January 16, 2001, 3:09 PM — Keyboard, video and monitor switches have been around for many years and can help clear out the clutter on equipment racks in your server room. But these switches have their limitations: You need to locate them near your servers, and their rat's nest of proprietary connector cables consumes lots of space.
Avocent has a better idea, with the first digital KVM switch, called the DS1800. Avocent's switch has no monitor output. Instead, you connect it to your Ethernet network and operate your computers remotely via a piece of software over a TCP/IP network.
It sounds like a great idea. In practice, however, we found the implementation lacking. Considering the high price tag of the product ($10,000), the fact that you still need almost the same number of proprietary cables to connect your computers and poor software execution, the DS1800 isn't yet ready for enterprise users. We recommend waiting until the vendor at least improves its control software before trying the DS1800.
Apart from the freedom of location, there isn't much of an advantage over an ordinary analog KVM switch. The cost of an analog switch is much less - you can buy a great analog KVM for $1,000 and a perfectly adequate one for several hundred dollars.
The advantage of a digital switch is freedom from being near the computer you want to operate, as you could control a machine over the Internet from any location around the world. And by eliminating the monitor connection, you can manage your computers in logical groups around your company, rather than having to gather your staff together in a single "mission control" room.
Both digital and analog KVM switches allow you to view the entire boot process of your servers. This is because there isn't any software installed on the server, unlike remote control products such as Symantec's pcAnywhere. One advantage the DS1800 has over analog KVM switches is it can control anything running on an Intel machine - including Linux or Solaris, for example.
One of the niftier features of the DS1800 is that it gives you a choice of several different sets of cables to connect to your servers. There is one set for ordinary PS/2 keyboards and mice,another for USB connections, and two sets of cables for Sun workstations, which we didn't test. There is no support for Macintosh servers. You choose the configuration when you order a unit, and the cables are included in the price tag.