Assessing KVM switches

I'm looking for a new keyboard/video/mouse (KVM) switch for my server farm. I can't expand my current switch, which is limited to 8 ports. I'd like a switch than I can expand to 24 ports, that will simultaneously support Sun Microsystems and Intel machines, and that costs less than $2000. Does such a switch exist?

Several companies make switches that meet your criteria. The bulk of my experience involves two popular switches: Avocent's AutoView 400 and Raritan Computer's MasterConsole II. However, other manufacturers, such as Belkin Components and Rose Electronics, also make switches that offer the expansion and connectivity options you're seeking. (For basic information about some other available switches, see Ed Roth, Buyer's Guide, "KVM Switches," August 2000.)

The AutoView 400 is a fairly recent offering that comes in 4-, 8-, 16-, and 24-port models, though a quick check of the Avocent Web site led me to believe the 16- and 24-port models might not be available yet. This switch is reliable, reasonably priced (at a little more than $1000 for the 8-port version), and easy to set up. The product offers direct and simultaneous connectivity to Sun and Intel workstations—in fact, the AutoView 400's only requirement to connect to Sun workstations is the proper Avocent cable. Most of the other switches on the market require an adapter for this type of connection.

Another nice feature is AutoView's optional LongView function. This function lets you use Category 5 Ethernet cable to connect to and use the switches from distances of 500 feet. You can order the AutoView 400 with or without LongView; you can also purchase the LongView receiver separately.

Raritan's MasterConsole II is the closest match to your requirements. This switch comes in 4-, 8-, and 16-port versions, and you can cascade additional switches to extend the device to as many as 256 ports. Setup is easy, and the 16-port model is readily available for about $1500. The switch requires a Raritan converter (which costs about $145) to connect to Sun workstations.

This switch also includes the useful option to employ Raritan's Cat 5 Reach cable to connect servers at a distance of as much as 1000 feet; you can use Raritan's Fiber Reach fiber cable to connect machines at a distance of as much as 3300 feet. Another plus is the ability to hot-swap keyboards and mice on the MasterConsole II without affecting server availability. Simply plug Raritan's Guardian (a virtual keyboard and mouse device that comes with the switch) into the server, then plug the standard Raritan KVM cable into the Guardian device.

Both the AutoView 400 and the MasterConsole II have intuitive onscreen displays for setting up the products and switching between attached PCs. Both switches are rack-mountable, and both also come in a 48-volt DC-powered version.

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