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Cheap KVM Over IP? 248

Posted by Cliff
from the throwing-that-noisy-box-into-the-other-room! dept.
An anonymous reader asks: "I've been looking for a cost effective (ie, cheap) way to remotely administer several servers running a variety of OS's, and would like to have a solution that would allow for monitoring of the bios on startup, etc (ie, not VNC). The most appealing solution is KVM over IP, which really just means a souped up KVM switch with something like VNC running on it, unfortunately all of the solutions I've been able to find are more expensive than I can justify spending. I've played around a bit with making my own Poor man's KVM over IP; I did this by purchasing a cheap (sub $50) VGA-to-NTSC convertor, then feeding it into a video card with NTSC input (the ATI All-In-Wonder Radion), and then by logging into a machine running Windows Terminal Services I'm able to watch the reboot process. Of course, this doesn't address the mouse/keyboard issue, and the quality isn't all that great. What I'm hoping is that someone else might have a suggestion on how to do this, preferably using Linux and the least hardware necessary. Does anyone have any suggestions or insights on ways to do this?" There are pre-existing solutions, but it seems they are all kind of pricey. Can any of you suggest cheap solutions (at or below $500USD) that could handle a farm of 5-10 machines?

"Here are the three approaches I found:

ViewProxy: They make the most economical for administration of multiple machines (by one person). Their ProxyView device plugs into your KVM just like it was a monitor/mouse/keyboard, and then does all the packetizing magic. Price is about $6k from what I can tell.

eRIC: These are the same guys who make the Rolf (Reboot on Lan), which is pretty cool. They make a card called Eric which replaces your normal video card with their card, which has a built in ethernet connection and allows remote control. The cheapest solution at about $700 but only would allow control of the machine it's installed in.

Avocent: I think the first to introduce the whole KVM over IP solution, they have KVM's with this sort of functionality integrated. Some of their products allow multiple users to multiple machine, which is a neat feature but not needed for my applications. Their units run from $4k on up."

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Cheap KVM Over IP?

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  • Use GRACE from the earlier article and tell her to manage the computers.. only problem is that she might budge in your CS games.
    heh
    fp
  • Bandwidth Issues? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Vodalian (203793)
    What kinda bandwidth are we talking to transmit say a 1024x768x256 colors (to save bandwidth) screen at a decent frame rate? Hope you have Gigabit Ethernet to run this decently!
  • RealWeasel (Score:5, Informative)

    by travisd (35242) <travisd&tubas,net> on Monday August 05, 2002 @05:48PM (#4014719) Homepage
    http://www.realweasel.com/intro.html
    • Even better is the model shown in their Haberdashery [realweasel.com]... That's the model *I* want :)
    • by Anonymous Coward
      they embedded the following easter egg in their FAQ:

      Q.

      Is "slashdot" a verb?

      A. Yes.
    • Love their attitude:
      "What sucks." "How we fixed it." "Why we're swell." "Asses saved."
    • by SEWilco (27983) on Monday August 05, 2002 @10:33PM (#4015952) Journal
      Yes, the RealWeasel provides a serial MGA/VGA text interface. It also translates serial input to keyboard code conversion. It solves most of the problems, just needs serial-to-TCP/IP to meet the IP requirement.

      • Serial Console (including reset and boot BIOS access)
        • RealWeasel (or similar if there is one) for console in each machine. Needed on machines whose BIOS or OS does not support a serial console.
        • Without RealWeasel, you could use a serial-to-keyboard adapter for remote ASCII console input. Console output becomes a separate problem. (I see a Keyat unit also allows several adapters on a single RS-485 interface, so a single RS-485 link could service several servers)
        • For Linux use, see the Remote Serial Console HOWTO [tldp.org]..but no method to reset.
        • Terminal server, to convert all those serial ports to TCP/IP; IP support was specified. (Linux Serial Console HOWTO above has terminal server info also)
        • Mouse support: Another serial port, with servers configured for serial mice. On management workstation, install a serial mouse specifically for remote use.
        • Make a program for your management station which lets you select a remote console. The program pops up an appropriate terminal window (unless it already is running) and connects the serial mouse to remote's serial mouse input port.
      • Reset/power control.
        • RealWeasel offers reset control.
        • Reset could be wired to relays, which would require relays controlled through TCP/IP (could b done through terminal server serial or parallel ports).
        • Web cam and robot arm. Details left as an exercise for the reader.
      • Graphical console remote access
        • X11 Windows System: The usual X11 network access.
        • MS-Windows: Choose favorite remote console solution.
        • VNC: Question asker specified not to use it.
        • Remote Control Review: Review of several remote control packages. [nwfusion.com]
      • As IP is being used, all this can be run through Ethernet or serial PPP links. Or USB, with serial ports for console/mouse and USB-Ethernet for X11 through USB network (Is there an Ethernet-to-USB_Host device, so a USB-through-Ethernet device driver could talk to a remote USB network?)
      • Encryption to protect console data: Have to encrypt the terminal server's link. X11 could run through an SSH tunnel.
  • There's a giant need for this, cheaper. If someone can come up with a 1U KVM over IP box under $2000 USD they'd make a killing in the SME market.
  • 5 monitors, 5 keyboards, 5 mice

    price: $200.
  • by Precision (1410) on Monday August 05, 2002 @05:49PM (#4014730) Homepage
    Many newer motherboards support BIOS redirection over the serial port. All of my systems (intel 440gx) supports this. It allows full remote BIOS configuration, etc. Used in conjuction with linux's serial console and sysrq over serial I find the solution works quite well.
    • The best person for any menial job is a blind person who just does that single task. If the bios already has a basic serial driver why not a specialized tcp/ip stack, vnc, and ethernet driver as well? Wasn't there a project to put linux in the bios along with a primitive firewall? Couldn't this be an optional module to this project?
      • If the bios already has a basic serial driver

        All BIOSes has had that as long as I remember. (Which is more than 10 years.)

        why not a specialized tcp/ip stack, vnc, and ethernet driver as well?

        They are quite limited in the amount of code it has space for. Originally they could only keep at most 64KB. Today some are manufactured with more, but it can only be used during boot before loading the OS. When the OS gets loaded it switches to the small size, so all drivers must fit into 64KB to be available to the OS.

        This is also not an area in which much development is going on. In the days of DOS, the drivers in the BIOS was actually being used all the way. But today every OS has its own drivers, the BIOS is only being used during boot. So as soon as the computer can boot and get the OS into memory, nobody really cares about the BIOS any more. The BIOS API used by DOS and loaders has changed very little in the last years. This API does not include networking, and it probably never will. It has been many years since a new device got available through this API, most changes are just to deal with development in already supported units. Today BIOSes does support harddisks larger than 504MB. The last new device that has been added support for in the BIOS is the ATAPI CDROM, but this is really only suitable for boot, and it actually didn't change the API, it merely emulates a floppy.

        Wasn't there a project to put linux in the bios along with a primitive firewall?

        Yes. [lanl.gov]
  • PC Weasel (Score:1, Redundant)

    by _ph1ux_ (216706)
    www.realweasel.com

    makes a card that allows for this... but i havent looked at their product in over a year now - so it might even have greater functionality than last time I looked...

    but it allowed for bios monitoring etc...

    and you can test one of their cards out from their site. (used to be over telnet)

    • Re:PC Weasel (Score:2, Informative)

      by Scrybe (95209)
      This looks like a cool product but would work IF and ONLY IF you only need a console. no mouse, no GUI, no XMMS :`( From the post I am guessing that he needs a mouse and a GUI (XMMS or Winamp optional).

      One comprimise might be to use the small slender rodent adapter to capture your post and then use a VNC server for daily operation but that sound almost as kludgey as what he is using now.

      Hopefully someone will come up with a smaller/cheaper process for IP KVM's and/or economies of scale will kick in and the price on these units will come down.

      One final thought that could be very dangerous, what is the possibility of hacking the BIOS on the motherboard to dump the post out the serial or ethernet ports, heck if there is enough free code space you might even be able to configure through the serial. (note IANAEE and IANACS)

      Good luck!
      • Re:PC Weasel (Score:3, Informative)

        by laserjet (170008)
        Why would you need anything more than a console? After the machine is booted up beyond the BIOS/etc, you can use the features of X or VNC to do whatever you want with a GUI. There is no need for it.

        • You applied the latest kernel security patch from your villa on the Mediterranean. It (the patch, that is) broke your Foozbit Gigabit ethernet, and now X/VNC/whatever is useless. You now have to cut your vacation short and say goodbye to the ladies on the nude beach, fly back and fix it yourself.

          I, on the other hand, did the same via a remote KVM over IP solution. When the patch hosed my system, I just logged back in via the kvm, booted into single user mode and backed out the patch.

          The ladies here, by the way, say hello. Though they don't really remember your name anymore. ;)
  • try cyberguys (Score:3, Informative)

    by option8 (16509) on Monday August 05, 2002 @05:50PM (#4014737) Homepage
    this link (which slashdot will probably munge: http://cyberguys.com/cgi-bin/sgin0101.exe?UID=2002 080514403159&GEN6=00&GEN9=5CG01&FNM=00&T1=104+1150 &UREQA=1&UREQB=2&UREQC=3&UREQD=4

    or else try product # 104 1150 on http://www.cyberguys.com

    it's a KVM "extender" that works over cat 5 for 500 feet. i don't know who makes it, but the cyberguys catalog had it. this plus a KVM switch on each end of your setup might be enable you to do what you want...
    • Re:try cyberguys (Score:2, Informative)

      by ahaning (108463)
      Come on, you've been here long enough that you should by now know how to make a link. If you think people might be afraid of what it is, post the text for the foil-heads and a real link for convenience.

      CONSOLE EXTENDER CE-220 [cyberguys.com]
  • by kevin lyda (4803)
    how about this (two sources): http://www.bsdmall.com/console.html [bsdmall.com],
    http://www.realweasel.com/pcivga.html [realweasel.com].
  • Raritan (Score:3, Informative)

    by Kraegar (565221) on Monday August 05, 2002 @05:51PM (#4014745)
    Raritan [raritan.com] has some nice CAT5 based KVM solutions, that work terribly well in scaling between small and large environments. However I think the price may be a bit higher then you were hoping.
    • Re:Raritan (Score:3, Informative)

      by NetJunkie (56134)
      I just ordered this set up for work. Very nice, but yes, it's pricey. It uses CAT5 but not IP. We're switching to get rid of the clutter of those fat KVM cables that other boxes use.

      If you want connectivity over IP you can add the TeleReach option to the Paragon box (the one mentioned above).
  • Cheap alternative (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Zayin (91850)

    Check out Raritan [raritan.com]. They have a wide range of such products. Not sure about prices though.

  • Umm...how about a serial console for the bios, then just redisplaying X for the gui...via just redisplaying it from unix to unix, or using vnc to see it in windows (or using an X client on windows, like Exceed). I mean...surely you can't be serious. Serial consoles have been around for like, eons. Even if you just use a digiboard so you can connect a bunch of com1's up to serial ports on a single system, that would work. on post, you don't typically have umm...you know...an ip. But through com1, you can do most everything.
  • RealWeasel (Score:1, Redundant)

    by friscolr (124774)
    the RealWeasel [realweasel.com] will give you a serial console for i386 hardware. It might be out of your price range, though, at $250 for the ISA and $350 for the pci version.

    Dell and other companies come with their own similar solutions - add on boards that allow powering off the server. There are some nice links off of the realweasel site to other places with similar devices.

    Otherwise, buy Sun or any other hardware platform that comes with serial console standard.

  • Check out the Compaq Remote Insight Lights Out [compaq.com] edition board.
    • This full length PCI card has a network interface on it that which you access via a web browser.
    • It self generates an SSL certificate and gives you java access to live screen via java applet.
    • Works best with certain Compaq servers due to better cabling but may work with other servers.
    • Display updates not as snappy as VNC but bearable.
    • Lets you reply last boot sequence even if you weren't watching it live.
    • Lets you use a "virtual" floppy.
    • May have some issues when trying to co-exist with a local KVM switch.
    • Runs around $500 which is at the top end of your price list.
    • I have these deployed in all of our servers and I love it. Not only does it provide excellent remote control of Intel-based boxes, but it's all running over ethernet which means that a) there isn't a massive tangle of KVM cables to manage (imagine twelve 1U servers each with three fixed-length cables run to a single KVM switch -- no thank you!) and b) it runs on IP so I've got all of my infrastructure control/communication consolidated on one network. I've reinstalled Linux from scratch on servers from the comfort of my own home at 3AM.
    • I've got several of these installed with customers. My comments:

      1) Despite any gripes below, it does what it says it will do flawlessly.
      2) Virtual floppy can only be used for booting and operating systems that access the floppy via INT 13 (basically DOS unless somebody out there has a *nix INT 13 hack - don't even think about Win NT/2K/XP).
      3) Requires one additional IP address, switch port per machine (and associated cabling, etc).
      4) As far as I know it only works with Compaq Proliant servers (but I'd love to hear from somebody with other experience).
      5) Graphical remote control sucks ass (sssslllooooowwww, even over a LAN), but it can get you to where you can use VNC / PCAnywhere / SSH / Windows Remote Console, etc.

      You also left out that it has the ability to power-off / power-on / cold-boot the server.

      Despite the above qualms, I spec them in all critical servers because they're the only way (short of true KVM over IP) to completely remotely troubleshoot a crashed server. By that I mean full access during the boot process, the ability to see a BSOD (or other OS equic) screen live, and the ability to control the OS boot through a text and / or graphical startup process. In fact, for a remote (colo, etc) Win2K server, I usually leave the Win2K CD in the drive, and a floppy disk with any special RAID / HDD drivers in the floppy drive. From there I can literally do a complete OS reinstall by remote control (of course, it would be nice if all of my server software ran on OSes that don't require occasional reinstalls, but that's another story).

  • You want www.realweasel.com, and the PC Weasel 2000.

    It's open source, it's got a picture of a weasel with an axe standing next to headless (bleeding) Linux Tux and BSD Beastie, and it's from a company called Middle Digital Incorporated. You have to support that if you're a true geek.

  • Sneaker Net (Score:5, Funny)

    by drbaker (265995) on Monday August 05, 2002 @05:58PM (#4014773) Homepage
    A pair of Nikes cost less than $500 (but only just). That's about as close as you're gonna get.
  • Hey, why not? (Score:3, Informative)

    by delta407 (518868) <slashdot@nOSpaM.lerfjhax.com> on Monday August 05, 2002 @05:59PM (#4014774) Homepage
    This probably isn't exactly what you were looking for, but I would consider and maybe request an eval of VMware GSX Server [vmware.com] or maybe even ESX Server [vmware.com]. Both let you monitor the virtual machine over IP -- in fact, there's even a web-based administration interface. And, of course, you can watch BSODs as they happen, hit the reset button using your toolbar, and go into the BIOS setup utility remotely.

    Neither is cheap (GSX is the cheaper of the two and runs $3500, $1600 academic [creationengine.com]) but if you can consolidate your boxes into one big box it might be worth it. After all, it's always good to centralize your points of failure, right?

    Big thumbs up for VMware.
  • Simple answer... (Score:3, Informative)

    by Tet (2721) <slashdot@astradyn[ ]o.uk ['e.c' in gap]> on Monday August 05, 2002 @06:00PM (#4014785) Homepage Journal
    ...is don't use PC hardware. I have a farm of Suns at a remote hosting site. Because they're Real Computers(tm), they're designed with remote admin in mind. Which means you get a full serial console access, so you can mess around with the PROM (the equivalent of a BIOS), and I can even remotely power them on and off, all via a serial port. A few PC makers are starting to get the idea, but not a single one comes close to Sun (or other non PC hardware like Alphas or Power boxen). Dell and Compaq both offer remote access options, but they're a) expensive, b) require drivers, and hence are geared towards Windows, and c) typically take up the only available PCI slot on a 1U server. With a Netra T1, for example, it just works straight out of the box, no extra purchase needed, all you need to access it is an ANSI terminal emulator, and your precious PCI slot is still free for that extra SCSI card / quad ethernet / whatever.

    But given that non-PC hardware is probably not an option for you, then consider something like the RealWeasel, although I've heard mixed reports about it from those that have tried it. The online demo looks like it should at least be usable, though.

    • Also Apple's Xserve also offers serial OF (BIOS) booting.
    • I agree. I also think that if the questioner told us why he thought it was necessary for him to watch his machine boot up, we would have come up with an answer that eliminated the need for him to stand around looking at the bootup screen in the first place.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 05, 2002 @06:26PM (#4014905)
      Ask Slashdot:

      Q: How do I make A do B?
      A: Don't use A. C does B better. Only losers use A.

      Moderation: +5 Informative
      Usefulness: 0

    • I agree. Non-PC hardware is really the right way to go. However, Sun certainly isn't the only option.

      Compaq Alpha, HP PowerPC/PA-RISC, IBM RS/AS *, et al.

  • I know it wont work for windows boxes, but for the linux machines just compile-in support for console over standard serial, run the lines into a multiport serial card (~$50), and ssh into that box to access the servers.
  • How about putting cheapo tvout cards in all the servers, and connecting them all to a dedicated pc that has like 5 bt878 capture cards. (short svideo cables)
    That'll let you see the whole boot process including doing bios stuff.

    Then run ffserver (ffmpeg, or maybe ffpegrec which is part of nvrec) on this gateway machine to encode and serve up divx5 video streams.

    You can add security with freeswan and certificates if you like.

    This can all be done using linux fairly easily. The major drawback would be the limit on PCI slots for capture cards. There are cheap Viewcast cards that have 3 inputs you can switch between so you could get at least 15 channels.(just not all at the same time)
    You'd need a control channel aswell i guess.. maybe you could get a keyboard switch and write a little script to let you pipe your keyboard actions to whichever machine you want.

  • Not any time soon... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by PureFiction (10256) on Monday August 05, 2002 @06:02PM (#4014795)
    KVM over IP is going to be costly into the near future. This isn't exactly commodity hardware, so it may stay high for a looong time.

    You may want to consider an alternative approach (which is what I have been doing ever since the remote KVM sticker shock faded) which obviates the need for a remote KVM at all.

    For example:
    1. All systems boot from custom CD-R (good for security too) which then boots the remainder off a network drive or perhaps hdd.

    2. Remote power cycling (cheap, $100 for 8 ports you can controll over IP) is used to power cycle one or more machines to force a reboot.

    3. If you need to reimage the OS, simply replace the OS stored on the boot server, or have the CDROM boot image reimage remotely when given a specific trigger (this is the area wide open for all kinds of solutions. Luckily, all software based using linux and cheap CDR's, network filesytems, etc)

    This still has a number of drawbacks. If the machine doesnt come back, there is no remote KVM access to tell you what the bios is complaigning about (bad disk?).

    The bootup process is cumbersome. I.e. you need to always boot from CDR to be able to reimage a system later (dedicated hosting) and such.
    • If I can buy an IP KVM and ditch a convoluted, impossible-to-maintain system like you propose, I'm saving myself thousands in future consulting fees when your house of cards system collapses.
      • House of cards?

        I am the first to admit this is a hack, but I have no idea what you think will suddenly implode in such a setup. It is one thing to be kludge / hack, and another to be unrecoverably faulty.
        • Mainly because it's convoluted, nonstandard way of doing something. I'll give you that its clever and probably functional, but in terms of understandability and maintainability by others it loses a lot of points.

          I guess I'm just thinking of the number of "money saving", "clever" kludges/hacks I've had to detangle and re-assemble or integrate with other environments. It's goes from either more complex than usual (when the kludger is around to explain/understand it) to a total nightmare (no kludger, no docs, serious tear-apart required).

          Maybe I'm just not clever or I'm lazy, but I find KISS to be a sound principal...
  • Kaveman - ~$3500 (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Masao-Kun (1791)
    Not cheap at $3500, but better than the non-video card solutions mentioned...

    Kaveman from Digital V6 [digitalv6.com]

    They also have models with integrated KVM's for more, but I didn't inquire about the price of those, and they don't put prices on their web page.
  • Another poster pointed me in this direction....

    1. Get a weasle card for each server you have.
    2. Get a Clysdale terminal server, or plug the serial into a Linux box and ssh to that system and use minicom....

    This may or may not work for windows. Windows won't let you use the weasle as primary video, but if you can add an AGP card to the system for windows and the weasle card for BIOS.... Make sure winblows gets the primary display setup for the AGP card....

    This is pure conjecture and you are responsible for any purchases and headaches caused by the preceeding!

    • Oops forgot to post URL to weasle....

      http://www.realweasel.com/products.html
    • . Get a Clysdale terminal server,

      Uh, don't you mean Cyclades? I think someone needs a beer... :)
    • 2. Get a Clysdale terminal server, or plug the serial into a Linux box and ssh to that system and use minicom....

      I was with you up until the Clysdale/Livinsgton. The nullmodem-in-*nix box too... but minicom? Yech!

      Real serial terminal diehards go for either tip/cu or Kermit [columbia.edu]. Minicom has crappy terminal emulation (especially when dealing with Sun serial console, for example). cu/tip might not play nice with ssh, because the break sequence for cu/tip is the same as in ssh, but that just depends on implementation. Kermit just works everyhere, and anywhere. And it's free too! wow...

      Just a tip from a fellow admin with systems on serial console. Ditch that minicom abberation. Heck, even seyon is better.

      And, oh yeah, to still stay ontopic, newer intel 1u servers usually have that feature that the bios can be altered/monitored/whatever across the serial port too.

      Otherwise, if they're big mighty compaqs, give Compaq Insight a go. It saved me from getting up from bed when I was stuck in the hotel with a 56 Kbit modem connection and someting important decided to crash. I fixed it all remote from the SSL web-interface from my hotel bed. I was done in a short while, and I got to go back to sleep again. Very good. Compaq saved my lusers from a cranky and sleepdeprived sysadmin.

  • WrightLine was selling Avocents for a while. They were expensive and required a server and client component in addition to the hardware, but were real slick -- total KVM over IP.

    They even had software tools to re-sample a big display (eg, 1600x1200) down to a more managable size (eg, 1024x768) without losing usability.

    They lost me due to (1) licensing costs for the management client based on per-machine, (2) it was real dodgy whether it was usable on a DSL-type broadband connection, (3) it was REAL expensive, even if you "waved" the extra client licensing costs (as the salesdude suggested I do).

    I hope this kind of tech becomes more common and cheaper to do; it looked like a hardware-based video capture engine and a client application to decompress the video.
  • by TheKubrix (585297) on Monday August 05, 2002 @06:09PM (#4014825) Homepage
  • Sorta OT (Score:1, Offtopic)

    by loraksus (171574)
    But IF I don't get modded to hell, does anyone want to make a reccomendation on a cheap regular kvm switch?

  • Somewhere on the net I heard about a PCI VGA card... that isn't one. It *emulates* a VGA card but actually has a serial port. http://www.bsdmall.com/console.html. It's not *quite* under your price point, but it's pretty close.
  • what i do at work is we have motherboards that allow serial connects to see the bios and controll it, so we use the kernel option for serial console in linux and get one machine with a lot of serial cards in it .. we ssh into that box and then run minicom and we have a profile for every server so its a simple as minicom servername , although we do use ssh when we can, the serial is just a fall back , as an add bonus, routers and other apliances with serial connect just fine

    most (all ) intel serverboards support serial (i know its not AMD but hey, i dont make all the choices) and if you have windows you can just call back to vnc when the logon screen comes up (you can do that right, i remeber someone saying that you cant run stuff while loggin it ... but i never needed to find out)

    -rev

  • On a related note, has anyone found an inexpensive terminal server that can be used for remote administration. I have looked and found only expensive ones. Maybe one really cheap Linux box could be turned into a terminal server for another. Anyone have any experience with this?
    • by travisd (35242)
      Did this: Bought a Cyclades 8-port serial board and stuffed it into a P133. Load $FreeOS and $Term_Program and go at it. Keep in mind that consoled-devices that don't deal well with a serial BREAK may not like it if/when you reboot the console server box. There are usually hardware or software ways around this.
  • Take n number of the KVM extenders over cat 5. Plug into ethernet switch (I don't mean the Cisco type of switch. The kind with a switch in front for selecting from n number of inputs. They make them for parallel ports too so you can easily switch between printers). Plug however many devices into switch. In the single output cable, attach other end of KVM cat5 extender and then run cable to terminal. It would be awesome if this worked, but it's possible that the switching device would mangle things up or reduce quality etc. Not quite KVM over IP but its really really cheap if you can get it to work Luck
  • MegaRAC-G2 (Score:2, Informative)

    by unclei (55647)
    Disclaimer: I work for AMI on the MegaRAC-G2

    That said, the MegaRAC-G2 sounds similar to what you want. It's not really a KVM switch (although you might see one from us in the future), but it is a great remote access card. It does very fast video redirection (10-15 fps) of the server's native display - which means it works on the console, in bios, in X, Windows, whatever. It redirects the client's keyboard/mouse activity, and even cdrom and floppy drives if you want.

    It does a lot of other cool stuff too, check out the website: http://www.ami.com/megarac/

    Oh yeah, and the card runs linux, and requires no drivers on the server. :)
  • by Kenja (541830) on Monday August 05, 2002 @06:35PM (#4014956)
    I just picked up a few Compaq Remote Insight boards on ebay for about nine dollars each. Seems to be a good system as it allows remote power on and access even after a power outage thanks ot a battary backup.
  • Try using a VersaPoint RF Wireless Keyboard, a 900 Mhz RF signal booster on each end, a local computer with a KVM attached, and a webcam. If you don't need quite that much range, just run long cables with signal amplifiers every 100ft or so.

  • http://www.wti.com/cms8.htm [wti.com]

    It's a little pricier ($995), but if you couple this bad boy with a RealWeasel card in each box, you have an end-to-end solution to make a geek proud. ;)

    (it's also Sun ready, for your non-PC needs)
  • by Wakko Warner (324) on Monday August 05, 2002 @06:43PM (#4015001) Homepage Journal
    Namely this: There are two ways to do things: The right way, and the Slashdot way.

    The Right Way involves spending a little more money up front, but its benefits are manyfold: A proven solution, vendor support, reliability, stability, and various and sundry other good things.

    The Slashdot Way involves duct tape, bailing wire, and, sometimes, a 386 running RedHat. Its generally insignificant up-front savings are offset by the countless hours of configuration, tuning, tweaking, prodding, poking, and general lackluster performance of the contraption in question.

    You have chosen to go The Slashdot Route. I wish you luck as you set up your TV cards and serial ports. You will need as much luck as you can get, and an awful lot of patience.

    - A.P.
    • The Slashdot Way involves duct tape, bailing wire, and, sometimes, a 386 running RedHat.

      Dude, you're way wrong. Pentium 166's are now the preferred GNU/Linux "rescued from the garbage heap" platforms for these applications. And you've got the sometimes in the wrong place. It always involves Linux, although not necessarily RedHat. Duct tape and bailing wire are in the sometimes used category.

      [Disclaimer: this is not a serious post, and I don't usually talk or type this way.)
      • The Slashdot Way involves duct tape, bailing wire, and, sometimes, a 386 running RedHat.

        Dude, you're way wrong. Pentium 166's are now the preferred GNU/Linux "rescued from the garbage heap" platforms for these applications. And you've got the sometimes in the wrong place. It always involves Linux, although not necessarily RedHat. Duct tape and bailing wire are in the sometimes used category.

        Dude, you need to be seriously smacked on the side of the head with a clue-by-four (tm)! First off, no real haxors use RedHat boxen, cause they suxor. If you want to seriously use Li(g)nux you have to use Debian, cause thats what Linus and RMS use.

        Secondly, if you're running like 4 TV-Cards doing realtime video (mpeg4) encoding of 4 s-vga video signals, we're talking like 60GB/sec bandwidth raw IO (per channel)! I think you would probably need SCSI for that.

        Also, since the place I worked for did this with a bunch of old Sun's we had laying around, I think you would need more raw numbercrunching power than that P166 is going to provide. I swear to god, to get that type of throughput, you'll need at least a P250. You'll have difficulty overclocking your 166 to go a 250Mhz without using water-cooling.

        Which is what we ended up doing on that Sun, too, btw. Man you've not played Quake Arena, till you've played it on an E450 with 24 UltraSparc2's overclocked from 450 Mhz to 600 Mhz, at first we though we would have to use liquid helium to cool the fucker.

        [Disclaimer: this is not a serious post, and I don't usually talk or type this way.)
        You do, too! I've been watching your talking and typing recently. It is I who doesn't usually talk this way. :)
    • I don't think a 386 box will work. I would think some sort of analog-to-video conversion will need to be done, along with video compression. Plus the box will have multiple servers hooked into it. So you'll need a box with a more robust CPU, or other special hardware... but that would drive costs up. But even a Ghz CPU is rather cheap. But it still will require special hardware made for all the KMV inputs if you're gonna build this on a PC.

      You could build special PCI cards that have all of these KMV connectors, and you can purchase as many cards as you need. Even use PCI riser cards to add more slots than the motherboard already has. Would be even nice if each card had the power to take the VGA video and convert to digital, and compress the image. Perhaps even make cards that can handle more than just one KMV input. Probably would have to make special 3-in-1 connector cables.

      Would be a gawd awful rats nest behind that unit!!!!

      Video compression should not be a MPEG format, since there's not much motion/animation going on with a desktop (unless you feel like playing quake 3), plus it would end up looking blurry with artifices >sp?. It would be nice if it were clear to read, at a normal frame rate so scrolling won't look screwy.

      It's possible we could ignore analog VGA video, and use pure digital input from a DV-out used for a flat screen. Then just compress the data on the fly as it's pumped over IP. Doubt many servers have newer video cards with Digital output... Unless you used some old matrox cards that used some funky DB-15 port for some sort of digital output.

      That's the only hurdle I can think of, the KMV connections into the box. Dealing with the VGA video would be another hurdle, but I don't think it would be that difficult to figure out. KB/Mouse input would be a no brainer.
    • by EllF (205050) <kevinNO@SPAMthehipgamer.com> on Monday August 05, 2002 @07:28PM (#4015255) Homepage
      What I think you're seeing is the difference between the "I don't want to think about it" mentality and the "Let's hack this!" mentality. The former is a fine one for the corporate world - you do something quickly, and it's Someone Else's Problem. You (generally) aren't paying out of your own pocket, and you're free to use the time saved to do other things.

      However, this doesn't make for "The Right Way". Hacking at something - figuring out how it works, seeing how you can do it better (or less expensively), and enjoying the process - is the source of solutions that Just Work.

      "[G]eneral lackluster performance of the contraption in question" is the result of not understanding something enough to do it well. Many off-the-shelf solutions suck - Windows 98, anyone? So do many home-brew setups. The problems doesn't come from the nature of a rig, it comes from the effort and intelligence of the creator.

      If you prefer to not think about things, and just have them work, fine - but don't disparage people who are interested in learning and improving with sweeping and inaccurate generalities about DYI projects. Most of your "proven solutions" only got to that point because enough people (or sometimes, one intelligent person) was willing to hack at something until they were satified.

      End of rant.
      • Sometimes a problem should be solved using efficiency and pre-created/existing tools. Sometimes the "let's hack this" mentality is appropriate.

        The true master knows when to use the correct approach. Calling either one a cop out or wasted effort isn't the way to go.

        In this case, I think you would want to go with a more "off the shelf" solution" and direct your hacking energies towards the machines that are actually being run. Instead of spending a week tweaking a home made KVM over IP solution you could purchase something and use that week to tweak the servers and maybe consolidate a box or two.

        Remember, at the end of the day you have to evaluate the priorities and direct your energies. Having a really cool home-brew KVM solution will not improve your overall system. Having a really well tweaked set of servers will.
      • Good, but wrong. (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Wakko Warner (324)
        However, this doesn't make for "The Right Way". Hacking at something - figuring out how it works, seeing how you can do it better (or less expensively), and enjoying the process - is the source of solutions that Just Work.

        No. Generally, in my experience, it's the source of solutions that Almost Work. Or solutions that Work Unless You Do This. Or solutions that Just Worked Last Week, What the Hell Did We Change That Broke It?

        "[G]eneral lackluster performance of the contraption in question" is the result of not understanding something enough to do it well. Many off-the-shelf solutions suck - Windows 98, anyone? So do many home-brew setups. The problems doesn't come from the nature of a rig, it comes from the effort and intelligence of the creator.

        No, the problem comes from the continual poor reinvention of the wheel on Ask Slashbots. In this situation, KVM-IP switches are the answer. Not a 486 with a bunch of TV cards in it. Not a rat's nest of cables. If this person worked for me and proposed this solution, I would have a hard time signing his checks from then on.

        - A.p.
    • pah! "buy proven product. install proved product. use proven product." - am I the only one bored to tears just from thinking about this route? Slashdot route all the way! (of course we all know it would be Slackware, or maybe Gentoo, and not RedHat)
    • which is more than most of the "buy it off the shelf" people often have. The advantages to experimentation are many. While time savings is probably not one of them (at least in the short run) by the time the project is done, the experimenter has a better idea of how to go about getting things done than the buy-it-off-the-shelf guy.

      A few years down the road and most of us will want to hire the experimenter who has tried several different OSes, hacked out a wireless network out of a couple 2-meter transceivers, set up two 486 DX66 boxes as a dedicated VPN between his bedroom and his girlfriend's house, and wired up the girl's locker room with x10. Those are the guys who can think their way through a problem rather than hitting the catalogs looking for a million dollar solution.
    • 'Real' vs /. (Score:2, Interesting)

      by guanno (597251)
      If it weren't for adventurous spirits who are willing innovate a home made solution, the computer industry would never have gotten as far as it has, or be going in such interesting and potentially rewarding directions.

      The 'Real' way actually amounts to mundane unimaginative and stagnant. At worst it amounts to millions of servers on an IP near you being adminstrated by lazy incompetant boobs, who don't know any better than to call a 'Real' technician (read /. fan) when the innevitable problems occur. And the rest of us suffer greatly for it. I wouldn't pay someone any more than minimum wage to do things the 'Real' way.

      BB -Guanno
  • by Anonymous Coward
    BlackBox [blackbox.com] has a line of ethernet KVM extenders that can be used with other BlackBox KVM solutions.

    Blackbox Ethernet KVM Equipment [blackbox.com]

    Forgive the javascript errors, this was the only way to link to that exact page on the blackbox site.
  • Buy Compaq (I mean HP!) servers and add the Remote Lights Out board. It works very well and their new servers have them built-in. You get BIOS level control with full remote access via a web browser.

  • by MoreBeer (91936) on Monday August 05, 2002 @07:41PM (#4015314)
    We have a semi-large farm of Windose Boxen at a lights-out colo (Frontend application servers to most of the UNIX boxen). We just picked up the Rose Electronics [rosel.com] Ultralink [rosel.com] for remote management. We need this so we can do remote diags, like troubleshoot hardware, view POST, etc. We have Cyclades for the *NIX boxen, and our HP Netservers have the serial 'management' console that other people are boasting about, but that just won't cut it in a real-world production environment. A Console is a Console and a serial port is a serial port.

    We're going to plug the Ultralink into our cascaded KVM tree and hope for the best. Initially looking at the unit, I have some gripes:

    * No distributed authentication. It's gotta be local accounts. Can't hit my LDAP, NIS, NT Domain, or RADIUS servers.

    * Client is a proprietary Win32 app. No JAVA, no browser. Cripes, not even ActiveX!

    * Only one user at a time... including console. You have to log into the console to gain access (crappy for CEs out to fix a problem), and if the CE stays logged in, guess what? You can't access it remotely! We had to plug it into our intelligent PDU so we could remotely hard boot it if that happened.

    * We have what must be version .99a ... we had to wait about 2 months to get it, and we must have been the first guinea pig to take shipment. I'm afraid to open it up to see if there is about 35 feet of spaghetti-wire patches.

    Aside from these (minor) flaws, I think we'll be OK. Anything is better than booking a last-minute 606 mile flight to reboot a Windows box that shows 'It is now safe to power off your computer' because PCNowhere admin chose the wrong logoff choice. [don't laugh] (Although, there is Buckhead...)
    • What did it cost? (Score:3, Insightful)

      by swb (14022)
      We got a demo of an Avocent unit that did the same thing. It did have a centralized user database capability (unfortunately I think it was like Windows domain auth or something less flexible than RADIUS/LDAP/TACACS+).

      It worked well, but REALLY expensive for a 16 port version. Expensive to the tune of around $10k for the box, the auth server module, and 2-3 client licenses. I was most turned off by the fact that the server and client software were $old $eperately, since the software is useless without the hardware.

      I read a USENET post (circa 11/2001) that said the devices were buggy and the vendor was an asshole about other platform clients and future development/changes.

      I think digitized video and IP KVM connectivity is probably not a fluke and represents the "future" of KVM, but vendors will need to seriously get their shit together in terms of client access and pricing otherwise computer makers are just going to crush this product with their own built-in remote management. All our HP servers have built-in serial management that can do power on/off/reboot, environment management, and text/keyboard redirection; HP and Compaq both have boards that can do it natively over IP, the *only* thing missing is the ability to do transparent video redirection. When they do that, KVM will be obsoleted by a laptop running a redirection client.
  • by steppin_razor_LA (236684) on Monday August 05, 2002 @07:44PM (#4015320) Homepage Journal
    How often do you really need "true console" access on a box that has no network connectivity?

    I've found that having the ability to remote power cycle (preferably through an interface -- but an ISP that can get someone to the box fast can do in a $ pinch) + some remote network admin tools (VNC, Terminal Services, Telnet/SSH, etc etc) goes a *long* way.

    Yes, once in a while the box crashes *so* hard that Terminal services/VNC (assuming a Windows platform) becomes useless -- time for a reboot! The only way that you can really screw yoursel is if you mess with the network settings and configure yourself off the network.

    Rather than spend $$$s for that possibility, why not just pick up the phone and call some hands-on support (or if it is your datacenter.. send in the geeks)...?? If you know you are going to be messing with "dangerous" settings, you should be prepared for these sorts of possibilities anyways..

    Just my $.02...
    • Seeing as he runs windows, this is probably a good guess.
  • If you're satisfied with your current solution for monitoring the bios, why not just add VNC (or something similar)? Monitor the bios with your current setup during bootup, then switch to VNC once that's done.
  • I am not sure if you are doing this for work or not. But you may want to keep in mind while looking at all these solutions even if the hardware cost under $50 to make a portible switch how much time will it take you. Lets assume you are making $25 an hour so if it takes 2 more hours to configure the hardware then that is an aditional $50. Of couse the cheaper the hardware solution the more time it will probably take to put it together. So if you spend a Week tring to get this to work you are probably wasing more money then it would have cost to bye a KVM switch.
  • by defile (1059) on Monday August 05, 2002 @11:28PM (#4016140) Homepage Journal

    I know it's not exactly what the poster asked for, but I was in the same boat about 6 months ago and you can at least step through my thought processes.

    Article linked here [linuxjournal.com].

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