Buying IP-KVMs make my teeth itch

I'm trying to purchase an IP-KVM. Actually, I want to purchase five. These things aren't cheap, so when I tell a salesperson I need five their eyes usually light up with dollar signs.

However, as everyone that knows me knows, nothing in my life is easy.

First, I need to purchase two of them for a London office and I'm unwilling to do the importing. I want a vendor to do that for me. So that means suddenly I'm either finding out that the company is too young to know how to ship things internationally, or doesn't have distributors in London, or worst of all their sales-force in the UK is really a different company and their is no way to do cooperative/joint sales between the two. I solve this problem by just telling them up front that I feel this is their problem to work out and that I will agree to whatever process they need me to follow once they've worked it out. However, I also warn them that the PO will explicitly state they have to handle any importing. I'm not willing to pay high prices to import-export consultants to get the device to where I want to use it when that's the manufacturer's job. I've been told I won't get the volume discount for buying five because I'm really buying three from their US organization plus two from a reseller in the UK. It's so nice to know that because of badly planned internal organization I'm asked to pay a higher price. Just to be clear: a company who's product is for people that need to be able to remotely control devices that are long distances away does not have business practices that accommodate customers that have offices that are long distances away. If they were selling KVM-over-50-foot-cables I'd understand, but an IP-KVM?

I'm also difficult to sell to because I need Mac client support. Most of the sysadmins in my team have Macintosh Powerbook laptops. I need to be able to use these devices from said laptops. It's hard to find out who really supports Mac clients and who doesn't. Sigh. With sysadmins leaping to Mac Powerbooks, you'd think the industry would notice the trend. Sigh. So I usually end up on the phone with the vendor listening to them promise me that they support Mac, then backing off, then promising to call me back, then telling me that their next release will support it. If only they had supported VNC from the start. Another vendor screwed by their own decision to ignore open protocols.

How do I verify Mac compatibility? IP-KVM companies are willing to give you a demo over the internet. You schedule a time and you talk on the phone as you control their bank of PCs, Ciscos, and other things over the internet all from the luxury of your office. It's pretty cool. When they tell me they support Mac as a client, I just ask to schedule a demo to show me that it really works. I reiterate a few times, "At the time of the demo I'll have a Mac with me and no PCs. Is that clear?" It's a real shame when the demo gets scuttled because they knew it wasn't supported but hoped that "it just might work" when the demo came. "What do you mean you don't have any Windows machines there?" Is their a polite way to say, "what do you mean you lied to me about mac support?" There isn't, and I won't be rude. So I just ask them to call me back when they support Macs.

What also makes this purchase difficult is that I have Mac Xserve G4s and G5s in my colos. The IP-KVMs are really so that I can talk to them. Mac keyboards are USB... and that confuses a lot of people. Apple Xserves have these funny control panel buttons that nobody supports, and I can't expect them to.

So here's what I've experienced so far:

Cyclades -- Was told they support Mac clients. I scheduled a demo. Some poor person who's job it seems is to spend all day doing demos was very flustered that the salesperson had told me that the Mac was supported. Demo never got started. They made me promise to call in February when they'll support Macs. Oddly enough, when I visited their booth at LISA2004 I was assured they supported Mac clients, oh wait, did you say Mac? Oh, well, here's a number to call to see if we support it.

Xceedium -- Was told they support Mac clients through VNC. I had a wonderful, glorious demo. Then I said that I have Mac servers and was told that their is a problem related to "mouse accelleration" and that the mouse would act funny. I was assured that "all other IP-KVM vendors will tell you they have the same problem." So far, nobody has. At least their UAG will let me access the Mac securely via VNC for 99% of the my tasks and only use their IP-KVM for the relatively rare crashes which shouldn't require a lot of mousing.

Raritan -- Behold the Dominion KSX with the CommandCenter. Raritan has the reputation for being the absolute best KVM... if only you can afford it. I was told honestly that it most likely wouldn't work but they were willing to try a demo. Nope, it didn't work. I did chat with them at LISA2004 and was assured that they have an all-Java client in the works and that since I live a couple miles away they'd be willing to let me be a beta user. I'd really like to find out if they have plans to support VNC directly. Hopefully in the next few weeks I'll be able to connect with them and make a few visits. I was assured they don't have any mouse problems with the Apple Xserve and would let me eval a unit to prove it.

So where does that leave me? Well, I'm certainly interested in hearing feedback from users of IP-KVMs that have Mac clients and servers.

I'm also interested in hearing from vendors. I think I have a fairly representative view of what Linux and Mac OS X people want and need. I don't have a lot of spare time or the equipment to do extensive evaluations, but I'm always willing to help a vendor understand the Mac OS X and Linux and FreeBSD world's wants.

Posted by Tom Limoncelli

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5 Comments | Leave a comment

You might check out Avocent. I just recently learned of them due to my own KVM needs.

http://vielmetti.typepad.com/vacuum/2004/11/network_kvm_sho.html is my foray into the problem, and there's reasonably good links to be had from delicious at http://del.icio.us/tag/kvm .

I'm inclined to believe that the "right" solution involves VNC, since that does have some hope of being a platform-independent remote control solution.

Have you looked at AdderLink IP. It is a box that provides a VNC or Web frontend for remote control of systems attached directly or via a standard (system compatible as in MAC) KVM. It is compatible with SUN, MAC anc PC's. Their website is www.addertec.com Regards, Jim Austin Houston, TX

There are actually companies and products that meet your requirements. For example our company, DAXTEN (http://www.daxten.com/) has offices throughout the world and we sell several different types of KVM over IP products - many of which work through a normal internet browser. As long as your KVM switch supports MACs (I am assuming with USB ports), then there is not a problem.

I'd be happy to work through the problem with you. Send me an email (chad.rislov (at) daxten.com) with your exact specs/requirements and I'll work it out for you.

We also have a Blog discussing KVM Switch and KVM Extender technology (http://kvm-switch.typepad.com/kvmswitch/) if you want to have a look.

Tom, did you get any farther in the Mac KVM search? We ended up buying a VNC-managed switch but it requires VNC4 to run and that doesn't appear to be supported in any Mac client (sigh, I thought I had done my homework).

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