Cat 5E cable makes the difference

When your organization or department needs to let one user or a small group of users control many computers, keyboard/video/mouse (KVM) switches can be an efficient tool. Raritan Computer's Paragon system provides a Category 5E cable-based KVM solution that can connect a maximum of 16 users to as many as 2048 systems. Paragon's primary targets are data centers and companies that maintain many systems in one building but don't want to connect a keyboard, monitor, and mouse to each system.

Paragon, which you can order directly from Raritan or through a Raritan reseller, consists of three components: Computer Interface Modules (CIMs), User Stations (UST1s), and Matrix Switching Units (UMT8s); 350MHz-rated Cat 5E cable connects the components. The CIMs provide a connection interface between each computer's keyboard, video, and mouse ports and the Cat 5E cabling. Each UST1 connects a keyboard, mouse, and monitor and provides a location from which to control attached computers. The UMT8 is the Paragon system's central unit. As Figure 1 shows, each UMT8 has 8 RJ-45 ports for UST1 connections, as well as 32 RJ-45 ports for connections to individual CIMs or additional UMT8s. (Figure 2, page 128, shows an individual UMT8.) To create a two-tiered KVM system, you can connect additional UMT8s to a base UMT8, thereby expanding the number of computers that you can control. The maximum Cat 5E cable length from a CIM to a UST1 is 1000 feet, although you can use Raritan's Fiber Reach fibre channel adapter to extend that length to 3300 feet. The CIMs don't need a power connection; the UST1s and UMT8s use standard 120-volt AC power.

I used Raritan's UKVMP CIM components to test Paragon on PCs. You can also use Paragon with Sun Microsystems or Macintosh systems when you purchase other CIM adapter models from Raritan.

Being able to use Cat 5E cable instead of PS/2 and video cables simplified the entire setup process and gave me far more choices for my computer-system and user-station locations. After I decided on a layout, Paragon setup was simple and intuitive. I set up a two-tier configuration: I used one UMT8 as the first tier, then I connected five UMT8s to the base UMT8 to form the second tier. Using this arrangement, I could potentially control 187 computers from eight user stations. My test configuration came close to matching this potential.

I tested the Paragon system at a resolution of 1024 * 768 pixels and at a refresh rate of 85Hz. The video quality was nearly as good as that of a directly connected monitor. I was pleased to discover that I didn't experience any screen-refresh delay when I typed on the keyboard or moved the mouse.

The product doesn't require any software installation. Instead, Paragon features a simple On-Screen User Interface (OSUI). You can double-press a specified hot key to reach the OSUI from any user station. The OSUI includes various menus with options for logging on, switching between computers, and performing administrative functions such as setting up user profiles and passwords. (Raritan also offers Paragon Overview, an optional Windows GUI-based administrative program.)

For security purposes, Paragon's OSUI requires users to log on before gaining access to any attached computers; the OSUI can store a maximum of 60 usernames and passwords. Paragon lets you group computer systems under a group ID number, so you can then give users rights to access individual systems or system groups.

I did encounter a few problems with Paragon. In a configuration this large, I needed to store system names in the OSUI to help identify the different systems. However, when I attempted to store a computer's menu name, Paragon saved the name change only if I was currently controlling another computer on the same UMT8 as the computer I wanted to rename. Updating the Paragon firmware to the latest version didn't resolve the problem, so I contacted Raritan's technical support department. The staff confirmed the bug and told me they were working to resolve it. Also, although the UKVMP CIM components worked well with the video cards in my test systems, I lost video signal from three computers with motherboard-based graphics controllers. Raritan's technical support staff confirmed that they had previously encountered the problem. Raritan replaced the offending UKVMP CIMs with newer UKVMPX models, which resolved the problem.

Paragon is efficient, expandable, and easy to set up and use. The product shipped with hard-copy documentation that was detailed, concise, and helpful. Although the product's price is rather high—my test configuration would have totaled $76,365—if you need to control many computers from a few locations, Paragon is definitely worthy of your consideration.

Contact: Raritan Computer * 732-764-8886 or
Price: $6000 for Matrix Switching Unit; $950 per User Station; $175 per UKVMP Computer Interface Model (contact vendor for alternate-component pricing)
Decision Summary
Pros: Simple setup; easily expandable; compatible with PCs and Sun Microsystems and Macintosh systems; no screen-refresh delay; supports up to 2048 computers and 16 users; useful security features; Category 5E cable increases options for component locations; consise documentation
Cons: Naming bug exists in the system list; product components are expensive