KVM (Keyboard, Video, Mouse) switches have long been an essential and invaluable part of data centers and IT operations. They allow organizations to consolidate system consoles and monitors, which makes system management easier.
Until recently, remote management for Unix and Linux required pricey network-connected management cards. But with the merger of KVM giants Cybex and Apex last year, KVM switches have finally moved to the next generation. This was marked by the release of the Avocent DS1800, the first KVM over IP switch.
The DS1800, which fits into a single unit of rack space, supports up to eight keyboard, video, and mouse connections and is attached to the LAN via a 10/100 Ethernet connection. Each of the eight KVM ports can be daisy-chained to existing data center KVM switches, allowing for even greater expandability.
Setup of the DS1800 hardware is quite easy. Simply connect your server’s keyboard, video, and mouse ports to the unit’s management ports using the supplied cables. Then, connect the Ethernet port to your LAN, plug in the power, and you’re almost ready to go. If it’s your first time, you’ll also have to make a serial connection directly to the device to configure its IP address. Luckily, they provide you with a null-modem serial cable, and it takes about a minute to do.
To provide remote authentication for remote consoles, the DS1800 communicates with a daemon program known as DSAUTH that is installed on either a Windows NT/2000 workstation or server. There is no Linux or Unix version of the DSAUTH daemon, but this is not as big a deal as it seems.
Remote console viewing is accomplished via a program called DSVIEW. Unfortunately, it too needs to be installed on a Windows NT workstation. While this is somewhat of a nuisance for remote users using Linux-based workstations, DSVIEWdoes work in VMware. The NT management requirements are not tragic requirements, but given the heavy usage of Unix workstations in certain data center environments, an X11 or Java version might be a good thing for Avocent to develop in the future.
Remote console performance on the DS1800 ranges from excellent to acceptable, depending on the application being used, the availability of actual network bandwidth, and the speed of the graphics card being used on the Windows NT management client.
For testing, we used a 1 GHz Pentium III Linux workstation running Windows 2000 SP2 under VMware, with a 64 MB nVidia GeForce 2 video card, and XFree86 4.03 with nVidia’s optimized X drivers. Text-mode Unix and Linux console performance was found to be very good on both the fast Ethernet LAN and the Internet using our cable modem connection. However, X Window System performance varied depending on the actual resolution that was being used.
Overall, the DS1800 is an excellent product and would make a great addition to any data center’s arsenal of management tools. While the need for a partial Windows NT infrastructure may dissuade some diehard Unix and Linux users, it’s not that big of a tradeoff considering the usefulness and benefits that this device should bring to the enterprise.