Today, I take a look at the ATEN Virtual VNC Console, which is an appliance that supports the VNC protocol. Not only does it function as a hardware console to access remote servers via VNC, it can also serve as a VNC server to receive screen updates to display on an attached monitor or projector.
Does it hold up to its job well? Let's take a look at it.
The ATEN KE8220 Virtual VNC Console is a thin-client device for managing remote servers that have VNC server software installed. I was able to successfully connect the Virtual VNC Console to my home server running UltraVNC server software. Up to four outgoing VNC connections can be active at any one time, and the Virtual VNC Console offers a simple windowing mechanism to navigate between them.
To simplify the user experience, ATEN wrote its own version of VNC called AltusenVNC, which runs as a normal VNC server application. It runs on a client PC or laptop and supports the projector feature of the Virtual VNC Console.
The projector mode of AltusenVNC allows the screen content of a desktop or laptop running the software to be "pushed" via the network to the Virtual VNC Console. The sole reason for doing so is to hook the Virtual VNC Console to a projector -- or perhaps a large screen TV -- via a VGA output.
The key idea for such a feature is to eliminate the need for messy cables in meeting rooms. Assuming you are using a laptop with wireless LAN, the Virtual VNC Console, in essence, transforms your wired projector into a wireless one.
Using the Virtual VNC Console
Installation is no more than connecting it up via its AC power adapter and to a monitor with a VGA connector. When powering it up for the first time, I connected a USB keyboard and mouse to its two built-in USB ports. I used the keyboard and mouse to navigate the administrative console in order to configure the initial IP and network settings.
The package comes with a USB-based wireless adapter, which I was able to connect to the VNC Virtual Console via a dedicated slot to give it wireless access. Alternatively, the appliance also sports a built-in LAN port, which could be connected via LAN to a wireless access point to achieve the same effect.
It is possible to configure up to 64 user accounts to connect to the Virtual VNC Console. Only selected users with administrator rights will be able to perform any admin-related task on the Virtual VNC Console though.
I must say that my overall experience with the Virtual VNC Console is good. The hardware is robust and sleek, and it did its job without any hiccup. It remains to be seen what other situations it can be used in. Perhaps deploying a bunch of them as thin clients to access virtualized desktop environments for public access?
The obvious downside to the Virtual VNC Console is that this is clearly a first-generation device. Though I found the overall user interface and performance to be adequate, the polish I would expect from an enterprise device is just not there.
For example, an option within the Virtual VNC Console configuration to scan for remote VNC servers takes a long time to scan through a range of network addresses -- an excruciating three seconds per port. Also, the ability to create new accounts can be done only via a keyboard and mouse connected to the Virtual VNC Console, which can be a cumbersome process for a ceiling-mounted projector.
Finally, as far as I am aware, all network transmissions are also not encrypted. This makes me uncomfortable, especially if the on-board wireless is used. This is because the VNC protocol is well known, and WEP is already known to be broken -- there is no WPA support on the unit I have. I suppose this would be no big deal in meeting rooms used for vendor presentations, but it might be a different matter entirely in the board meeting room.
The ATEN Virtual VNC Console does two rather different tasks in a small and sleek chassis. Despite a number of downsides, I feel that it manages to do both tasks reasonably well.
Having said that, it is clear that the Virtual VNC Console is not for everyone, for the simple fact that they might not have any need for it. Still, if you loathe having to deal with wired VGA cables or if you have a situation where a KVM just doesn't cut it, then the ATEN Virtual VNC Console is for you.
Paul Mah is a writer and blogger who lives in Singapore, where he has worked for a number of years in various capacities within the IT industry. Paul enjoys tinkering with tech gadgets, smartphones, and networking devices.