Today, I am very excited to announce a new Fling that I have been working on which is a Native Driver for ESXi that will enable support for three of the most popular USB network adapter chipsets found in the market today. The ASIX USB 2.0 gigabit network ASIX88178a, ASIX USB 3.0 gigabit network ASIX88179 & the Realtek USB 3.0 gigabit network RTL8153. This effort had initially started back in 2016 as a side project with Songtao, a VMware Engineer who works on our USB stack for ESXi. Based on the enormous amount of feedback from the community as well customer Production use cases, this side project evolved into the development of a full fledge Native Driver for ESXi.
This Fling is more than just adding additional network interfaces for vSphere Home Labs, which is definitely a use case, but it is also about enabling new and future computing platforms that may not always have the traditional network connectivity that we have come to expect. Today, ESXi supports a number of high-end network controllers (10G/40G/100G) designed for Enterprise Data Centers that include advanced networking & low latency features. As more & more workloads appear at the Edge like IoT, point-of-sales & remote office use cases, the traditional networking solutions may no longer meet the needs of these new infrastructures.
For Edge computing environments, reducing the cost & power consumption is definitely one of the driving factors. However, with some of these platforms, their form factors can make it difficult or impossible to support traditional high-end network controllers. Luckily, there are a number of options for network adapters in the market but is can also be difficult to support them all.
USB has become one the most widely adopted connection type in the world & USB network adapters are also popular amongst Edge computing platforms. In some platforms, there is either limited or no PCI/PCIe slots for I/O expansion & in some cases, an Ethernet port is not even available. This Fling will hopefully help enable some of these Edge use cases today and with the help of the community and feedback, we can see how this can be enhanced or evolved over time including where it could even be part of the ESXi distribution.
Another use case for USB-based network adapters as mentioned earlier are for vSphere Home Labs, platforms like the Intel NUC or Apple Mac Mini have limited number of built-in Ethernet ports, but plenty of USB & USB-C ports which can enable these platforms with additional networking capabilities. These systems could also be potential Edge platform candidates given the right connectivity.
For download and instructions, please visit https://labs.vmware.com/flings/usb-network-native-driver-for-esxi