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  1. Senior Member
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    #1

    Default Virtual USB drives and removable media

    I have two related features I'd like to see in an emulator but have not yet seen. I've searched the internet and have not found what I'm looking for. I suspect that this is because these features do not exist or are just poorly documented and what I seek is lost in the noise of my search results.

    The first feature I seek is a virtual disk attached to the USB interface. I want to do this so that I don't have to provide a real USB flash drive to test the ability of an operating system to boot from and/or just access a USB drive. I'd like to try out some things in a virtual environment before I go through the trouble of installing things on a real physical computer.

    The second feature I seek is nearly identical but a bit more general. Sometimes I've found myself in the situation where a virtual machine has not yet had the network drivers installed, the virtual machine extensions enabling a shared folder aren't installed, or other means to easily transfer files into or out of to the virtual environment are not yet available because of a lack of software in the virtualized machine. It would be nice if the emulator could emulate a USB flash drive, a CD burner ("burn" a CD to an ISO file), or some other kind of emulated hot-swap storage. I've found all kinds of ways to work around this problem but a way to attach a read/write drive image of some sort to a virtual machine without rebooting would be very nice to have. This would be especially helpful to get the network drivers, virtual environment extensions, and so on installed in the first place so that I could transfer files in a more traditional manner.

    I just thought that before I give up on this search that I'd pick the brains of the people here that have much more experience with virtualization than I do.
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  3. Google Ninja jibbajabba's Avatar
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    #2
    Not sure about virtual USB drives, but you can easily have a virtual disk formatted on your datastore with all necessary drivers etc. on it and attach to VMs where needed. This can be done without shutting down the VM. Only OS I noticed, which sometimes seem to fail to rescan for new drives properly, is Linux (RedHat / CentOS anyway).

    Or simply create an iso and mount when needed.
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    #3
    Quote Originally Posted by jibbajabba View Post
    Not sure about virtual USB drives, but you can easily have a virtual disk formatted on your datastore with all necessary drivers etc. on it and attach to VMs where needed. This can be done without shutting down the VM. Only OS I noticed, which sometimes seem to fail to rescan for new drives properly, is Linux (RedHat / CentOS anyway).
    Which emulator is this? I've tried this on VirtualBox and VMWare Fusion, I cannot attach an IDE or SCSI device while the VM is running.

    Quote Originally Posted by jibbajabba View Post
    Or simply create an iso and mount when needed.
    That only works in getting the data into the VM, not out of it. When playing with virtual machines I will often run into the situation where the files I need in one VM reside inside another. The task of creating an ISO and writing the files I wish to move into it is often trivial but tedious. For smaller files a virtual floppy will do but files that small almost never seem to come up any more.

    USB support is nearly universal now for both the emulators and any OS I'd want to run on them so transferring them on a USB drive is usually my solution. That works for both read and write, most of the time, but then I find myself searching for one of my easily misplaced USB flash drives. It'd be so much simpler if I could just write the files to a virtual drive of some sort, detach it, then attach the virtual drive to the other VM. Every OS that I care about support mount and eject of SCSI drives, I find it difficult to believe this function cannot be emulated.

    I know that this is just me being lazy since there are easily hundreds of different ways to make this work by other means. I just look at what these emulators can do and it boggles my mind that something so seemingly simple as attaching a read/write drive file while the VM is running is not something these emulators can do. Perhaps it's not as simple to do as I imagine. Perhaps I need to keep better track of my USB drives.
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  5. Google Ninja jibbajabba's Avatar
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    #4
    You didn't mention that you are using Fusion or Virtualbox so naturally (well in my world anyway) I assume vSphere

    As for getting data off a VM without network - in VMware workstation for example you can share the local machine with your VM so you can copy data on and off - requires the VMware tools to be installed but that is obviously a no-brainer and doesn't require any network connections (just a click away).

    I doubt there are "USB Emulators" out there which are presented to a VM as native device. Most emulators are rather Ethernet to USB / USB to Ethernet devices etc. All of which will normally require a plugin to be installed on the PC / Server in question (an agent so to speak).

    There are a lot of "Virtual CD Burner" out there you can use or even just preset a local CD burner to the VM .. there are a few options out there, but a USB emulator is a no-go I think.
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    #5
    Quote Originally Posted by jibbajabba View Post
    You didn't mention that you are using Fusion or Virtualbox so naturally (well in my world anyway) I assume vSphere
    I didn't mention using any specific emulator. I'm looking for an emulator with the features I desire, that's why I didn't mention any specific emulator at first. I suppose I could have mentioned the ones I tried to give a better idea on my dilemma.

    Quote Originally Posted by jibbajabba View Post
    As for getting data off a VM without network - in VMware workstation for example you can share the local machine with your VM so you can copy data on and off - requires the VMware tools to be installed but that is obviously a no-brainer and doesn't require any network connections (just a click away).
    There's part of the issue. Some times the VM tools don't work, are missing, out of date, or whatever. Installing the VMware/VirtualBox tools requires that a CD-ROM device be part of the hardware setup, while it's rare to not have a CD-ROM in the VM it can be a desirable configuration for some reasons.

    Quote Originally Posted by jibbajabba View Post
    I doubt there are "USB Emulators" out there which are presented to a VM as native device. Most emulators are rather Ethernet to USB / USB to Ethernet devices etc. All of which will normally require a plugin to be installed on the PC / Server in question (an agent so to speak).
    I'm not sure I follow. Emulated ethernet interfaces are typically presented as a PCI device. I have used USB to ethernet on VMs and took advantage of the USB passthrough feature to avoid the emulator's built-in switch/bridge/NAT which often interferes with my desires to run servers inside the VM.

    Quote Originally Posted by jibbajabba View Post
    There are a lot of "Virtual CD Burner" out there you can use or even just preset a local CD burner to the VM .. there are a few options out there, but a USB emulator is a no-go I think.
    How do you mean "virtual CD burner"? As far as I can tell there is no emulator out there that will emulate a CD burner and produce an ISO file from the burn process. I've seen an IDE passthrough feature so the physical CD burner on the host is available to the VM so that a real CD can be burned, I believe that is what you are referring to. All that does is make me search for a blank CD to burn instead of search for a USB drive. If I want to transfer a file from one VM to another on the same computer I should not have to seek out a physical device as the go-between.

    It looks like I might have to invest in more USB drives if I can't figure out a better solution. I'll lose them but find them later, having more reduces the time it takes to find one.

    Still not sure if these emulators I've tried will even boot from a real USB drive. I'll have to investigate that some more before I worry too much about virtual ones.
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    #6
    There are a lot of virtual cd burner out there. One of them is for example VirtualCD

    HTTP://www.virtualcd-online.com/vcd/...ginal.cfm?lg=0

    Check the features above.
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  8. Senior Member MentholMoose's Avatar
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    #7
    You can hot attach/detach a VMDK to a running VM in VMware Workstation. You can then attach it to another VM, or mount it on the host through Workstation or a third-party utility, to get the files. I believe this feature requires VMware Tools to be installed so if you don't want to install and maintain them, this solution probably won't help you.
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  9. Senior Member
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    #8
    Quote Originally Posted by jibbajabba View Post
    There are a lot of virtual cd burner out there. One of them is for example VirtualCD

    HTTP://www.virtualcd-online.com/vcd/...ginal.cfm?lg=0

    Check the features above.
    That looks real close but not quite there. You did give me an idea on what to look for though.

    This is what I'm trying out right now, Kernsafe TotalMounter. There were others that I found that provided drivers to create a virtual CD/DVD-RW but this one is free and looked like the most capable of what I found.

    If you don't hear back from me for a while it's because I got it working and I'm too busy messing around with virtual machines to give a progress report.

    Kernsafe also has an iSCSI server but that's a topic for another thread.
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  10. Senior Member
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    #9
    Quote Originally Posted by MentholMoose View Post
    You can hot attach/detach a VMDK to a running VM in VMware Workstation. You can then attach it to another VM, or mount it on the host through Workstation or a third-party utility, to get the files. I believe this feature requires VMware Tools to be installed so if you don't want to install and maintain them, this solution probably won't help you.
    If I had the VMware tools installed then there are all kinds of ways to get files in to and out of the VM.

    Seriously, thanks for the heads up. I was not aware that VMWare Workstation had this feature. I assumed that Fusion and Workstation had feature parity. Since VMWare Workstation is not free I'll investigate the free solutions first. At some point I should get a license as a reward for passing my VCP5 exam, another reason not to buy it just yet.

    Thanks again to all.
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  11. Junior Member
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    #10
    This CD/DVD burner emulator has problems with burning (BSODs) and free version of server tool is limited to one connection so useless for virtualization. Your feedback is appreciated.

    Quote Originally Posted by MacGuffin View Post
    That looks real close but not quite there. You did give me an idea on what to look for though.

    This is what I'm trying out right now, Kernsafe TotalMounter. There were others that I found that provided drivers to create a virtual CD/DVD-RW but this one is free and looked like the most capable of what I found.

    If you don't hear back from me for a while it's because I got it working and I'm too busy messing around with virtual machines to give a progress report.

    Kernsafe also has an iSCSI server but that's a topic for another thread.
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    #11
    Quote Originally Posted by NISMO1968 View Post
    This CD/DVD burner emulator has problems with burning (BSODs) and free version of server tool is limited to one connection so useless for virtualization. Your feedback is appreciated.
    I have also had trouble burning to ISOs with this software, no BSODs though. I'm not sure if it's an issue with TotalMounter or my burning software. I tried this out on a computer that does not have a built-in CD-RW so I can't test with things like IDE pass-through on the emulator. I did try with a physical DVD/CD-RW USB drive connected with the USB passthrough and that didn't work for some reason either. Tried with Ubuntu 10 or 11 (don't recall) and with Brasero and K3b as the burning software. With the virtual drive the error was either no inserted media or not enough room on the media. The burning with the physical drive would error out even before the burning got started, some sort of buffer error IIRC.

    This has become more trouble than it is worth. Still looking for options. Some other virtual drive software might be in order. If I'm going to have to spend money on a solution then I'd rather it be a hardware one than a software one. I know that looking at hardware solutions is a complete 180 from where I started but I just had all kinds of frustration with software on both the host and guest systems. I know what the hardware solution is, I just need to get another flash drive and keep it plugged in the computer or stop losing the ones I got under all this stuff on my desk.

    I do not know if I can attribute this issue to TotalMounter or not but something killed my Windows XP install and I did a complete re-install to get it running again. It locked up hard and would no longer boot from the hard drive after a three fingered salute. There may have been a way to fix the computer without the re-install but I felt the re-install would not only fix the issue in the least time (not saying installing from CD and installing all the drivers and updates was a SHORT amount of time) but also clear out the cruft I didn't use any more. I was installing all kinds of stuff at the time, hardware and software, that anything could have caused it. It's most likely just Windows doing its typical self destruct. I hate Windows.
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  13. Junior Member
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    #12
    1) Google for "TotalMounter" and "BSOD" to find out it's a pretty common situation with broken Windows and so on... You're not alone!
    It's obvious it's not enough to claim a feature - whole software stack should work

    2) In my case both Virtual CD and Alcohol 120% with iSCSI redirection to another machine (I have MacBook Air running Windows 7 it has no
    built-in optical drive option) did the trick.
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