In our July issue, we're presenting a buyer's guide focused on KVM over IP solutions. In anticipation of this comparison of various vendor offerings, Mark Nicolas of Avocent chimes in with a little historical overview:

In 1984, US astronaut Bruce McCandless tested the first Manned Maneuvering Unit (MMU) in space for NASA. The MMU was a rocket pack that let an astronaut fly in space without being tethered to a spacecraft.

A few years before that famous flight, in another part of the world, a beleaguered network administrator asked, “Wouldn’t it be great if these computers were in another room, and just the keyboards and monitors were in this room?” So, a hole was drilled in the wall, the cable stuffed through it, and the first “extension” was created. The answer to that question launched an entire industry, which we now call KVM. As IT infrastructures grew more complex, KVM switches helped users reach ever more critical data; we could literally switch back and forth to different servers or computers to access information. Cable technology improved, and we ran them through ceilings, under floors, and inside walls. And one day, someone asked “Wouldn’t it be great if there were no cables?” And untethered KVM was born, and walls everywhere breathed a sigh of relief.

Much like McCandless enjoying his first free-float, the first few years of KVM over IP provided a feeling of freedom, too. You could finally go home for dinner, and if your pager buzzed, you could simply log on from home to power cycle a server. You didn’t have to drive back to the office!

Today, KVM over IP is considered best practice for remote connection and management of physical servers. According to industry analyst firms such as Gartner and IDC, the number of servers shipping globally each quarter continues to grow, increasing the need for connectivity and remote management. The complexity of our IT world continues to grow, and with it, growing choices for managing it. There are vendor-specific and heterogeneous solutions, proprietary and standards-based technologies, and now there’s virtualization. So, as the complexity of IT grows, so does the complexity of the purchasing process. It’s easy to get caught up in all the bells and whistles, or the “they’re doing it, so I should too” syndrome, thereby derailing your IT strategy.

Virtualization is beginning to show great promise to IT managers. Large companies that are early adopters are now using virtualized servers and some virtualized applications. Much remains to be accomplished to see how virtual machines will perform over time. Whether your IT ecosystem is all physical or you have servers floating in cyberspace, connections are crucial.

Again, KVM over IP is the best practice for remote connection and management of physical servers, and it will be for years to come. Even if you’re an untethered astronaut who needs technology to stay connected to Earth.

Mark Nicolas is a former (and recovering) analog KVM development engineer who helped Avocent untether IT managers with the invention of KVM over IP in 2000. He’s currently the company’s product manager for enterprise analog and digital KVM products. Avocent is headquartered in Huntsville, Alabama, the birthplace of NASA.