Hyper-V – Enhanced

 May 20, 2014

Why can’t I attach my USB stick to my Virtual Machines (VMs)? Why can’t I simply drop a file or retrieve a file to/from my Virtual Machines that don’t have a direct network connection. XYZ product does this, why can’t Hyper-V?
These are comments I hear on virtually (pun intended) every Hyper-V course I run, and I have always found them particularly galling, as Hyper-V is such a great product with so many wonderful features (and it is free!). Unfortunately, there are times when "the little things" - particularly when we talk about the user interface - can sometimes colour one's perception of an otherwise, great product. Yes, there have been workarounds and fudges. We have always been able to paste in text (only) through a rather klutzy method of simulated keystrokes. We have always been able to add a USB disk drive to the Hyper-V host, take the drive offline and then assign it to a guest VM as a pass-through disk (which in itself has been a brilliant and useful feature I use regularly for backups or large file copy operations.) There have also been a number of third party programs to "redirect" a USB port to a VM (such as USB Redirector), but we want this functionality “built in” and easy to use, don’t we? Well worry not, the boffins at Microsoft have finally given us what we have been asking for after so long – Hyper-V Enhanced. (O.K. so it’s the latest version of Hyper-V with a new feature called Enhanced Session Mode or ESM). Of course, the caveat here is that ESM is only available with Windows Server 2012 R2 or Windows 8.1 as both the virtualisation host and guest (you are aware, of course, that the Hyper-V role has been a feature of the Pro and Enterprise editions of the Windows Desktop OS since Windows 8, aren’t you?) ESM achieves this with a brand new connection interface to the VMs. Prior to Windows Server 2012 R2, connection to the VMs was provided by the Virtual Machine Connection Tool, which provided only basic redirection of the VMs screen, keyboard, mouse etc., as well as the previously mentioned klutzy Copy and Paste functionality (for text only, remember?) Connections to the VMs on Windows Server 2012 R2 or Windows 8.1 Pro or Enterprise can still use this connection method, but we now also have the option of selecting or switching to Enhanced Session Mode. This utilises the Remote Desktop Services component in VMs and establishes a full remote Desktop session over the VMBus. This means you can now redirect local resources on the host (such as smart cards, printers, drives, USB devices or any supported Plug and Play devices) to your guest VMs. You can use folder redirection and shared clipboard for copying and pasting. This enables you to also use the standard Copy and Paste functionality within File Explorer or just simply drag a file (of any file format) from your host’s desktop to your guest VMs desktop and vice versa. You can print from a VM to a local printer connected to the host machine and change the display settings including support for multi-monitor. Heck, you can even now play videos on a guest VM and hear it through the speakers on the host machine! I guess Microsoft are primarily aiming ESM at the client OS, as it is disabled by default on Hyper-V on Windows Server 2012 R2, but enabled by default with Hyper-V on Windows 8.1. In the Hyper-V Settings, there is a new 'Enhanced Session Mode' policy in the server section which needs to be enabled. The 'Use Enhanced Session Mode' option in the User settings section also needs to be ticked as well. At the VM settings level, 'Guest Services in the Integration Services' section should be ticked. ESM is also switchable through the Virtual Machine Connection Tool for each VM. Don’t forget that users must be members of the Remote Desktop Users Group (or have administrator access) if they want to use ESM, and the Remote Desktop Services service must be running in the guest VM. So go ahead and check it out. It makes your virtual machine management so much easier and yes, Santa Claus has now indeed given you full USB host pass-through in Hyper-V!

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About the Author:

Gordon Cowser  

With over 22 years real world and training experience, Gordon is our most senior IT Infrastructure trainer. His expertise includes but is not limited to; Microsoft Server and Client OS, Messaging, Collaboration, Active Directory and Network Infrastructure. Gordon also specialises in SharePoint technologies training in both technical and end user aspects. With his extensive skill-set he brings a thorough mentoring capability to the classroom where he can advise on technical issues and challenges often beyond the scope of the course curriculum. A very approachable and experienced training professional, he has the ability to establish credibility fast with students at all levels.

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