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To minimize the number of input devices and monitors necessary to control multiple servers, most IT organizations, regardless of size, use a keyboard/video/mouse (KVM) switch. Although KVM switch features vary, the underlying technology and fundamental operation is consistent—you share one locally connected keyboard, mouse, and monitor between as many systems as the switch will support.

One glaring shortcoming of traditional hardwired KVM solutions is their inability to give administrators KVM access wherever they need it. A traditional KVM switch requires that the operator have physical access to the switch. While administrators are inside the data center, they can access any system, but when they can't reach the KVM solution, they don't have access. The vendors and products in this Buyer's Guide offer KVM access to administrators wherever they need it by transmitting KVM information over IP.

KVM Over IP vs. Remote Control Software
You might assume that such functionality is available in remote control software. But keep in mind that remote control software runs on the server, so when the server is experiencing major problems—when you need remote access the most—a good chance exists that the remote control software won't be running. The KVM over IP connectivity and interface use specialized hardware and don't require a working, stable OS in order to function.

Hardware Support
Consider the number and types of servers you want to use the KVM switch to control. Vendors offer varying degrees of support for hardware other than typical Intel platforms. You must also decide whether you need a scalable solution or whether you want to buy up front the number of ports you need to last for the product's lifetime. If you're looking for expandability, choose a KVM over IP solution that interoperates with other vendors' traditional KVM products.

Security
Security is another important factor to consider, especially if you plan to make the switch accessible through the Internet. Look for support for security standards such as Data Encryption Standard (DES), Secure Sockets Layer (SSL), and public key certificates, and verify that you can apply multiple levels of security and encryption to your KVM connections. You don't want an intruder to have access to the console of your enterprise's backbone systems. Depending on your organization's security policies, you might want to verify that you can integrate the product's security with your Windows security model. Other cracker-defeating features such as Digital V6's Kaveman's stealth and turtle mode might prove worthwhile in defending your infrastructure. Stealth mode, like a firewall, keeps Kaveman from responding to port scans or pings. Turtle mode slows down each time a user enters the wrong password. After too many bad logon attempts, turtle mode prohibits the user from logging on and sends the administrator an alert.

KVM Communication
Some solutions use client-side software to communicate with the KVM switch, whereas others use an Internet browser. Pros and cons exist for both approaches; you should make your decision based on your specific implementation. If you want to limit access to the KVM switch to just a few people, the client software makes sense. But if you need to enable access to any administrator regardless of where that person is located, a browser-based client will better achieve your goal.

Performance is largely dependent on how the product handles the video signal. Check to see what type of video compression and other bandwidth-conserving strategies the switch or client software features. Ask vendors whether you can log on to a demo switch to evaluate the speed and functionality for yourself. Make sure that when you compare the performance of different solutions, you factor in the speed of the link to the demo switch.

Further Considerations
You also need to consider the number of simultaneous sessions that the switch can handle, the form factor of the hardware, the type of cabling required for server connections, and what effects the distance between the switch and servers produces. If it makes sense for your environment, you might also want to look at bonus features such as rudimentary monitoring and notification and the ability to remotely reset a system's power.

Corrections to this Article:

  • In the Buyer's Guide: "KVM over IP Solutions" (February 2003, http://www.winnetmag.com, InstantDoc ID 37595) we inadvertently omitted two vendors: Rose Electronics (281-933-7673, http://www.rose.com) and Belkin (800-223-5546, http://ww.belkin.com). We regret any inconvenience these omissions might have caused.