USB must be one of the most popular technology standards ever invented, given its ubiquity on so many gadgets and devices.
In some circumstances though, the need to have a computer available to communicate with a USB peripheral can be a major limitation. If you wish to share a USB device such as a hard disk or printer between several PCs, that computer has to be constantly turned on and configured for sharing.
The myUTN-150, from German firm SEH Computertechnik, is designed to work around this problem. It’s an unobtrusive blue box with three powered USB 2.0 ports that connects to a network over ethernet.
Configuration is though a built-in web page with options to adjust network settings and control access to the devices, along with some proprietary software called UTN Manager. This only works on Windows PCs.
Devices connected to the myUTN-150 don’t appear on the network as a shared drive. The UTN Manager software acts as a passthrough, virtualising the USB interface, so a device behaves almost exactly as it would if physically connected to a local USB port. This should make the UTN-150 compatible with anything that works via USB.
With the software running at startup and a device set to automatically activate, USB devices are ready to go as soon as Windows loads.
Booting from a shared device is not possible, but we were able to use all our shared devices as if they were connected directly to the computer. An iPhone showed up in iTunes, a USB keyboard worked flawlessly, and all storage devices were assigned a drive letter as normal.
By default, the myUTN software gives notifications when devices are connected, and for how long they have been idle. This becomes irritating, but can be disabled.
For everyday USB peripherals such as external storage and printers, the myUTN-150 is a solution to a problem that’s already been solved. There are many other less expensive ways to share USB storage devices on a network, for example, independently of any single computer.
Routers now come with built-in USB ports, there are plenty of NAS devices to choose from, while printers can be used wirelessly. What’s more, the myUTN-150 only supports USB 2.0, so its maximum transfer rates are quite limited.
The myUTN-150 is undoubtedly a niche product, but some system administrators could make great use of it. Where it comes into its own is sharing more specialised equipment with USB interfaces on a network.
A USB microscope, for example, could be easily viewed and controlled from a PC in the same room, as well as from a lab on the other side of the world.
Devices can be shared over the internet and controlled by using VLANs, and there are some security options, although arguably these could be better presented. SSL is supported, and access to devices can be restricted on a per-port basis.
The myUTN-150 is worth recommending to certain users, although it has some limitations. Linux and OS X support is currently absent, and we’d have liked to see USB 3.0, especially given the high price. But clever engineering has gone into the myUTN-150. Its virtual USB interface is fully-functional and reliable in our tests, and could be the perfect addition to an organisation that constantly has to juggle access to a computer that’s connected to a critical USB peripheral.