As enterprises consolidate their servers, and as the ease with which you can run, deploy and manage virtual machines grows, so the demand for a way of converting existing one-box, one app servers into VMs comes to the fore.

Back in the days when VMware's ESX Server was at version 1.0, Leostream and Platespin didn't exist, and there were few if any utilities to manage the process of migrating systems over to a VM, it was painful. That's not all that was missing. Today you can hammer Google with a search for P2V -- an acronym that's now well-understood in the virtualisation community -- and come up with a host of ways to perform this seemingly simple but vital task.

A moment's thought will explain why it's not as simple as it looks. The pioneers tried it by simply creating disk images of the server's HD using utilities such as PowerQuest's Drive Image -- now subsumed into Symantec's product portfolio. The result of course was a BSOD, as the drivers weren’t there in Windows to support the new wrapper placed around the OS by the virtual environment.

A way needed to be found to install the drivers into the disk image without touching the original installation. It seemed simple -- but it wasn't. Tools started to trickle out of the software community, among them VMware's P2V assistant. Today we have a wide range of methods for reaching essentially the same goal, most of them commercial products.

But if there's a reason why a commercial product doesn't float your boat, a great alternative exists. It's the one to which most of Google's links point: Ultimate P2V, developed by Qui Hong, Chris Huss and Mike Laverick. It's a toolset that uses a BartPE Boot-CD to perform a P2V operation. On their site, they detail the process through which you have to go.

It's not that simple but, once you've accumulated all the pieces, it falls into place quite easily, especially since most of the hard work is done by PE Builder, a utility that generates BartPE CDs; these are incidentally, the most useful boot CDs you're likely to own if you have any Windows machines to maintain. The process of building a P2V CD took about an hour when we tried it, including the time taken to find and download the various components.

With practical tips from VMware's user forum to help answer practical questions, this is the most cost-effective way of making the migration to a VM. There are limitations of course -- the main one being that you have to use SCSI not IDE disk drivers in the VM. Other than that, it works well, and it won't stand still: its creators have released it into the community and are noting the responses to their endeavours.

The name is undergoing a bit of a migration though: on VMware's forum last week, rather than Ultimate P2V, the creators were starting to call it EZP2V-- which only works if you pronounce it the American way. You win some...