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I need to know if a USB dongle that is required as a license key for a piece of software will accessible from the physical host machine.

This will be a small vSphere 4 installation targeting the quick backup and system restore capabilities of VMWare, not specifically HA, so I am not to worried about the virtual machine automatically failing over to another physical machine and the dongle not being accessible.

Does ESX have the capability to map a physical USB port or device to a specific Virtual Machine?

I believe this is the dongle: Sentinal Superpro USB Dongle by Rainbow Technologies

Thank you,
Keith

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I used the AnywhereUSB device and it works as advertised for me. So far, no issues. –  Keith Sirmons Oct 13 '09 at 16:05
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7 Answers

up vote 9 down vote accepted

We use a device from AnywhereUSB to attache USB devices (including dongles) inside an ESXi virtual machine.

http://www.digi.com/products/usb/anywhereusb.jsp

The limitations are that when you install Windows in an ESX guest it doesn't install the USB drivers so you have to do it manually. It is a Windows only device.

Also, you can't share one AnywhereUSB device between multiple guests. All ports are attached to one guest.

An additional clarification on the functionality is that you cannot cross LANs with it. It has to be on the same vLAN as your guest.

But, with the those restrictions it has been running fine with no hiccups. We took a physical machine on old hardware with a dongle, ran it through VMware converter, installed the software for the AnywhereUSB (and configured it), then plugged the dongle in and everything works great.

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Unless it has changed from ESX 3.5 to 4 the answer is no it isn't supported. Most people in this situation use a usb server, basically a box with a multiple USB ports and a network connection. You install software in the guest OS which installs a driver and sees the networked USB as though it were directly connected. I've had good luck with a model from Digikey.

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Note that both ESX and ESXi 4.1 have support for USB:

http://kb.vmware.com/selfservice/microsites/search.do?language=en_US&cmd=displayKC&externalId=1022290

I've used this first hand in an ESXi install for a serial-to-USB adapter going to a Linux guest. No problems at all.

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No, you require a USB over IP device.

This thread in the VMWare Community Forum confirms this, and suggests this document for more information on compatible USB over IP devices.

Also, I could not map local USB devices on a host to virtual machines with ESXi Server 3.5.

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ESX itself does not have the capability to virtualize USB connections. VMware Workstation can do this though.

We have some of the Anywhere USB devices and while they do work great and are seemingly supported by VMware (See this article) they have definite limitations that may not work for everyone.

a) Each Anywhere USB device requires a static IP. If your short on IPs this may not be a good solution.

b) Each Anywhere USB device can only be attached to a single VM, you can attach 5 USB devices to that single VM though.

c) They cost about $250 each.

d) Mine only came with a 120V AC adapter.

The documentation that comes with them makes it pretty clear that they were originally designed for Point Of Sale (POS) applications with thin clients. Working with ESX is just a side benefit. So if your need is just to attach a single USB dongle to your ESX VM then the Anywhere USB device would be my first choice.

I use one of them in my DMZ environment where I only need to have a single dongle attached.

If you need to attach a dozen of them like I have to do for R&D purposes then you need this software. You need a dedicated or semi-dedicated workstation or server with the USB over Network software installed on it and the USB devices attached to it.

We use this software in our main R&D network and have several dongles, scanners and printers attached.

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Thanks for software link- I just installed a trial and it picked up my superpro dongle just fine for use with HyperV –  Joel Coel Jun 2 '11 at 16:10
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For standalone one-node ESXi installs, in a new system where one wants to use the USB with one guest, what about VT-d?

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Yes, VT-d would work, but ESX/ESXi 4.1 support passing individual USB devices to guests, so there's likely no need to involve VT-d. –  notpeter Dec 8 '10 at 23:15
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Another solution is software dongle emulator.

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