I was recently talking with a friend about the beauty of USB devices in Workstation and we quickly began talking about the difficulties of USB devices in ESX. This is a problem I had already tackled some years ago with AnywhereUSB but earlier this evening I found a post discussing USB connectivity to an ESX hosted VM and felt it time to talk about it with you.
In the post the author describes several means for connecting USB devices in both temporary and permanent scenarios. I personally have never had much need for one time connectivity but since many of our applications require USB dongles for their license managers it's safe to say that connecting through the host or through RDP just won't do as a permanent solution. This is especially true as virtualization continues to branch out into the desktop arena where USB devices are more than just a pretty face, they're often a non-negotiable requirement.
While the post was extremely helpful one of the items that I feel the author failed to discuss is why VMware would continue to not support USB connectivity to guest VMs from their ESX hosts. Why wouldn't they indeed?
My immediate belief is that like most things it is for our own protection. Just imagine how upset your management, or you if you are the management, would be if DRS did not properly balance your resources, HA did not restart your server upon a failure, or you were not able to put a machine into maintenance mode due to a USB device preventing Vmotion because of a device associated to a single host. I know I wouldn't want to tell the boss that the thousands of dollars I fought hard for to purchase these features were all done in because of a USB dongle. Note: I have not yet tested this scenario but it seems reasonable given the results I've seen from having VMDKs and ISOs on local storage.
The greatest strength of VMware over its competitors is that they control the hardware and control the drivers that the VMs see. They have worked hard on their hypervisor to make these features available and I'm pretty sure that they won't open their arms to USB devices on the host anytime soon. After all, there are clearly many different options out there that solve this issue. Where's the benefit in complicating their already growing datacenter OS further?