USB devices with VMWare ESX

I decided to do a short write up on using USB devices on your virtual machines inside of VMWare ESX. One of the challenges the company I worked faced when moving our physical servers to virtual machines was the fact some of the servers required a USB dongle for the software to run.

Unlike other VMWare desktop products such as Workstation or Fusion, ESX doesn’t allow you to utilize the ESX servers native USB ports and map them to a virtual machine.

We first tried a solution from Digi called AnywhereUSB, the product works well and is very stable and cost about $250 per unit. However, the down fall was we wanted to utilize the extra ports for other servers. At the time (and this still me be the case) the AnywhereUSB product wouldn’t allow multiple virtual machines to connect to the device and share the ports, we needed a solution that would allow separate virtual machines to connect to a dedicated port.

The second and final solution was a product from Lantronix called UBox, specifically the 4100 model and it cost around $150. It allows for 4 USB devices to be connected and each port can be specifically dedicated for a virtual machine, allowing us to connect 4 USB devices to 4 separate virtual machines without them knowing about each others devices. You can also have the operating system auto connect back to the USB device when the server is rebooted to ensure the hardware is always there by using the configuration software.

The simple configuration application will sit in the system tray of Windows. Below are a few screen-shots of the application (sorry for the nasty edits).

You’ll  notice the second image is giving us a warning about the software version we are running, it’s because it’s running on Windows 2000.

One of the cool things about these Lantronix units is that we are able to connect Windows 2000 and Windows 2003 virtual machines to the same UBox. The device comes with the Windows XP, 2003 software however the Windows 2000 software can be downloaded on the companies website.

In the end the Lantronix unit performs well, we have it setup on a private network and have had relatively few problems.