 note: this is free for non-commercial use. This is just if you want to verify the conversion in VMWare - if you prefer, or that license doesn't suit, you can skip this step and grab the ovftool directly over here: https://www.vmware.com/support/developer/ovf/

With the conversion finished, you should end up with two files: a vmdk and vmx file. Here, we can test it works by opening it up in VMWare Player - for performance, you may want to copy the files over to your host computer, space permitting. Aside from that, all should be working.

Now to convert this for use in VirtualBox. You can either just point at the vmdk file and create the machine manually or create an appliance - I will go forward with the latter approach, though pointing at the existing storage file (vmdk) will get you up and running much quicker!

VMWare player comes with a command line program named ovftool which supports converting from "VMX" to "OVF". (This tool can also be downloaded standalone: https://www.vmware.com/support/developer/ovf/ - the next step is based on if you installed VMWare player). So, go to the folder where workstation player was installed to - on my system, it is: "C:\Program Files (x86)\VMware\VMware Player". You should see a folder named "OVFTool" - right click that whilst holding the shift key, and click "Open PowerShell Window Here".


Then run (adjusting to where your VMWare VM was saved to and where you want the VirtualBox appliance saved to) the following:

ovftool.exe "F:\VMWareConverted\WindowsVM\WindowsVM.vmx" "F:\VBAppliance\WindowsVM.ovf"

This is another fairly long process, so sit back!

Once that finishes, head over to VirtualBox, and import the appliance we just created - the ovf file.



The name comes through as "vm" so you'll probably want to update that, I also changed the Guest OS Type property to Windows to match my system.


I also disabled all the network adapters (4) that came through in the settings, so I can manually add them later - I encountered issues where the network adapters weren't being detected properly in the guest, so this is probably the safer option - we add the network interfaces manually after import.

Click import to create the VM within VirtualBox.

Once that finishes, when attempting to run the machine, you will find you're not out of the woods yet. So, here are some extra steps you'll want to do before starting the virtual machine.

  • Enable EFI (if your computer is recent and EFI based)
  • Move the HDD to the SATA controller 
  • Add an optical disk (so we can install the guest additions)
  • Enable the network
  • Switch to Intel HD Audio
  • Install guest additions


I found that when starting the system, I would receive the following error:

Enable EFI

After doing a bit of digging, I can see in the VirtualBox settings, EFI is not enabled but my system is fairly recent so that is in use and needs to be enabled. So head into the configuration and make sure that is enabled.



So, now this time when trying to boot we will get another error. Progress!



Move the HDD to the SATA controller 

Looking in the VM configuration, I see the storage device is attached to a SAS controller. Just on a hunch, I try moving the moving the device into the SATA controller (delete and re-add the disk from the storage sections in the machine settings).

So, remove the disk "WindowsVM-disk1.vmdk" from the SAS controller



Then re-attach it to the SATA controller. When prompted, specify Choose existing disk and navigate to where the disk is stored. This will a path similar to be: $HOME/VirtualBox VMs/ConvertedPC/WindowsVM-disk1.vmldk.



Add an optical disk

In the same settings area (Storage), click on the optical disk icon that is on the same line as the controller, in order to attach an optical drive to the system.



When prompted, specify to leave empty.


Add a network interface

Since we disabled all network interfaces when importing the appliance, head over to network settings and add a NAT adapter so you can access the internet.



Switch to Intel HD Audio

When I first booted, I found the audio controller wasn't working so I switched it over to Intel HD Audio, and all worked well after that.



And after doing all this, we are able to successfully boot into our PC that has now been virtualised.


Install guest additions

Log in, and install guest additions. This is done by clicking on the Devices menu and selecting Insert Guest Additions CD image...


Follow the steps in the VM. After the process completes it will want to reboot your system - after which point you have your fully functional converted PC as a VM in VirtualBox.

edit: If you have input issues due to hardware differences, this thread will help: https://communities.vmware.com/thread/448048 - you need to modify some registry entries

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