Adder Proves KVM Still Has Relevance

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The next-generation KVM doubles as a remote support appliance by incorporating TCP/IP, HTTP Server and VNC support into a single unit that can support as many as 16 servers locally or over the Web.

KVM switches have become rather pedestrian, and it’s pretty hard to get excited when the latest KVM switch hits the streets. Why? Well, partly because many KVM switches have been replaced with software solutions, such as terminal services, gotomypc and logmein. But don’t tell that to the folks at Adder, a manufacturer of KVM switches.

While software alternatives to KVM switches offer all sorts of bells and whistles, the simple fact is that software can’t replace physical hardware all of the time. In other words, if someone needs to launch BIOS setup during a boot, a software solution just won’t hack it. After all, remote control software applications load after the operating system does.

For pre-boot situations, solution providers needed to be in front of the subject PC, with access to a keyboard, video display and mouse (hence the moniker KVM) or, at the very least, have a physical connection to those elements on the subject system.

KVM switches offer several advantages over software solutions. First off, compatibility is usually not an issue; neither is worrying about service subscriptions and buggy remote control applications crashing servers. What’s more, a KVM switch is a great way to manage a server when someone is actually in the server room, not to mention the savings in hardware costs a KVM can offer. After all, a whole rack of servers can be serviced by a single keyboard, mouse and monitor. But KVM switches are not without their own problems—many lack any type of remote connectivity, and those that do offer it have proved to be unreliable and unresponsive.

Adder has changed all of that with the CATxIP1000, an eight- or 16-port KVM that offers both local and remote control of attached systems. The 16-port AVX1016IP retails for $645 (£456), while the eight-port AVX1008P retails for $495 (£350). Each attached system requires a CAT-5 connection module, which retails for about $100 (£70).

At first blush, $2,245 (£1,586) to control 16 servers may sound like big bucks, but the simple fact of the matter is that a hosted software solution could run as much as $240 (£170) per month (£10.60 per month per managed system) for controlling those same 16 PCs, a cost that will add up quickly over time to more than $2,400 (£1,700) per year.

The AVX1016IP is a high-density, small-form factor, 16-port KVM switch that provides local, remote and over-the-Web access for users who need to control multiplatform operating systems and hardware. The unit combines USB console support, global IP access and a full KVM feature set. It offers high-quality video and CD-quality audio. The unit’s flexibility makes it suitable for server installations or industrial processes or for office control.

The AVX1016IP is an unobtrusive box that features an Ethernet port and status LEDs on the front and 16 RJ-45 jacks on the back for system connections. Keyboard, mouse and video ports are on the back of the unit, along with an audio port. Support for stereo audio is somewhat unique in a KVM switch. The ability to hear audio from the system being managed is becoming more important as businesses deploy PC-based PBXes, along with software-based VOIP solutions.

The AVX1016IP helps to reduce the tangle of cables commonly associated with KVM switches by using a modular approach. Each connected system uses a CAM (connection access module), which features keyboard, mouse, audio and video connections and is connected via a standard CAT-5 cable back to the unit. The single-cable approach is a vast improvement over the proprietary extension cables found with most KVMs. CAMs can be located as far as 100 meters from the KVM. Adder offers CAMs for PS2, USB and SUN systems, with audio support optional on each module.

The general layout of the unit and the incorporation of CAMs make deployment incredibly easy. Just provide power to the unit and plug in the appropriate CAMs and cables, along with a local mouse, keyboard and monitor (speakers optional), and the system is ready for use. For remote access, a TCP/IP connection needs to be set up for the unit, which proves to be a simple task of plugging in an RJ-45 Ethernet cable to the front of the unit and programming the unit for either DHCP or static IP addressing.

Video and audio quality is quite impressive, especially for a KVM. The unit supports resolutions as high as 1,600 by 1,200 and audio quality of 44.1kHz. Interestingly, the unit has no buttons or physical controls on the front; users will rely on keyboard commands (when local), such as a CTRL-ALT combo, to access the unit’s management menus or switch between systems.

Administrators will log in to the unit to manage the features, which range from integrated security to system naming to connectivity options. Security is handled by the common user name and password combo and proves to be very granular, allowing certain users to access only certain systems. The KVM switch supports various levels of encryption for both signal transmission and user account information.

Perhaps the most important feature of the unit is remote connectivity. Here, Adder has paired support for RealVNC with TCP/IP connectivity. That allows a user to remotely attach to the unit over an IP connection and have complete control over the connected systems. Remote users can accomplish that by using a Java-based client offered directly from the unit’s integrated Web server or use a locally installed copy of VNC.

Adder makes it quite easy to get VNC going, simply because it offers a link to download the software directly from the unit’s browser-based management console. Solution providers will be surprised with the quality of RealVNC support; video is very smooth, while control is very responsive. A VNC session can be hard to distinguish from an actual physical session—the integration and support is that good.

Solution providers will appreciate the level of control offered by Adder’s KVM switch. In our tests, we were able to program the BIOS of our test servers to power up the server by using the space bar on the keyboard. That allowed us to remotely access the server and perform a complete shutdown (for patching purposes) and then reconnect the keyboard to the server via a remote KVM session and simply press the space bar to initiate a power up.

That is just one of the scenarios where the AVX1016IP proves to be superior to software remote control solutions. We were also able to reboot our remote systems and then hit the appropriate key combination to launch BIOS setup. That capability allows administrators to remotely change BIOS settings or even reflash a BIOS with new firmware.

With the AVX1016IP, Adder proves there is still life in the KVM market. The company offers an aggressive channel program that features decent margins and technical support. Those interested in partnering with the company will find that there are no real hurdles and can be assured that the company’s products won’t be showing up on retail shelves any time soon. The product’s simplicity, along with its impressive feature set, makes the unit a good choice over many of the competitors on the market (most of which don’t offer IP remote support), as well as a good choice over many of the available hosted- or subscription-based remote control options.