Quickly Virtualize your NetWare server



Do you still have an old NetWare server hanging around? Perhaps it’s sitting in a corner somewhere just doing its thing year after year. Maybe your philosophy has been to leave well enough alone even though you know you’ll have to do something with it eventually. You may even have a valid reason for not upgrading to OES. But what about the hardware?

Many NetWare 6.x systems are still running on their original hardware. Are you one of those admins who’s afraid to turn off the server in case it doesn’t start up again? Many of us have been there. What you are in desperate need of is new hardware to run your existing system or, better yet, a virtual machine.

Here’s a procedure I’ve used that is both quick and easy. I used it to virtualize a NetWare 6.5 SP8 server and create a VMware vSphere virtual machine. Best of all, no changes are made to your existing server so you can always fall back to it if need be.


It involves:

    1. Cloning your NetWare disk.


    1. Attaching the cloned disk to a new NetWare VM.


    1. Booting from the cloned disk and running hdetect (NW 6.5) to identify new devices and install drivers.

Here’s what you need:

    • A virtual machine host capable of running a virtual NetWare server with enough free storage to create a disk or disks equal in size to those on your NetWare server.


    • A Linux VM, any flavour. It must allow an ssh connection and allow root login.


    • A new NetWare VM.


    • A Linux “live” DVD or USB thumb drive, any flavour, to boot your NetWare server. If your NetWare server is running on old hardware, you may need a 32-bit version of Linux. It does not have to be the same as what’s running in your Linux VM.


Here’s how you do it:

Clone your NetWare disk(s)

Make sure ssh is enabled on your Linux server and that you can login as root.

    • Add an additional disk equal in size or a little larger than the one on the NetWare server to a Linux server.


    • Disable the automatic start-up of your NetWare server.


    • Shutdown the NetWare server.


    • Boot the NetWare server from a Linux “live” DVD (or a “live” USB thumb drive).


    • Make sure Linux can see your hard drive:
      From a terminal session on your NetWare server, as root, enter this command to verify that Linux can see your NetWare drive. (That’s a lower case “L” in the command”)

      fdisk -l

      It should appear as /dev/sda or /dev/hda. Make note of it.


    • To clone the disk across the wire, open a Linux terminal session if you closed the previous one and enter this command from the old NetWare server.

      dd if=/dev/sda bs=5M | ssh root@<Linux VM IP addr> “dd of=/dev/sdx bs=5M” 

      (Adjust “/dev/sda”, “<Linux VM IP addr>”, and “/dev/sdx” for your configuration.)

      A copy of your NetWare disk is now attached to the Linux server.

Create your NetWare VM

Create a new virtual machine to run your NetWare server assigning sufficient resources, as needed.

Just as you can pull a hard drive out of one system and insert it into another, in a virtual environment you can accomplish the same thing if you take the storage (a file, LUN, LV, disk, etc.) associated with a disk in one VM and reassign it to a disk in another VM. When you setup a disk for your NetWare VM, do the following:

    • Take note of the storage device backing the disk you added to your Linux VM.


    • Delete (disconnect) the disk you added to your Linux VM without deleting the storage device to which the disk is connected.


    • Add a disk to your new NetWare VM and point it to the same storage device used by your Linux VM to clone your NetWare disk.

      Your cloned disk is now attached to your new NetWare VM

Configure your NetWare VM

Power on your NetWare virtual machine. It will begin to boot but is unlikely to get very far because of the new hardware platform. It’s quite likely you will not be able to access the SYS volume.

    • Run hdetect (assuming NetWare 6.5). It may complain it can’t update your configuration files. That’s to be expected since the SYS volume is likely inaccessible.


    • Have it detect new devices and install drivers.


    • Mount your SYS volume.


    • Run hdetect a second time. This time it can access the SYS volume and should update your configuration.


    • Reboot your NetWare virtual machine.

What can go wrong

The Linux “live” OS that is booted up on your NetWare server has to be able to “see” your NetWare boot disk as a single disk, just as NetWare does. If your server uses an on-board RAID controller that may use a software (or fake) RAID, Linux may not recognise it and see right through it to the physical disks. If you happen to have configured RAID 1, you may still be able to make a clone from one of the disks.

On some very old hardware you may find that Linux fails to boot. If that happens, you may still be able to boot a different distribution or version. If you are unable to boot any version of Linux and happen to have installed NetWare on a non-redundant drive or happened to have setup a RAID 1 array, you may be able to remove a drive and temporarily install it into an external dock or another system to complete the cloning.

Due to the variety of hardware and various configurations, I can pretty much guarantee this procedure won’t work for everyone. If the Linux “live” OS boots and “sees” your NetWare drive, your chances of success are quite high.

When it goes right

While the disk is being cloned, you probably want some reassurance that everything is progressing as expected. The dd command doesn’t display any progress unless you ask it to. Here’s how:

    • Open a new terminal session on the NetWare server while the disk is being cloned.


    • Find the process id for the dd command
      Enter the following command:

      ps aux | grep dd


    • Ask the dd process to display its progress by entering this command:

      kill -USR1 <numeric process-id from the ps command>

The cloning process goes quite quickly. When I did it, data was transferred at full wire speed: 120 MB/sec across a gigabit link.

Your new virtual machine will likely have different network interface cards. If that is the case, you will have to install drivers and likely setup the new interfaces.

It should take 1-2 hours to get a working VM.


This Cool Solution is not meant to account for every contingency. It can, and has, quickly virtualised NetWare servers. You are expected to deal with anomalies. If you would like more information or would like to discuss any of the ideas presented here, feel free to stop by the Open Enterprise Server – OES NetWare Install-Upgrade forum. We’d love to chat with you.


How To-Best Practice
Comment List
    You may need a 32-bit CD to boot from as late NetWare time frame is also when we were still on systems with CD drives and 32-bit processors, just like the ProLiant DL380 G3 I have to deal with (the G4 gained the 64-bit CPU and some even came with DVDs instead of CDs). And not sure if I want to boot an OS off of USB 1.1


    Andy of KonecnyConsulting.ca in Toronto
    Please use the "Like" and/or "Verified Answers" as appropriate as that helps us all.

  •   in reply to mmccaffe
    That's a great approach! I can see a number of potential uses.


    Kevin Boyle, 
    Knowledge Partner

    Calgary, Alberta, Canada

  •   in reply to KonecnyA
    You can copy the clustered storage just like the example above.
    In the past I have used a live linux VM as an ISCSI target and had Netware ISCSI inititator connect to the target (which presented the VM storage to Netware). Then I had Netware mirror my NSS partition to the ISCSI LUN. Once mirrored, I could shutdown the original host and present the storage to the new Nettware/Linux OES VM. This minimized down time.

    Good Luck!
  •   in reply to KonecnyA
    That sounds like a perfect question to ask in the Open Enterprise Server – OES NetWare Install-Upgrade forum mentioned in the article. :)

    Kevin Boyle, 
    Knowledge Partner

    Calgary, Alberta, Canada

    Any thoughts on migration a full cluster? Storage included? So far all the migration options I've see for clusters assume no storage migration, and I now have one with shared SCSI storage to deal with.


    Andy of KonecnyConsulting.ca in Toronto
    Please use the "Like" and/or "Verified Answers" as appropriate as that helps us all.