USB passthrough in vSphere 4.1

One of the new features of vSphere/ESX 4.1 is the ability to pass-through up to 20 USB devices from the ESX host to a VM or VMs.

It is really simple to setup and test.

I am using a Server 2008 R2 VM as a test in this case.

Right click on the VM and select edit settings.

Add a USB Controller and then click OK and exit the edit settings screen.

Edit settings on the VM again and add a USB device.

At this point the wizard will show you any visible/compatible device you have plugged into the underlying ESX 4.1 host

A device HCL is here on VMwares support site:

You cannot multi-select devices at this stage – add them one by one.

There is an option to allow vMotion of the VM while the USB device is connected.

VMware documentation states:  “You can migrate a virtual machine to another ESX/ESXi host in the same datacenter and maintain the USB
passthrough device connections to the original host.”

I tested vMotion with a USB mass storage device attached and it does indeed work across ESX hosts as promised.

In the screen below I have now added two pass-through USB devices to my VM (A Kingston USB drive and a Safenet/Raindow dongle)

Inside the Windows VM – looking at device manager – the devices have appeared.

Both devices work correctly as intended.

I have tested numerous brands of USB mass storage devices (Kingston, Sandisk, Lexar, Imation) as well a couple of of security dongles and they all work well.

Also, please check out the USB pass-through section in the Virtual Machine Administration Guide PDF that is part of the vSphere 4.1 documentation.


26 thoughts on “USB passthrough in vSphere 4.1

  1. What does the “vMotion support”? The USB is only present locally to the host. It means it doesn’t block vMotion but disconnect the device?

    1. The vMotion support allows the USB device to follow the VM when moved to different ESX/ESXi hosts in the cluster. I have tested it and it works well. Would appear to be USB over IP tech? Haven’t done any further digging.

      I have updated the blog with this info

  2. I must be doing something wrong. I have tried it several times and when I go to add a USB Device, nothing shows up! I’ve tried a couple of USB thumb drives as well as a couple of external USB hard drives and nothing works.

    Any suggestions?

    1. Is the VM version 7 or 4 – it needs to be V7 hardware for this to work

      Also – what model/brand server are you running ESX 4.1 on?

  3. Hi,

    Thats really wonderful now vSphere 4.1 supports USB passthorugh even with vMotion. However the host machine should remain online in order for USB pass-through to work.

    I’d like know if anyone has ever used or tried finding solution that could support HA, for example: by using of devices like USB-over-IP.


  4. I don’t know if this happens with all IP USB boxes, but we’re using a Digi AnywhereUSB/5, and have noticed that mass storage devices do work – but if you were to copy a large file (such as a backup file) to an IP attached USB device, the IP USB driver in Windows totally blocks the Windows filesystem: You can’t browse drives with Windows Explorer and any disk access (even local disk access) gets very, very slow – to the point that the machine is nearly useless until the copy finishes.

    So, if you have backups over IP USB in mind, don’t. Think of IP USB more for printing and dongles, not for high bandwidth devices like mass storage (unless you’re only moving small amounts of data to and from the USB storage device).

    I haven’t tested whether or not the vMotion IP USB setup has the same file system blocking issues, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it did. Test it first, would be my recommendation.


  5. @Joe on August 3, 2010 at 2:38 am

    I also have the exact setup as yours.

    PowerEdge R710
    ESXi 4.1
    VM hardware is 7

    I can add the USB controller but can’t select the USB (Device). It’s grayed out. I can’t seem to ungray the USB(device) not matter what I tried. I would love to hear others who have the setup with working USB device. If you resolved the issue please let me know. Thanks

    1. I know this is an old post, but I just ran into the same issue. It is grayed out because the device is in use on another VM. In my case it was mounted on my Domain Controller and I had to remove the device before I could add it to my client machine. Hope that helps someone!

  6. We have the exact same server and had the same problem. The USB ports on the back of the Server do not recognize the USB device. Use the front ports, it worked for us right away.

  7. How can you connect a usb hauweei modem to be added? when i try to add a usb device i can’t see it.

  8. How do I know if Aztech UM300 USB Modem is supported by VMware Pass-thru feature? It is not listed in the supported USB devices (well, the list is very limited)
    Please help. Thanks.

  9. Hi,

    I have an issue with a Proliant DL380 G7 and Vmware ESXi 4.1 u1 front usb port not working, I’m doing find with the back usb front but with the two on the front i’m not been able to make it work, any ideas???

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