A Slick USB Over IP Solution That I use Every Day

Let me show you a slick application I stumbled across about 6 months ago.  My HP all-in-one USB printer is certainly a handy device, but being bound to the thing via a USB cable was driving me nuts.  I wanted to have full control (which meant a print server wasn’t going to cut it) and I wanted that control from anywhere in my house over my wireless network.  Now, there are a number of products on the market that can do this.  As an example, AnywhereUSB from Digi is one such product which seems to have a good reputation and from what I’ve seen, it works well.  But, I was in one of my moods and I was bound and determined to find a free solution.  In my searches I found a few software products and tried the 30 day demos.  They all worked well but they weren’t free and they were all products for Windows.  And since my WindowsXP desktop is actually a VMware Workstation virtual machine running on top of Ubuntu Linux, what I really needed was a solution for Linux.

I knew that if I could find something for Linux I would kill two birds with one stone.  Because not only would I be able to connect USB devices to my Linux OS, but as an added benefit, my WindowsXP virtual machine would see the connected device just as if it were actually connected … no additional software needed for Windows!  Eventually I stumbled across USB Server (+ USB Client) for Linux Beta which is offered as a freeware product from IncentivesPro (http://www.incentivespro.com).  After playing with the product a bit and creating a few custom scripts to further automate the connecting and disconnecting of USB devices, I found the solution I was looking for!  And I can tell you, I use the product on a daily basis.  Here’s a quick look at my setup.

1) I have an HP all-in-one USB printer connected to a Linux server running USB Server for Linux.

2) On my laptop, running Ubuntu 8.04 I have the USB Client for Linux installed.

3) To automate the process of connecting to the server and attaching the USB devices, I created a Bash script called connect_usb.  Simply running this script produces the following output …

asweemer@cowbuntu:~$ connect_usb
Restarting USB Server on sweemserv … Success!
Restarting local USB Server … Success!
Connecting to USB Server on sweemserv … Success!
Looking for USB Devices on sweemserv … Success!
Found the following USB Devices on sweemserv:

1: USB Server on sweemserv:32032 status: [connected]
‘–> 5: USB Device:   Officejet 5600 series  HP  – Composite USB Device
busid: 1-1       hwid: 03f0-4f11
speed: [full]    status: [device is connected]

Connecting to the USB Devices on sweemsrv … Success!
asweemer@cowbuntu:~$

After I see this, I have full control of the device just as if I had the USB cable plugged directly into my laptop.

4)  I already mentioned that I run my VMware corporate XP desktop as a Workstation 6.5 instance.  The USB Client presents the USB devices as local, so I connect to them in Workstation as if they were directly connected devices.  Check out the following screenshot …

See the last line “Hewlett-Packard Officejet 5600 series”?  That’s the printer.  And believe me, it’s not local like the other devices in the list, but VMware Workstation doesn’t know the difference.  And when I connect the device to the virtual machine, WindowsXP doesn’t know the difference either.

6) That’s it!  Works like a charm everytime :)

If you’d like a copy of the Bash script, let me know and I’ll update the post.  Also, I’d be interested in any other unique ways to handle USB Redirection, so please comment if you have a solution.

Bring on the 10Gig Ethernet!

VMware recently updated its networking performance tests to see if the ESX hypervisor could efficiently leverage the ever-expanding bandwidth available at the Ethernet level. In short, it sure can! A single VM can effectively saturate a 10Gbps link when jumbo frames are enabled. But that’s not to say it can’t perform well with multiple virtual machines. Things scaled nicely and equitably for all VM’s. This type of scalable performance is reassuring as customers continue to raise consolidation ratios within their datacenters and virtualize the largest of workloads.

To save you some reading, here is the summary from the whitepaper, which can be found at: http://www.vmware.com/pdf/10GigE_performance.pdf

Conclusion:The results presented in the previous sections show that virtual machines running on ESX 3.5 Update 1 can efficiently share and saturate 10Gbps Ethernet links. A single uniprocessor virtual machine can push as much as 8Gbps of traffic with frames that use the standard MTU size and can saturate a 10Gbps link when using jumbo frames. Jumbo frames can also boost receive throughput by up to 40 percent, allowing a single virtual machine to receive traffic at rates up to 5.7Gbps.

Our detailed scaling tests show that ESX scales very well with increasing load on the system and fairly allocates bandwidth to all the booted virtual machines. Two virtual machines can easily saturate a 10Gbps link (the practical limit is 9.3Gbps for packets that use the standard MTU size because of protocol overheads), and the throughput remains constant as we add more virtual machines. Scaling on the receive path is similar, with throughput increasing linearly until we achieve line rate and then gracefully decreasing as system load and resource contention increase.

Thus, ESX 3.5 Update 1 supports the latest generation of 10Gbps NICs with minimal overheads and allows high virtual machine consolidation ratios while being fair to all virtual machines sharing the NICs and maintaining 10Gbps line rates.

VMware Compliance Center

Twice this week I have had customers contact me about how virtualization impacts their compliance with xyz (fill in your favorite regulation or bureaucratic oversight committee). In my effort to assist these customers, I was pleasantly surprised to find that VMware has launched it’s new Compliance Center portal on the VMware.com website. http://vmware.com/technology/security/compliance/

There is a massive amount of valuable whitepapers, webinars, and reference links on this site to assist with many different types of compliance questions. Initially there appears to be a focus on HIPPA (health-care), and PCI (credit cards) related info. This is fine by me as those two topics are probably the largest areas of concern that I have run into. I’ve been told there is much more coming, so stay tuned!

If for some reason, you still need more help, I would encourage you to contact your friendly local VMware partner or sales team. There are numerous additional resources they can bring to the table to help. Good luck and happy complying!