KVM Extension vs. Switching: How to Decide What’s Best for Your Control Room

When it comes to managing your control room, there are a number of options and issues to consider, but high on that list will be how to extend access to server and other remote data sources through the use of keyboard, video and mouse (KVM) extenders, keeping the servers themselves in a secure, environmentally controlled server room. Two leading options are KVM Extenders and KVM Switches. So what is the difference? When and why would you choose one over the other?

Generally speaking. The fundamental difference between a KVM extender and a KVM switch is this; an extender provides a point-to-point extension, while a switch is generally a many-to-many configuration, which allows multiple users to access multiple target systems. Overly simplistic, but think of it in terms of an electrical extension cord that simply moves the female plug socket from the wall to wherever you need it. That is the essence of a KVM extender. A KVM switch is more like a network switch you may already be familiar with, which provides an access path from each device plugged into the switch to users on the other side of the switch. This could mean multiple users have KVM access to multiple computers in your server room.

Options and trade-offs. As technology advances, extenders and switches continue to be endowed with more features and capabilities. KVM extenders provide a point-to-point solution, allowing a user to increase the distance that a keyboard, monitor and mouse can access a remote computer. Switches, on the other hand, are capable of much more in terms of multiple people supporting and accessing multiple remote systems from a consolidated control room, without having to be co-located with the systems being accessed.

Control vs flexibility. Bear in mind, there is no need to pick just one solution type. There are many reasons to have computer hardware in a server room with the KVM access in a control room somewhere else. For example, it may simply be an individual computer that needs to be outside of a sound studio to avoid the machine noise and yet allows the personnel inside the studio to operate the computer. There, an extender would be ideal. For many, limiting the human presence in the control room is a priority. KVM extenders and switches can help achieve that goal also. Another example would be where many support staff need real-time access to mission critical data sources, being able to switch with ease and speed. This would clearly call for a KVM switch.

As is usually the case, what is best is going to depend on your specific needs and concerns. After all, that is why both technologies exist and continue to thrive in the market. To net it out;

Extender: Point-to-point, one-to-one, essentially moves the KVM from where the computer sits to where the operator sits. 

Switch: Many-to-many access giving many users access to many remote devices, such as servers and other media sources, allowing for seamless monitoring and control, as would be common in a control room scenario.

It is important to remember that this is actual keyboard, video and mouse connectivity. It is not the same as a remote login, but rather as if the operator were using the physically attached keyboard and mouse. This is a key distinction. Since KVM access is not dependent on network access like remote login, it can be used even when the network is unavailable and is not subject to network vulnerabilities like hacking and data stream sniffing.

Still not sure what is best for your situation? Black Box makes it easy with comprehensive integration teams, project engineer experts and 24/7 customer service support. To learn how to manage any computer or server from anywhere at any time, visit our KVM solution page

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