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KVM Switches For the Home and the Enterprise - (Avocent)

by Jeff Hunter, Sr. Database Administrator


Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. SwitchView® 1000
  3. AutoView® 1415


Introduction


Figure 1 - Example KVM Switch

 Click to enlarge
Businesses of all sizes and even many home offices face the difficulty of managing an ever growing number of servers. These may include mail servers, file servers, web servers, application servers, and database servers. Although each server may be accessible through the network for management purposes (Telnet or SSH), many administrators need direct access to the console. When managing a very small number of servers, it might make sense to connect each server with its own monitor, keyboard, and mouse in order to access its console. However, as the number of servers to manage increases, this solution becomes unfeasible. A more practical solution would be to configure a dedicated computer which would include a single monitor, keyboard, and mouse that would have direct access to the console of each server. This solution is made possible using a Keyboard, Video, Mouse Switch — better known as a KVM Switch - (see Figure 1).

A KVM switch is a hardware device that allows a user to control multiple computers from a single keyboard, video monitor and mouse. The maximum number of computers that can be controlled from a single KVM switch depends on the number of available ports provided with the switch. Generally, the more available ports (and number of advanced features), the more expensive the switch. Scores of vendors provide economical switches which include 2, 4, 8, or even 16 available ports which many small businesses will find practical. For larger IT shops, several high end vendors provide switches with a capacity of 32 or 64 available ports as well as the option to daisy-chain switches together. For example, the SwitchView® 1000 switch from Avocent Corporation features up to 16 attached switches (via a daisy-chain cable) which provides for a maximum capacity of 256 servers, while the 8-port switch has a 128 server limit. Other combinations are possible as well — for example, a 16-port and 8-port SwitchView 1000 switch can be daisy-chained to connect a maximum of 24 servers!

As illustrated in Figure 1, a user connects a keyboard, monitor, and mouse to the KVM switch, then uses special cables to connect the KVM switch to the servers to be managed. Control is switched from one computer to another by the use of buttons on the KVM switch with the KVM passing the signals between the computers and the keyboard, monitor, and mouse depending on which computer is currently selected. Most KVM switches also allow control to be switched through keyboard commands such as hitting a certain HotKey Sequence (often Scroll Lock) rapidly two or three times.

As with any computer device, not all KVM switches are made the same. Some vendors offer high-end data center KVM switches with advanced capabilities while others market smaller switches made for the SOHO. Finding the right KVM switch for your environment can sometimes be tricky. While it may be easy to find a switch from a reputable vendor that offers the appropriate number of available ports, careful planning is imperative to ensure the KVM solution you chose works for your environment. For example, a data center with a mix of Windows, Mac, Sun, and Linux will want to make certain the vendor provides support for this type of diverse environment. Vendors like Belkin and Rose Electronics, for example, are notorious for not working well in a Linux environment.

  See the article "Erratic Mouse Behavior with Mouse on Linux and Belkin KVM Switch" which discusses the difference between Basic PS/2 Mouse Mode and Advanced PS/2 Mouse Mode.

KVM switching devices use two different types of technology — Analog KVM and KVM over IP

Analog KVM Switches

With Analog KVM switching, the keyboard, video and mouse signals are passed from a user console to a specific target (server) connected to the switch. This provides easy plug and play installation operating completely independent of software and network operating systems, and provides real-time access between a user and multiple computers. Analog KVM switches are optimized for environments where users and systems reside in the same location and is ideal for accessing centralized multi-PC and multi-rack environments. Vendors like Avocent offer analog KVM solutions with their SwitchView®, AutoView®, and AMX® line of KVM switches.

KVM over IP Switches

KVM over IP digitizes the keyboard, video and mouse data and uses IP technology to move the KVM data. KVM over IP connects directly to KVM signals on any computer (target server) and is completely non-invasive to the computer — no additional software or hardware is required. This technology leverages a customer's already existing network infrastructure and supports both local and remote users. Remote users would access the KVM switching device by navigating to a web page. This provides users with the flexibility to access managed servers over an internet while not requiring them to be tethered to a user console in order to access the switch.

KVM over IP works in heterogeneous hardware environments and is ideal for managing multi-location data centers and branch offices. Avocent KVM over IP solutions, for example, include full multi-location failover, a direct interface into the new server management standard (IPMI), and the ability to map local storage media to a remote location.

This article highlights two popular 8-port analog KVM switches from Avocent — a world class leader in KVM switch technology. Avocent offers a wide range of affordable and high-quality switches backed by quality customer service and seamless integration in a mixed operating environment (Windows, Sun, Mac, and Linux).



SwitchView® 1000


Figure 2 - Front of the SwitchView® 1000

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The Avocent SwitchView® 1000 switch is a 4, 8, or 16-port keyboard, video, and mouse (KVM) device that supports both USB and PS/2 interfaces.

  The images included in this section are of the SwitchView® 1000 8-port KVM Switch (8SV1000-001).

This single user switch has an On-Screen Display (OSD) that supports a 2048 x 1536 high video resolution which is ideal for even the most demanding server room graphics applications. With a 1U high design, the compact SwitchView 1000 switch does not compete for valuable rack space in SMB server rooms.

The time-out and password protection feature of the SwitchView KVM provides users with the benefit of added security when accessing business-critical servers. Setting the time-out and password can be done using the "OSD Setup Menu".

Installation Tasks

Installing the SwitchView 1000 switch takes only minutes. The SwitchView 1000 can be rack mounted using the included brackets or used on a table top with the supplied rubber feet.

The first step is to connect the power cord into the back to the SwitchView 1000 switch and then to an appropriate power source.


Figure 3 - Back of the SwitchView® 1000

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Next, connect the local keyboard, monitor, and mouse of the User Computer Console to the rear of the SwitchView 1000 switch. This is the local computer (sometimes called the console) users will utilize to access the servers connected to the SwitchView 1000 switch. The SwitchView 1000 switch provides two types of interfaces for the local keyboard and mouse — PS/2 and USB. If you are installing the SwitchView 1000 to a PS/2 interface, it is required to power down all servers that may already be connected to the switch before connecting the local PS/2 keyboard and mouse to ensure proper installation. If you will be using the USB interface to connect the user computer, then you do not need to power down servers that may already be connected before installing the local keyboard and mouse.

  Note that the PS/2 and USB interfaces for the local keyboard and mouse cannot be used simultaneously. You must use either the PS/2 or USB interface — not both.

Finally, connect all of the servers to be managed to an available port on the back of the SwitchView 1000 switch using the cable appropriate for the server's interface. The SwitchView 1000 switch uses a special three-in-one combo KVM cable that supports PS/2 or USB target devices. The DB25 end will plug into an available port on the SwitchView 1000 switch while the keyboard, monitor, and mouse end plugs into the server. Note that servers configured with a USB interface for the keyboard and mouse will only use the one USB connector on the three-in-one combo KVM cable — the purple mouse connector should not be connected to the server when using the USB interface.

  Although I have never experienced a problem with mouse failures when hot-plugging a Linux system directly to the SwitchView 1000 switch, it can happen. If the mouse ever fails or becomes locked, simply use the hotkey sequence ScrLk + ScrLk + M to reset the mouse or power off the Linux server before connecting it to the SwitchView 1000.

After all of the servers are connect, power them all up. Both keyboard and mouse recognition should now be activated and the SwitchView 1000 switch ready for use.

Basic Operations

After powering on all connected servers and the user computer, one of the first things you will notice is that the "Title Bar" is activated by default. This is the blue box in the upper right corner of the screen that displays the default Port Name of the currently selected server. To some people, having the Title Bar on all the time is annoying. To toggle the Title Bar On/Off, use the hotkey sequence ScrLk + ScrLk + T.

  The two consecutive ScrLk (Scroll Lock) keystrokes should be pressed within two seconds and then followed by the command key which also must be pressed within two seconds.

To switch between servers, use the buttons on the front of the SwitchView 1000 switch or the OSD menu. To access the OSD menu, use the hotkey sequence ScrLk + ScrLk + Spacebar. From the OSD menu, use the Up/Down arrow keys to select the server (port) to switch to. To deactivate the OSD menu at any time, press ESC (the escape key).

The OSD menu also allows you to assign server names for each port, configure time-outs, set autoscan capabilities, apply firmware upgrades, and much more. The manual included with the SwitchView 1000 provides a detailed description for every feature available from the OSD menu.

Cascading SwitchView Switches

Another popular feature of the SwitchView 1000 is that it supports up to 16 levels of attached switches using the supplied daisy-chain cable. For example, users can daisy-chain a maximum of 16 SwitchView 1000 16-port switches (via a daisy-chain cable) to support up to 256 servers! Other example configurations include 16 SwitchView 1000 8-port switches which has a 128 server limit or even mixing a single 16-port and 8-port SwitchView 1000 for a maximum of 24 servers. Cascading multiple switches is a straightforward task. Simply plug one end of the daisy-chain cable into the "Daisy Chain Out" port on the rear of the primary SwitchView 1000 switch. Then connect the other end of the daisy-chain cable into the "Daisy Chain In" port of the secondary SwitchView 1000 switch. Repeat this task for any subsequent SwitchView 1000 switches. Plug the "Ground Terminator" into the "Daisy Chain Out" port on the rear of the last daisy-chained SwitchView 1000 switch. When cascading multiple SwitchView 1000 switches, each switch in the daisy-chain will perform "Auto Initialization" which means users are free from the hassle of complicated configuration tasks.

SwitchView® 1000 Quick Facts

  The SwitchView 1000 is a single user, rack mount KVM switch with 4, 8 or 16-ports specifically designed for SMB server rooms
  1U design is a space saver in SMB server rooms
  Supports PC, Mac, and Sun servers configured with a USB or PS/2 interface
  Supports a local / single user console configured with either PS/2 or USB interface
  Servers connect to the KVM switch using a three-in-one combo KVM cable that supports PS/2 or USB target devices
  On-Screen Display (OSD) provides simple control through an on screen menu
  Supports 2048 x 1536 high video resolution which is ideal for even the most demanding server room graphics applications
  Daisy-chaining with auto initialization means users can connect multiple switches together without complicated configuration
  Time-out and password protection feature provides users with the benefit of added security when accessing business-critical servers
  Programmable autoscan allows users to customize scanning times between attached systems
  Flash upgradeable means that the product never goes out of date

Cables for the SwitchView® 1000
Cable PS2/USB for SV1000
(6FT)
Cable PS2/USB for SV1000
(9FT)
Cable PS2/USB for SV1000
(15FT)

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AutoView® 1415


Figure 4 - Front of the AutoView® 1415

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Focused primarily on midsize data centers,
Avocent offers the AutoView® line if KVM switches. AutoView KVM switching systems provide users with advanced cabling options, local virtual media support, and easier access to servers and other network devices.

Sun keyboard localization is built-in to support international markets. Users can make use of PS/2 keyboards with Sun target and Sun keyboard transaction. This allows special Sun keys to be emulated using specific keystrokes on the PS/2 keyboard.

One of the key features of the AutoView KVM switching systems is advanced cable management. The AVRIQ intelligent modules with CAT 5 design dramatically reduce bulky cable clutter, while providing optimal resolution and video settings. The AVRIQ intelligent modules also offer built-in memory which simplifies configuration by assigning and retaining unique server names and Electronic ID (EID) numbers for each attached server. Every AVRIQ module is powered directly from the server and provides Keep Alive functionality even if the AutoView switch is powered down.

  For more information about module and cable options for the AutoView KVM switching systems, please see the section labeled "AutoView Modules and Cables".

Also available with all AutoView KVM switching systems is a graphical / multilingual On-Screen Display (OSD) named OSCAR®. OSCAR is an advanced graphical OSD that eases system configuration and makes it easy for users to switch, monitor, and locate target devices. The OSCAR OSD supports multiple languages and is fast and easy to use because of its mouse-driven functionality.

With the powerful user access control (controlled through OSCAR), an administrator has complete control over the KVM switch settings and allows granting KVM access to only certain users. The administrator can also limit the user accounts KVM access to only specific targets on the switch.

Avocent offers a wide variety of AutoView models from single to dual user support along with 8-port and 16-port configurations. The table below presents all available AutoView KVM switching systems - (seven at the time of this writing):

Available AutoView® KVM Switching Systems
  Users Computers Platforms Key Features
AutoView 1415 Single 8 PS/2, USB, Sun and Serial Provides support for user's USB and/or PS/2 keyboards and mice.
Support for USB, PS/2, Sun, and serial target devices.
AutoView 1515 Dual 8 PS/2, USB, Sun and Serial Provides support for user's USB and/or PS/2 keyboards and mice.
Support for USB, PS/2, Sun, and serial target devices.
AutoView 2015 Dual 16 PS/2, USB, Sun and Serial Provides support for user's USB and/or PS/2 keyboards and mice.
Support for USB, PS/2, Sun, and serial target devices.
AutoView 2020 Dual 16 PS/2, USB, Sun and Serial Capable of Local virtual media, local USB and PS/2 peripheral support.
AutoView 2030 Dual 16 PS/2, USB, Sun and Serial Local virtual media, local USB and PS/2 peripheral support.
AutoView 3100 Single 16 PS/2, USB, Sun and Serial Single-user IP connectivity with on-board Web interface.
AutoView 3200 Dual 16 PS/2, USB, Sun and Serial Dual-user IP connectivity with on-board Web interface.

  This section and the images included describe the AutoView® 1415 8-port KVM Switch (AV1415-001).

The Avocent AutoView 1415 is an 8-port single-user KVM switch which provides user support for USB and/or PS/2 keyboards and mice for the user console. This KVM switch also provides support for USB, PS/2, Sun, and serial target devices.


Figure 5 - Back of the AutoView® 1415

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The AutoView 1415 has a graphical On-Screen Display (OSCAR) and supports high video resolutions ideal for even the most demanding server room graphics applications. Achieve video resolutions of up to 1280 x 1024 with a 100 foot (30 meter) cable and up to 800 x 600 with a 50 foot (15 meter) cable. Obviously the video resolution will vary depending on the length of cable between the switch and target (server).

Installation Tasks

Installing the AutoView 1415 switch takes only minutes. The AutoView 1415 can be rack mounted using the included brackets or used on a table top with the supplied rubber feet.

The first step is to connect the power cord into the back to the AutoView 1415 switch and then to an appropriate power source. Turn on the power to the AutoView 1415 switch.

Next, connect the local keyboard, monitor, and mouse of the User Computer Console to the local analog port labeled A on the rear of the AutoView 1415 switch. This is the local computer (sometimes called the console) users will utilize to access the servers connected to the AutoView 1415 switch. The AutoView 1415 switch provides two types of interfaces for the local keyboard and mouse — PS/2 and USB.

Finally, connect all of the servers to be managed to an available Avocent Rack Interface (ARI) port on the back of the AutoView 1415 switch using with an AVRIQ module or an IAC module. For more information about module and cable options for the AutoView KVM switching systems, please see the section labeled "AutoView Modules and Cables".

  To connect a server (target) using an AVRIQ module:

  1. Locate the AVRIQ module(s) that will be used to connect the servers to the AutoView switch.
  2. Attach the appropriately color-coded cable ends to the keyboard, video, and mouse ports on the first server being connected to the switch.
  3. Attach one end of a CAT 5 or CAT 6 cable to the RJ-45 connector on the AVRIQ module.
  4. Connect the other end of the CAT 5 or CAT 6 cable to the desired ARI port on the back of the AutoView switch.
  5. Repeat steps 2 through 4 for each server being connected to the switch.
  To connect a server (target) using an IAC module:

  1. Locate the IAC module(s) that will be used to connect the servers to the AutoView switch.
  2. Attach the appropriately color-coded cable ends of the IAC module to the keyboard, video, and mouse ports on the first server being connected to the switch.
  3. Attach the other end of the IAC module to an open ARI port on the back of the AutoView switch.
  4. Repeat steps 1 through 3 for each server being connected to the switch.

The AutoView switching system enables users to auto detect and manually configure each port on the AutoView switch using the OSCAR interface setup and configuration.

Cascading AutoView Switches

As with the SwitchView 1000, the AutoView switching systems can support up to 16 levels of attached switches providing users access up to 256 servers. Users can cascade multiple 1415/1515/2015 switches as well as adding legacy switches. In a cascaded switching system, an Avocent Rack Interface (ARI) port on the back of the main AutoView switch will be connected to the Avocent Console Interface (ACI) port on each cascaded AutoView switch. Each cascaded switch can then be connected to a server with an AVRIQ module or IAC. Chapter 2 in the AutoView Switch Installer/User Guide provides detailed instructions cascading AutoView switches.

Basic Operations

Controlling target servers from the AutoView 1415 switch is done from the keyboard, video, and mouse connected to the analog port in the rear of the switch. The AutoView 1415 switch users the OSCAR GUI interface which features intuitive menus to configure the system and selected servers.

To access the main dialog box, press Print Screen to launch the OSCAR interface.

  By default, the OSCAR interface can be initiated by pressing either Print Screen or by pressing the Control key twice within one second. Using the Setup - Menu option in OSCAR, users can also configure the OSCAR interface to be invoked by pressing the Alt key twice or the Shift key twice. Turning off all options will leave Print Screen as the default option.

From the OSCAR main window, users can view connected servers by name, port, or even by Electronic ID Number (EID) which is enabled in each AVRIQ module and IAC. The

Port column indicates the Avocent Rack Interface (ARI) port which the server is connected to. Also available to the right of each server is a set of icons representing the status of each connected server — online, offline and not available, cascaded status, or the AVRIQ module is being upgrade. It also displays which server (or servers if broadcasting is enabled) is being accessed.

Notice that OSCAR provides default names for each server which can be which can be changed to reflect the actual name of the server if desired.

Using the arrow keys from the Main dialog, select a server and press [ENTER] or double-click with the mouse. After selecting a server, the switch will reconfigure the keyboard and mouse to the proper settings for that server. Note that while this is the most popular way to select which server to work with, there are other options. For example, pressing Print Screen and Backspace toggles the user between the previous and current connections. Another method, referred to as Soft Switching, allows the user to press Print Screen and then type the first few characters of the servers name or the port number. To soft switch by name, the display order of the server list must be by name. To soft switch by port number, the display order of the server list must be by port number. Finally, users can completely disconnect from a server by pressing Print Screen followed by Alt+0. This leaves the user in a free state, which no server selected. This option is also available from the OSCAR main dialog window. Note that the status flag on the desktop displays as Free.

Using the OSCAR interface, users have access to a wide variety of setup and configuration options. For example, providing a user friendly and unique name for each server in the server list, configuring security, setting up custom scan patterns, choosing the language supported by the OSD, and choosing the appropriate keyboard country code settings. Other advanced features are also available like setting up broadcasting to simultaneously control multiple servers through keyboard and mouse actions and identifying the appropriate number of ports on an attached cascaded switch.

Chapter 3 in the AutoView Switch Installer/User Guide provides a wealth of information on configuring as well as basic operations of the switch.

Flash Upgrades

Flash upgrades are available to all AutoView switching systems to ensure the switch is always running the most current version of the firmware. All firmware upgrade files are available from http://www.avocent.com/support under the section Popular Links / All Product Upgrades. Users will need to connect the serial port (COM port) of an available PC (running Microsoft Windows) to the serial port on the back of the switch using a null model serial cable (DB-male). After downloading the upgrade file to the connected Microsoft Windows PC, run it and select the appropriate COM Port from the COM Port menu. Clicking Update will upgrade the firmware. After the firmware is updated, an Update Completed message is displayed. Clicking the Close button exits the application and the switch automatically reboots. Appendix A in the AutoView Switch Installer/User Guide provides detailed instructions for upgrading the firmware of the switch. With a 1U high design, the compact AutoView 1415 switch does not compete for valuable rack space in SMB server rooms.

Integrates with Avocent AutoView 3100 and 3200 KVM switches. Allows users to add alternative method of access via an IP network Operating System (OS) independent. Ensures connection to the attached servers regardless of the health or type of OS.

AutoView® 1415 Quick Facts

  The AutoView 1415 is a single user, rack mount KVM switch with 8 ports specifically designed for SMB server rooms
  1U design is a space saver in SMB server rooms
  Supports PS/2, USB, Sun, and serial target (server) devices
  Supports a local / single user console configured with either PS/2 or USB interface
  Unique cable design based on CAT 5 to help reduce bulky cable clutter
  Servers connect to the KVM switch using either an Integrated Access Cable (IAC) or a AVRIQ Server Interface Module (with a user supplied CAT 5 cable up to 100 feet)
  High-quality, multi-language, graphical On-Screen Display (OSD) named OSCAR® making it easy for users to switch, monitor, and locate target devices
  Time-out and password protection feature provides users with the benefit of added security when accessing business-critical servers
  Programmable autoscan allows users to customize scanning times between attached systems
  Flash upgradeable means that the product never goes out of date
  Sun keyboard localization: Supports international markets
  Sun keyboard translation: Allows users to use PS/2 keyboards with Sun targets
  Integrates with Avocent AutoView 3100 and 3200 KVM switches
  Operating System (OS) independent

AutoView Modules and Cables

The AutoView switching solutions provide support for USB and/or PS/2 keyboards and mice for the user console and USB, PS/2, Sun or serial support for target devices — all in a single solution switch. All AutoView KVM switches include two unique and advanced cabling options for target devices:

  Integrated Access Cables (IAC) provide keyboard, video and mouse connectivity for both PS/2 and USB interfaces in one slim CAT 5 cable with lengths of 7, 10 and 15 feet. This unique cable design reduces cable bulk plus saves time and money. The IAC is simply an AVRIQ Server Interface Module already wired with a CAT 5 cable. The Avocent model number for PS/2 and USB integrated access cables are:

PS2IAC-7 - (7 feet - P2/2)
PS2IAC-10 - (10 feet - P2/2)
PS2IAC-15 - (15 feet - P2/2)
USBIAC-7 - (7 feet - USB)
USBIAC-10 - (10 feet - USB)
USBIAC-15 - (15 feet - USB)

  Users can also purchase just the AVRIQ Server Interface Modules. These modules provide support for PS/2, USB, Sun, and serial targets as well as cable lengths greater than 15 feet (but less than 100 feet) between the target device and the switch. The AVRIQ server interface module connects to the target server. Users then connect their own CAT 5 or CAT 6 network cable (up to 100 feet) from the AVRIQ server interface module to the AutoView KVM switch.

Both cabling options automatically assign and retain unique server names for each attached server, which simplifies installation and eases re-configuration.

Modules and Cables for the AutoView® 1415
AVRIQ-PS2 AVRIQ-SRL AVRIQ-USB

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AVRIQ-VSN PS2IAC-X USBIAC-X

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PS2IAC-7 - (7 feet)
PS2IAC-10 - (10 feet)
PS2IAC-15 - (15 feet)

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USBIAC-7 - (7 feet)
USBIAC-10 - (10 feet)
USBIAC-15 - (15 feet)

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Last modified on: Saturday, 18-Sep-2010 18:21:01 EDT
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