KVM (keyboard, video, mouse) switches on most networks are used to control a number of computers via one keyboard, mouse, and monitor. But what do you do when you want to open one computer to control by a couple of user input stations in different rooms?
That was the crux of a question recently posted by Revlarry in our Technical Q&A. Revlarry wants to share a computer in an office with end users located in the production department of a manufacturer.
"I have found a keyboard splitter, and a mouse splitter, but they are $50 each, which seems a bit steep to me," he wrote. "I'd also like to avoid any OS/VGA driver/multiple-monitor-support issues, and not have to install a second display adapter (thus keeping the issue simple and cut-and-dry) if possible."
Before he went looking at every KVM manufacturer's site, Revlarry thought he'd drop a line in the Technical Q&A to see if any of his fellow techs had even heard of such a device. About 15 minutes later, he had his answer from member Tim Walsh. Walsh pointed Revlarry to the Belkin site, part No. F1D201 – 2-port reverse KVM switch.
Reversing the typical KVM switch
Walsh's quick response is somewhat amazing considering that reverse KVM switches are not at all common. Many KVM switch manufacturers don’t even offer such devices.
Several manufacturers, including Avocent, Raritan, Rose, and Startech, offer remote KVM capabilities over TCP/IP, but most of these solutions cost $2,000 to $8,000—much more than it would cost Revlarry to build another computer. (Avocent's Cat 5 Longview product could fill Revlarry's need, but it's also fairly expensive at $499.)
The Belkin reverse KVM switch that Walsh suggests is the least expensive switch that we found in our quick search on the Internet. It costs $120 and comes with a 3-foot-long cable. Belkin offers a 25-foot KVM cable for about $75.
The Belkin switch satisfies most of Revlarry's requirements—it doesn't require any additional software and the switch automatically senses when each set of peripherals is being used.
Even at that price, however, Revlarry thinks he can put together a cheaper solution to use in the plant. He thanked Walsh for his suggestion and gave him the 150 TechPoints, but noted that the cost of purchasing KVM cables long enough to meet his needs would be too expensive.
A few other solutions
Finding inexpensive KVM cables also would doom some other reverse KVM options, such as the Cables To Go sharing switch, which costs $150.
The Tripp Lite Console Extender is an option that extends the KVM dynamic away from the office computer and allows two stations to plug in at its end, but it costs even more, at $313.
Rose Electronics sells a 75-foot-long KVM cable to go along with its MultiStation product, but the asking prices for those are $285 and $495, respectively.
Reality complicates the solution for Revlarry
With all of these potential solutions for Revlarry's problem, we tracked him down to ask him why he was planning to abandon the reverse KVM switch hunt and just provide another computer for the folks out in the plant. Revlarry said he abandoned his idea of using a reverse KVM switch when he looked at the site's physical restrictions.
When he examined the Belkin product, the short KVM cable that came with it forced him to look more closely at where the station would ultimately be placed on the production floor. Revlarry explained that if the station were just on the other side of the office, the cable would have to hop a 7.25-foot-high wall. This obviously would require very long KVM cables and he didn’t think they would be cheap.
"The idea was nearly defunct almost as quickly as it had come about," Revlarry said.
The actual intended location for the console is further away—75 to 85 feet—than he had anticipated, and the cables would have to snake along walls, ledges, and ceilings to stay out of the way of work in the area.
Meanwhile, the way Revlarry replaces computers at the company means that when he buys a new computer, the computer it replaces drops to someone with a less powerful machine, which in turn drops to someone else with a less powerful machine, and so on.
At the end of the cycle, he ends up with an outdated machine that isn't really worth anything to the accounting department. He decided he could use one of those machines for the production floor and save the money he would spend on a reverse KVM switch for another project.
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