Digi AnywhereUSB/2 reliably attaches my keyboard and mouse to a Windows 10 VMware VM that is also my primary workstation

Posted by Paul Braren on Oct 2 2015 (updated on Jan 16 2016) in
  • Virtualization
  • ESXi
  • Network
  • Homelab
  • Reviews
  • Backstory

    Ever since VMware's ESXi 5.1, you've been able to attach a variety of USB devices to your VMs. Those devices were attached to either the server the VM is running on, or the client connecting to the VM. See also at TinkerTry:

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    Click to read reviews or buy at Amazon.

    Then full USB 3.0 support arrived:

    The thing is, what if you want vMotion? That magical ability to move a VM around from server-to-server without losing its connection to a USB device, such as a USB dongle? Software protection (licensing) dongles are a common problem in the datacenter.

    Goal - run a VM as a full-featured workstation

    vsphere-web-client-look-at-many-usb-2-and-usb-3-devices
    Here's vSphere Web Client showing many USB devices attached, including a headset, a mic, sound, and even a fingerprint reader.

    Or, in my case, what if I was trying to do GPU pass through? Huh? Let me explain.

    It's also known as VMDirectPath or VT-d, when you take a video card and "pin it" to a particular VM, passing it right through. This way, the VM's OS "sees" that device directly, so the appropriate 3D accelerated video drivers can then be installed.

    Great, now I have up to 3 4K outputs, but here's the rub. How did I get my keyboard and mouse and mouse attached? That's right, when you go to the vSphere Client or vSphere Web Client, it'll let you add usb flash drives, webcams, UPSs, etc. But it won't let you add certain USB devices to the VM. Such as keyboards and mice, that only need USB 2.0 support. Uh oh.

    IMG_7800.JPG
    Can you spot my AnywhereUSB/2 at this recent Home Server Show Meetup?

    Well, folks like me really want to be able to use my ESXi server as a workstation as well, saving up-front cost and electricity. So I was highly motivated to fix this. It worked, I've been successfully running my hybrid for months now, using a solution anybody can buy, see also:

    Challenges

    When trying out competing (admittedly much less costly) products first from SIIG USB over IP 1-Port (ID-DS0611-S1) and SEDNA - 10/100/1000 Mbps Gigabit 4 Port USB over IP Device Server (SE-USB-SERV-24G), I admit I struggled with firmware stability, having to power cycle these devices multiple times per work day. I'm not alone, [here]((https://tinkertry.com/locate-your-4k-pc-20-feet-away#comment-2220262275)'s a TinkerTry visitor and I discussing our quest. Getting the drivers to auto-start with those other products was also a challenge, since by default, the required software that go with those drivers doesn't get started as a service. Yes, that Shell:Common Startup folder doesn't help, since you may need to use your keyboard to login to that the VM. Oops.

    I needed a solution that just worked for my particulare use-case. I am sorry I didn't find this solution sooner for my visitor. This article will hopefully help folks out, with those software and hardware struggles behind me. Been using my Digi full time for almost 4 weeks now, with no incidents of lost keyboard or mouse control.

    Downloads

    ANYWHEREUSB/2 Product Detail and Downloads:

    Digi_driver_downloads_Nov_2015
    Windows 10 drivers not available yet, but Windows 8.1 drivers/service works just fine in Windows 10. Screenshot updated Nov 01 2015.

    I did contact Digi technical support to inquire about possible plans for Windows 10 drivers, and quickly received an incredibly detailed and thorough response. He even passed along feedback from an engineer who works on drivers. This gist is that Digi is putting the drivers through their Windows 10 release testing, and updates should be announced soon. Whether that's a release of the same driver stating Windows 10 support in the release notes, or new drivers, is not yet determined. Read more about Windows hardware certification here.

    If you want to be notified when the driver is released, just subscribe to the RSS feed icon in the upper right corner of the product page here.

    The difference between Digi's support and the competitors made all the difference for me. Above average build construction, threaded power supply connection to the unit (to prevent accidental disconnection), and world-wide adapters for that power supply are nice touches. Note, all USB servers seem to only offer USB 2.0 support, so the 100Mbps network connection is more than adequate, see:

    I use a gigabit switch for all my gear, and don't notice any latency related issues when rapidly touch-typing, or mousing. Admittedly, I'm more productivity worker and content creator than gamer.

    Conclusion

    look-at-Digi-software

    Solid construction, software stability, and excellent support may be worth the extra cost for you, especially if the reliability of your USB Server solution is important for your particular use-case scenario.

    I can't see how this Digi wouldn't work just fine in a Hyper-V environment as well, just not something I've tried. Browse their many different models here.

    The video below starts with a quick unboxing and close look at the device, then dives in pretty deep, covering the exact behavior of the current drivers under Windows 10. I even did a v. 1.82 firmware upgrade, rebooting the device and my PC afterward, and all was still well. I never had to resort to reading the quick-start-guide or User Manual / Installation Guide, but if you're troubleshooting LED blinking patterns, you'll likely need them. My experience is likely very similar to how the drivers will behave on other client and server OSs, and soon, on Windows 2016.

    Unboxing, and software install deep dive.

    Let us know about your experience with the Digi AnyUSB/2 in your environment. Just drop a comment below!


    Nov 01 2015 Update

    logo-brand-animated
    Click image to morph to new logo.

    By the way, after 30 years, Digi has a new logo. Article updated accordingly.

    After months of ownership, I can safely say that this device sure is stable, despite no Windows 10 specific driver announcements yet. Yes, that Windows 8.1 driver continues to live happily in Windows 10.

    It seems I don't really don't need to think about this device again, and that's frankly exactly what I had hoped for.


    Dec 03 2015 Update

    See also


    Jan 16 2016 Update

    See also another kind of product that could help some folks who need remote USB support, using a software on Windows approach, rather than a stand-alone device plus Windows approach:

    • USB Network Gate

      Share USB over Network for Windows
      USB Network Gate (former USB to Ethernet Connector) easily connects one or more remote USB devices to your computer over Ethernet (Internet/LAN/WAN) as if the device was plugged into your own machine. Doesn't matter if you are in other country or in next door office, you can always use remote scanner, printer, webcam, modem, USB dongle or anything else as if they were connected directly to your PC.


    See also at TinkerTry

    See also

    Digi AnywhereUSB/2 Remote I/O Concentrator - Parts:

    Digi Technical Support

    Digi Forum - No login required to search for stuff: