With all the talk about cloud computing and virtualization, one would be forgiven for thinking that standalone servers are no longer being used in computing. In many cases, however, such machines are still very much alive in server rooms or data centers. Much of this hardware might not be cost-effective to replace. Or perhaps they are deployed in situations where virtualization is simply not possible - such as in a manufacturing environment where physical servers are used to control factory equipment.
Even without all the focus on green computing of late, it also doesn't make sense to connect individual displays to servers that are hardly used. In cases where many servers are required, the only sane way to maintain a large array of disparate machines would be with a KVM switch. On this front, I was alerted to the recent release of a range of new IP KVM switches from ATEN Technology Inc.
Known for their competitive pricing, ATEN says its latest KVMs were designed for the SMB market. For a quick look at the features found in the various IP KVM models, I excerpted the below text from their press release:
The new 40-Port CAT5 IP KVM (KN4140v) switch features built-in remote access functionality in a 1U-high configuration. The KN4140v enables one local and up to four remote operators to monitor and access an entire enterprise data center via the Internet. Through cascading, users can access and monitor as many as 640 servers -- all from a single console. Also available is a 40-port model (KN2140v) that offers one local and up to two remote users via the Internet.
In addition to the KN4140v, ATEN also unveiled a 24-port IP KVM switch capable of accessing and monitoring up to 384 servers through cascading. The 24-Port CAT5 IP KVM (KN4124v) switch is a 1U-high switch with remote access functionality that offers support for one local and up to four remote users via the Internet. A 24-port model (KN2124v) supporting one local and up to two remote users via the Internet is also available. The 24 and 40-port switches offer key differentiators such as audio support, redundant power, local user interface/graphical OSD, panel array and CAT5 cabling that supports distances up to 150 feet.
According to ATEN, many competitive units only come with a text-based OSD, which makes the graphical OSD of the new models a plus. What really caught my attention, though, was the ability of the KN4104v KVM to support the use of virtual media.
The virtual media feature basically allows a system administrator to "connect" a USB flash drive to the remote server. After connecting to the KN4104v, the administrator is able to add the USB flash drive as a media device to the server. This allows administrators to transfer files to the server, and a great number of administrative tasks such as software installation or OS patching.
Of course, one might argue that such files can easily be downloaded over the Internet or the network at any time. The way I see it, however, is that virtual media gives a more reliable access method to servers even when faced with restrictive firewall filters or a problematic NIC.
In my next blog, I will elaborate on some of the features to look out for when purchasing an IP KVM.