What Are The Factors Driving The Growth Of KVM Switches?
Three KVM (keyboard, video, mouse) switch vendors point to digital (over Internet Protocol) switches, staff cutbacks, and security concerns as the leading drivers behind the technology.
With the threat of terrorism and natural disasters on the minds of many IT administrators, companies continue to build backup data centers. According to Herman Chan, director of product management at Raritan Computer, Inc. (Somerset, NJ), a KVM (keyboard, video, mouse) and remote management solutions provider, IT managers continue to demand backup data centers to insure business continuity. "That trend also led to lights-out data centers, which are data centers with very little staff on-site," he says. "Unmanned data centers resulted from resource and budget constraints that firms face. IT administrators want backup data centers but do not have the staff to manage them." That trend has driven the popularity of digital KVM switches, which allow for server management over IP (Internet Protocol) from remote locations.
Another trend driving KVM business is data center and server consolidation. In the server world, companies can scale out (adding more cost-effective, lower performance servers to equate to the performance of one large server) or scale up (adding large servers to consolidate many smaller servers). In the past, many companies grew by scaling out. "There are a lot of 1U and 2U servers out there, and they are now causing a lot of management complexity," says Chan. "This has IT managers reconsidering their server environment. Many are going back to buying large servers. KVM switches help administrators consolidate those servers and data centers and run them more efficiently."
KVM Controls Data Centers
"All of these trends drive the product development and strategy of the KVM vendors," Chan says. "In the past, we were primarily KVM vendors. But today we are data center control vendors. With digital KVM, customers can manage resources over IP. That is a hot button for customers because IT personnel are not always centralized. End users may have a lot of offices or data centers in remote locations. Those companies require this type of remote management solution."
With digital KVM, performance (frames per second or video performance) will not be as good as analog solutions, which are directly connected. But KVM is becoming more cost-effective as the performance improves. This will continue to make it a more viable solution for IT managers.
Tracy Collins, reseller channel manager for Avocent Corp. (Huntsville, AL), also likes the KVM over IP technology and the promise it holds for customers. "This is a fast-growing segment for us," he says. "Customers like the flexibility of allowing people to have access from remote locations. Having personnel physically close to the servers no longer makes sense for many companies. KVM over IP also offers multiple users access because it is a system, not a box with one access point."
KVM Switches Meet The Needs Of Data Center Customers
Still, customers had concerns. They wanted to know why KVM vendors had to build their own architecture instead of using the architecture (the network) customers already had in place. "The reality is the technology and the cost structure were simply not there," says Collins. "The reliability of the network architecture was also not there. What the customers were saying made a lot of sense, but the time was not right to do it."
However, Collins knew the situation would change. Tens of billions of dollars were being spent every year to make networks better. Specifically, companies like Cisco were spending a lot of money on R&D to evolve network technology. "It is much cheaper to build networks today than it was five years ago," says Collins. "The time was not right five or six years ago, but we knew it soon would be. And we knew we would have to be able to meet the requirement when the network technology was there."
When KVM over IP solutions finally made it to market, the solution did exactly what customers wanted. It connected users from any location. "There was no longer a distance limitation," says Collins. "It also eliminated all of the proprietary architecture requirements and the connectivity that went with it. Users can now grow the number of servers on the system and the number of users. The users can be anywhere in relation to the servers, and the servers can be dispersed almost anywhere. As long as there is a network to connect these devices, which every customer has in place, they can leverage it to make access convenient. That is why KVM over IP makes sense. It rides the most advanced interconnect architecture in the world today, which is network technology."
Jimmy Lee, director of marketing for Digital V6, Inc. (Markham, Ontario), believes security is the biggest concern for most companies. Companies want control, which is becoming more difficult as head counts continue to be reduced. With the remote management capabilities provided by digital KVM, personnel at major data centers can control everything from that one location. "Companies want to cut down on traffic coming through the data center," he says.
Lee also notes there are high-end KVM products that support multiple users simultaneously and independently. These solutions are going to be perfect for Web development or IT development solution houses. IT personnel will be able to get into these development facilities and perform tests on the test server or production server without ever entering the facility.
"Digital KVM allows businesses to centralize their administrators and allow them to do more from one location," says Lee. "If you can keep people from traveling, be it jumping in a car or having to fly somewhere, it will save the company a lot of money."
Within 18 months to 2 years, digital switches will start approaching the price levels of older analog switches. That should be good news for VARs and integrators.