KVM Switches vs. Software-Based Remote Access Tools

Despite the popularity of software based remote access tools, a KVM switch is seen as more reliable and more secure. Effective security is therefore an essential consideration in assessing, implementing and managing KVM over IP technology.

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With hundreds of computer systems across multiple locations, companies are looking for effective ways of managing them remotely. Despite the popularity of software based remote access tools, a KVM switch is seen as more reliable and more secure. Effective security is therefore an essential consideration in assessing, implementing and managing KVM over IP technology. Also KVM switches adhere to strict global security protocols like Advanced Encryption Standards (AES) & The Federal Information Processing Standard (FIPS 140-2 encryption), Common Access Card (CAC) authentication, and Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6 networking). While there may be some overlapping capabilities when it comes to mundane everyday activities such as server routine maintenance, both systems have inherent strengths and weaknesses that are important to assess before committing to one over the other.  First, it’s important to note that there are some real advantages to using software-based remote server management systems. As data center budgets have stagnated or declined over the last five years, managers have sought to cut expenses wherever possible. Many software-based remote access solutions like Remote Desktop (RDP) and Virtual Network Computing (VNC) are actually free to acquire. And, unlike a KVM switch, there’s no hardware to install or cables to connect.  So, there’s no need to power a separate device or maintain records of it in your infrastructure management solution. The strengths of software-based solutions tend to be the weaknesses of KVM switches. Prices for KVM switches can range from a few hundred for an SMB KVM switch to several thousand for an enterprise KVM-over-IP switch; a price that can increase dramatically if you need to access hundreds or even thousands of servers. Data centers managers must also be sure supply at least two power feeds per device, and must purchase the correct computer interface modules (CIMs) to support their platforms and applications.  So one can see how using KVM can be a bit of a hassle in some cases. However, software-based remote access solutions have some serious downsides that should not be ignored:

  • Software must be installed on every computer to be accessed and it will compete for system resources against critical applications.
  • Requires a target computer OS and production network to run; which is virtually impossible in an emergency situation.
  • There are some huge security risks that by some accounts are responsible for nearly 62% of breaches!
So the bottom line is that while software-based systems are commonly used, inexpensive, and easy to manage, they present vulnerabilities that end up being quite costly in the end; the loss of productivity due to the solution competing for resources with other application, the loss of services due to a lack of BIOS-level access for troubleshooting, and the danger and potential fallout of a security breach. Now, consider some upsides of KVM switches:
  • No software agents are required on the client so there’s no loss of productivity due to competition between applications.
  • Out-of-band, Basic Input/Output System (BIOS) level access for emergency situations, and virtual media (including remote booting).
  • They do not use a production network and operate independent of target computer’s OS, so there’s a smaller security risk, plus many adhere to strict protocols such as AES & FIPS 140-2 encryption, Common Access Card (CAC) authentication, and IPv6 networking.
  • Additionally, it should be noted that many enterprise KVM switches support upwards of 64 servers, and can be configured to work through a centralized server management solution, thus greatly negating the cost factor of KVM switches.It would allow the IT personnel to access, control and manage the company’s servers when the corporate network is in downtime. Since the IT staff can manage servers and respond to incidents from wherever they are, it eliminates costly travel time, increases response time and productivity. And if it is integrated with power management, it will enable a complete system reboot from a remote location.The choice of which remote access solution to use ultimately depends on several factors. The reality is that for smaller organizations with fewer servers, smaller budgets, less critical services, and non-sensitive data, software based solutions may actually be a better way to go. But, for companies with hundreds of servers that require a high performance solution that can be trusted to keep critical services running while ensuring information is safe, the decision to go with a software-based solution may end up being far costlier in the end.As the workforce expands geographically across many locations, the ability to access and control multiple computer systems will be a challenge for IT administrators. Managing hundreds of servers around the globe and around the clock requires an easy way to find and access equipment.But, organizations also need to be mindful of the costs not just in terms of software and hardware, but also power consumption. An enterprise-wide web-accessible KVM solution can significantly shorten the response time of IT administrators and this in turn can generate huge benefits even in small organizations.
(Sanjay Motwani, Regional Director, APAC, Raritan, Asia Pacific)



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