Keyboard-video-mouse switch makers ship gear with remote administration, capability to reboot at the BIOS level

Keyboard-video-mouse (KVM) switches were originally intended to reduce the number of monitors cluttering the network managers’ work spaces, but equipment manufacturers have recently added new capabilities, including remote control and environmental monitoring.

Avocent Corp., a Huntsville, Ala.-based network equipment manufacturer, includes what it calls “virtual media” in its DSR 8035 KVM switches, which have 32 ports. Virtual media lets administrators transfer files and perform patch updates to software and operating systems from remote locations.

“We allow you to stay in your chair,” said Bill Neiland, Avocent’s vice-president of product marketing. “You don’t have to get up to walk into the data centre. Data centres typically aren’t pleasant places. It could be cold, there’s not going to be a workspace, it’s going to be noisy.”

Avocent’s newer KVM products work over IP networks, as do several competitors.

Aten International Co. Ltd. of Taipei, Taiwan includes IP connectivity with several appliances, including the KN9116 16-port switch.

The KN9116 — marketed under the Altusen brand — lets IT managers access it from any station on the corporate network, or over the Internet. For example, an administrator could access it from a Web browser by launching a Windows/Java client. Aten’s CL-1200 Slideaway LCD KVM consoles can access IP networks using one of Aten’s KVM remote access devices.

One of Aten’s Canadian users is the Richmond, B.C. school district, which has about 6,000 machines in total, including more than 110 servers.

Mark Hamrol, the school district’s assistant manager for technology and information services, said the main reason the board chose Aten’s Matrix 16-port switch was to “reduce clutter” in the data centre. He added the switch lets technicians work on several machines at the same time, which came in handy last summer when a virus entered the network and they had to clean several infected machines.

Aten’s KVM on the Net technology is included in both the KN9116 and the KMCN432 models. The KMCN432 is a 32-port appliance that lets four administrators control 32 clients simultaneously. The Aten products allow administrators to reboot from remote locations at the BIOS and DOS level, in cases where they cannot reboot through windows, said Joseph Zhang, Aten’s KVM product manager.

Another KVM product family that allows control at the BIOS level over IP networks is the MasterConsole, made by Somerset, N.J.-based Raritan Inc. The MasterConsole IP18 KVM switch supports 18 servers, while the IP116 supports 16 servers. They allow collaborative troubleshooting, meaning 15 remote users can view a target server at the same time.

Raritan is also shipping a palm-sized one-port KVM over IP remote management device — dubbed the KX101 — which is designed to provide access to a dedicated server. The KX101 can be used in organizations where remote access to servers could be blocked by other administrators, or in branch offices with servers where there is no requirement for a multi-port KVM switch. Raritan’s CommandCenter Secure Gateway appliance is designed to monitor, diagnose and fix problems on servers and control functions such as user authorization.

Raritan plans to include a workflow manager with its remote KVM switches, said Tom Swift, the company’s president and chief operating officer. This system would detect faults with servers and then create work orders for technical support staff.

“Let’s say this is after hours and everybody is at a hockey game,” Swift said. “The administrator is sitting there, his PDA vibrates, he sees he has a message that says, ‘There’s a problem with Server A, here is your temporary security token to enable you to do remote KVM access to troubleshoot it.”

Swift said Raritan is experimenting with wireless KVM technology, but radiofrequency is susceptible to interference and hacking.

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