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Redirect a USB Controller to ESXi VM

Jun 4, 2021

The virtualization technologies offer lots of benefits when there is a need for running various operating systems at the same time. Hosting multiple guest operating systems on the single machine helps you cut software-related costs but what is more, it allows you to be more flexible when it comes to managing limited IT-resources.

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What is ESXi USB pass-through and why you may need it

VMware ESXi Logo

Talking about VMware ESXi USB pass-through usually means redirecting traffic from the host machine’s real USB controller to the guest OS of a virtual machine running in VMware hypervisor. While a USB controller is in the passthrough mode, all removable devices you’re going to connect there will be instantly available and fully operable from any virtual VMware workstation.

There are two popular methods of VMware USB passthrough: via a special-purpose USB redirection app or to try adding a USB with native methods. In this article, we’re going to have a good and proper look at both and finally answer tеру main question: How do I connect USB to ESXi VM in the easiest, safest, and most convenient way possible?

Purpose-designed software tool for USB redirection

USB Network Gate is a professional-grade app specifically developed to redirect removable devices plugged into USB ports to virtual environments. Unlike the natural method that is, frankly speaking, only good for USB memory sticks and some PCI devices, USB Network Gate can help you set any USB ports (even a USB 3.0 xHCI controller) into passthrough mode so that any physical device plugged into said port becomes instantly available both from any VMware workstation you have, including all virtual machines hosted by your VMware vSphere server.

With UNG, configuring USB passthrough to ESXi is really easy:
1
Install USB Network Gate on the real PC that has your physical device plugged (server) and virtual machine (client).
2
Share a USB device on the server (this can be your local machine or any networked computer).
3
Connect to the shared USB device from the guest OS.
4
The virtual machine will recognize shared hardware and it will be displayed in the Device Manager so you can operate it as if it was directly connected to the virtual machine.

Check out this helpful video guide:

 video guide

Why is USB Network Gate the best solution to redirect USB to VMware?

✅ Thanks to the unrivaled port virtualization technology, UNG can redirect all types and brands of USB devices to a virtual environment. Even a USB hub and hardware with a bootable HID interface.

✅ USB Network Gate works much faster than native methods which makes it perfect for USB 3.0 xHCI controller redirection.

✅ UNG is a cross-platform solution that has versions for all popular operating systems.

Native methods for VMware USB pass-through

Adding a USB to a virtual machine by native methods is not a very complicated process but before you even start, please take into account some really important points:

  • Native methods work best for redirecting PCI devices and USB memory sticks.

  • If you pass through a USB hub, your VM won’t see the hub, only the peripherals connected to it.

  • Every USB device can be only mounted to one virtual machine at a time. If your local USB device is currently connected to a virtual machine, you will not be able to add it to another one until the device is disconnected from the first one.

  • VMware lets you connect a USB device to a guest OS only if it's attached to the host on which the virtual machine runs. That is opposed to dedicated USB pass-through software capable of working with any remote devices over the network.

So, here’s what you should do to redirect USB devices to VMware guest OS:

  1. Run this command to enable the USB arbitrator service: /etc/init.d/usbarbitrator start

  2. Log into your VMware vSphere Web Client and access your virtual machine Inventory.

  3. Open the list of virtual machines and select the machine that requires access to a USB device. Right-click and select the "Edit" settings. the list of virtual machines
  4. Select the “New device” menu and “Host USB device”. Select the “Add” option. host usb device
  5. Now select the device to be added from the drop-down list displayed and click OK.


If after this step ESXi USB passthrough is not working, go back to step 1 and try doing it all over again. Or consider getting a proper software tool (e.g. USB Network Gate to tackle any pass-through-related problems once and for all.

To unmount the device from your VM so others can use it, run this command to disable the USB Arbitrator service: /etc/init.d/usbarbitrator stop

Top choice

USB Network Gate

  • Rank 4.9 based on 179+ users
  • Requirements: Windows (32-bit and 64-bit): Windows 7 SP1/8/10, Windows Server 2008 R2/2012/2012 R2/2016/2019 . 6.45MB free space.
  • Version 9.2.2420. (). Release notes