September 08, 2003, 12:00 AM — With the large number of servers that many of you have to manage on a
day-to-day basis, the ability to remote control your servers from any
location has become a necessity. To solve this need, there are a number
of technologies available for remotely accessing a server's console. You
can use Windows 2000 Terminal Service configured for Remote Control,
PCAnywhere or a number of other third party products, or you can even
use SMS Remote Control. Now there is a new alternative - Avocent's DSR
line of KVM switches that allows access to the switch and the
corresponding consoles via TCP/IP.
Here's how it works. My personal experience has been with their DSR2161
model, though other models are available at http://www.avocent.com.
This switch has 16 ports for each of the servers you want to connect to
it, a local console port (referred to as analog connectivity) for the
physical mouse, monitor, and keyboard, and a standard 10/100 network
interface (referred to as digital connectivity) that allows access to
the switch across the network via TCP/IP. One unique thing is that each
of the 16 ports actually uses a CAT5 cable (up to 10 meters in length)
instead of the standard bulky KVM combination cable. Now a piece of
relatively thin CAT 5 cable can be used to connect each of your servers
to the KVM switch. This new feature makes it much easier to manage
cables under the floor of your data center, as well as within your
server racks. To allow the CAT 5 cable to plug into the back of the
server, there's a device called a DSRIQ cable that converts the CAT 5
cable to a standard monitor, keyboard and mouse connector.
The other feature that makes this switch so unique is the ability to
install a small client application called DSView on your administrators'
workstation, that allows you to remotely connect to any port on the
switch and gain "true" console access. This is very similar to
PCAnywhere or SMS Remote Control, without the overhead of additional
software being installed on your server.
Now there are a few drawbacks to this solution. First of all the DSView
remote user interface isn't as clean looking as Terminal Service Remote
Control, but it does the trick assuming you can get the mouse to
synchronize properly. The other caveat is that you may need to install
an authentication service onto another server in your environment that
manages which users/administrators have access to view or connect to
consoles on the switch. Now this software is relatively easy to
install, and domain and local users and groups are available for the
access control lists, which make it intuitive to configure.
If you are interested in finding out more about the Avocent line of KVM
switches with remote capabilities, check out their website at