Avocent reaches for new KVM functionality

Avocent Corp. claims its new keyboard, video and mouse (KVM) switch makes short work of long distances, but one end user wonders if the company is stretching the truth.

Avocent last month unveiled the AMX analogue KVM, a switching system that uses high-grade copper to overcome common KVM problems, such as short reach and cable bulk.

Steve Smith, spokesman for Avocent Canada Corp. based in Richmond Hill, Ont., said KVM switches are supposed to make life less difficult for network managers.

“Our most basic KVM switch lets you control multiple servers from a single keyboard, monitor and mouse,” Smith said. He explained that KVM belongs “where a company has a whole bunch of servers…but they don’t need a dedicated keyboard, monitor and mouse for every system.”

A KVM switch means the lack of dedicated peripherals for each server is no hardship. Simply plug the server’s keyboard, video and mouse cables into the KVM switch. The switch passes KVM control onto another computer that has a keyboard, monitor and mouse. Thus KVM switches give administrators control over multiple servers from a single spot in the server room.

But KVM switches pose certain problems, Smith said.

Consider the way they connect to servers via keyboard, video and mouse wires. Three wires for each server creates cable management problems.

As well KVM wires are short and not designed to carry signals over long distances, Smith said.

Avocent means to address these deficiencies with the AMX. It’s a KVM platform comprising a 1U switch (the AMX5000) with 32 server connections and support for eight users. The system also incorporates a dedicated user station (the AMX5100) for control.

The AMX platform eschews KVM wires, connecting servers and switches with Cat 5 cable instead. Smith said this architecture eliminates the cable management conundrum, replacing three wires with one cable, and increases KVM reach. On Cat 5 KVM signals can travel up to 1,000 feet.

Smith said Avocent’s latest gives users “the power of being there,” as if they were right in front of servers that could be a building away.

But one networker is skeptical of Avocent’s claims. Richard Lacroix, Toronto-based senior broadcast engineering technician with Bell ExpressVu, a satellite television broadcaster, said he doubts the AMX reaches 1,000 feet.

Lacroix said he once tried to use another Avocent device, the LongView “extender” (a box that stretches the distance KVM signals travel), to reach a particularly remote workstation. It didn’t work. The KVM signals degraded beyond 329 feet, which suggested to Lacroix that the AMX would be similarly short sighted.

But Smith disagreed. The LongView extender lacks “AutoTuning technology which automatically compensates for longer distances and different cabling types,” he said.

With AutoTuning, the AMX can send KVM signals hopping across a variety of copper cable grades – Cat 5 to Cat 5e to Cat 6, for example – and ensures the signals reach their destinations up to 1,000 feet away.

Due to ship this month, the AMX5000 switch is priced at $9,720 and the AMX5100 user station costs $1,612. For more information consult Avocent’s Web site, www.avocent.ca.