KVM Switches: It's About Getting VARs Back Into The Data Center
With many server manufacturers selling direct, three vendor executives believe KVM (keyboard/video/mouse) switches will help VARs get into customer data centers.
The KVM (keyboard/video/mouse) switch market continues to grow. The market, which generated $300 million in revenue in 1998, is expected to grow to $600 million by the end of 2002. The market is also projected to grow by double digits over the next five years. If you're not familiar with KVM switches, don't feel bad. You're not alone.
"We often take for granted that people know what a KVM switch is, but every day we find ourselves explaining the technology to VARs and end users," says John Owen, director of sales for channel and OEM at Raritan Computer, Inc. (Somerset, NJ). "There is still an enormous amount of educating that must be done."
KVM Eliminates Keyboards, Monitors, Mice
KVM switches allow network administrators to save space in their facilities and centralize access to servers. An administrator might have 5, 50, or 500 servers to manage. If there are 500 keyboards, 500 monitors, and 500 mice in one location and each server has to be managed separately, the administrator can have a huge problem on his hands. "All of those monitors take up a lot of space and throw off a lot of heat," says Owen. "To get to a keyboard and monitor that controls a specific server, the LAN administrator has to do a lot of running around the data center. KVM switches allow administrators to get rid of all that extra hardware and centralize access to every server."
With an 8- or 16-port KVM switch, a LAN administrator can take 8 or 16 servers, cable them into the switch, and access every server from one keyboard, monitor, and mouse. "Those 8- and 16-port switches built the KVM industry," says Alan Bednarski, VP of sales and marketing for Avocent Corporation (Huntsville, AL). "End users no longer have to buy all of those monitors, and they no longer have to air condition all of the heat emitted by the monitors."
But Bednarski believes the future of the industry lies in remote monitoring solutions. Administrators like the amount of control they get with KVM switches, but they also want to cut down on individuals accessing the data center. "Administrators do not want to have to be in the same building as the servers they are controlling," he says. "That is the big trend we are currently seeing in this industry."
But Bednarski believes remote access to servers via KVM switches is especially valuable when there are server problems. "If a server is working, there are remote access software products that allow users to perform control functions," he states. "But KVM switches really shine when the server operating system is not loading or when administrators need to deal with something before the operating system has even booted [like configuring the network]. With KVM, an administrator can be outside the data center, or really anywhere in the world, and as long as he has a laptop and an Internet connection, he can get the same kind of control as if he were right in front of the server."
KVM: Opportunity For VARs
Owen sees KVM switches as a savior for many VARs. "Reseller margins have been squeezed, especially in the server and PC markets," he says. "Servers used to be the door opener for many VARs, but that market has been slowly slipping away. We have been working closely with the channel and believe KVM switches are becoming the new door opener." KVM switches are something new the reseller can offer customers. Most end users are still experiencing a lot of pain in accessing all of their servers, and KVM switches allow VARs to go to existing customers and make a lot of that pain go away.
"End users that are having problems managing their servers and are concerned about security and administration are going to want those solutions," adds Bednarski. "Right now the hot markets seem to be financial services, pharmaceuticals, and health services. Those are three verticals that always spend a lot of money and have continued to spend money in the last year." But Bednarski recommends VARs continue to approach current customers as well. Any customer that starts to accumulate servers, but doesn't have sufficient IT staff or dedicated network administrators, is a good target. Many end users do not know about KVM switches, and this is a great opportunity for the VAR to educate them.
Difficult Times Call For Compatible Products
Sam Sekhavaty, director of marketing for Rose Electronics, Inc. (Houston), believes the economic downturn has caused businesses to demand more of their existing technologies. Systems integration has suddenly become a primary focus of IT administrators as merging networks are creating larger systems. As a result, compatible server management products are in high demand.
"The challenge facing the KVM switch industry is keeping up with the market's demand for product compatibility," he says. "The 'if you can conceive it, we can build it' mantra that heralded the age of information technology created high end user expectations for system solutions. End users now expect KVM and server management products to be able to integrate with the latest technology enhancements and devices. They also want systems integration to accommodate greater distances."
With more system environments becoming mission-critical, the need for reliable server products is matching the need for high compatibility products. As a result, Sekhavaty believes the KVM switch industry will continue to evolve. "This is an exciting and challenging time for KVM and server management product manufacturers," he says. "KVM switch products will continue to provide easier access to growing and diverse information systems. VARs are going to find KVM switches continuing to be an approved capital expenditure for end users."