The DS1800 gives you KVM control with the flexibility of TCP/IP, making remote management much easier.

Simplifying the Server Farm

The DS1800 gives you KVM control with the flexibility of TCP/IP, making remote management much easier.

Product Information

Avocent DS1800, $10,000 per unit
Huntsville, Alabama

If you've ever worked with a server farm, you know the importance of KVM (keyboard-video-mouse) switching. If you've got a few dozen—or few thousand—servers to monitor, it's much easier to sit at a single workstation and switch input signals than it is to move from keyboard to keyboard or screen to screen. But traditional analog KVM switches are limited in how far they can send usable signals without expensive boosters. An alternative is to run remote-control software such as Windows Terminal Services or VNC on your servers. This has the disadvantage of adding an additional layer of software complexity and overhead to the servers, which may not be acceptable in mission-critical situations.

Avocent has put some time into rethinking the problem of controlling server farms, and the DS1800 is the result. To servers, it looks like a standard KVM switch. Just plug cables from the DS1800 to the keyboard, video and mouse ports on your computers (PS/2, USB, and Sun-style cables are all available for the unit). No software needs to be installed on the servers; the DS1800 just intercepts the analog signals they use.

But that's where the similarity to conventional KVM switches ends. Next to the other cable connections you'll find a 10BaseT Ethernet port. Inside the S1800, the analog signals are translated into digital format and sent out over the Ethernet. This means you can control the connected computers from a workstation on the local network or one anywhere else that your Ethernet reaches—including the far end of the Internet.

The DS1800 uses an authentication server to control who can connect to the computers it's managing. The DSAuth service, which must be installed on an NTFS partition on a Windows NT or Windows 2000 system, uses Windows' own user authentication to control access. Administration is as simple as selecting users from a list and specifying whether they should have user or administrator access. There are two other programs involved in using the DS1800. The DSAdmin program is used to set permissions and assign names to the managed ports, while the DSView program is used to view the connected systems.

Setup of the DS1800 was easy. There's a serial port on it that you can connect to with a dumb terminal or a null modem and terminal software; a menu-driven interface via this port lets you set the IP address for the unit. Then you just plug computers into the ports and visit Avocent's Web site to download all the software.

There are a few limitations that may rule out the DS1800 approach for specific uses. The maximum screen resolution is 1024x768 at 256 colors, which makes running some applications a problem—but you won't generally be running that sort of application on a server farm anyway. I found the mouse tracking to be a bit erratic as well and tended to overshoot what I was pointing at, but that got easier to manage with practice.

Avocent DS1800
Figure 1. The DS1800 gives you a window for full control of remote servers. (Click image to view larger version.)

The next time I'm dealing with a server farm that needs remote management, the DS1800 is going to be on my short list of products. It does its job well while being totally transparent to the controlled servers. It's also well engineered and will fit neatly into a rackmount or desktop setting. Definitely a useful product.

About the Author

Mike Gunderloy, MCSE, MCSD, MCDBA, is a former MCP columnist and the author of numerous development books.

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