The current economic downturn is impacting everyone, including you, most likely. According to a recent TechProGuild poll, as well as some industry reports, IT budgets are shrinking significantly.

Keyboard, video, mouse (KVM) switches offer one opportunity for saving valuable funds for other purchases. KVMs are particularly valuable in server rooms and test environments.

If you have two, four, eight, or even 16 servers or client machines in the same room or administer several systems from the same location, you certainly don’t need a keyboard, monitor, and mouse for each box. As you’re probably well aware, you can get by with a single mouse, keyboard, and monitor. All you need is a KVM switch.

Pick the right KVM switch, and you can begin enjoying the benefit and efficiency of controlling multiple systems from a single seat. Pick the wrong KVM, and you can drive yourself insane. There aren’t many experiences more frustrating than those you’re sure to encounter when using a KVM switch that doesn’t work with your hardware, software, or operating systems.

I’ve had great luck working with Belkin OmniView SEs. The OmniView SEs are considerably cheaper than their brothers, the OmniView Pros. Occasionally, I’ll experience the loss of advanced mouse features, such as a scroll button that no longer works once another machine is booted, but that’s the biggest complaint I have.

The only other time I’ve encountered trouble with the OmniView SE is when I switch between machines while one of the systems is booting. Certainly, that’s understandable. If a PC is running through its POST operation or initializing drivers, and the link to the respective peripheral is interrupted for a couple of seconds when I switch to another system using the KVM, the PC is going to have trouble communicating with the attached peripheral.

Two rules for KVM use
My first rule when using KVMs is “Don’t use the KVM to switch between machines when one of the systems is booting.” Odds are you’ll regret not waiting until the system’s boot process completes.

My second rule is “Always check to ensure the KVM supports your hardware and software before you buy it.” Most KVM manufacturers’ Web sites advertise whether their switches are compatible with popular peripherals and operating systems. While they can often be trusted, it wouldn’t hurt to scan Internet newsgroups for assurance from other IT professionals that have used the device. Or, you could post a note in TechProGuild’s Technical Q&A forum seeking feedback from other TechProGuild members.

My Belkin OmniView SE two-port switch, which I purchased online for less than $120, meets all of the following specifications:

  • ·        Offers PS/2 keyboard and PS/2 or serial mouse (including IntelliMouse) compatibility
  • ·        Supports HDDB15 VGA connectivity
  • ·        Certified for Windows 9x/NT/2000, NetWare 5, and Linux
  • ·        Supports video resolutions up to 1600 x 1200 pixels

Should you need to mount the Belkin OmniView SE in standard 19-inch server racks, Belkin offers accessory kits that you can purchase separately. You’ll also need to purchase KVM cables. When you do, don’t fall for marketing hype and pay more than $20 a set. I purchased house-brand cables from Micro Warehouse, and they work perfectly. Just make sure the cables you buy are properly shielded, otherwise video signals can become corrupted. I recommend looking for double-shielded coaxial cables, which can also be purchased fairly inexpensively.

OmniView SE vs. Pro
OmniView SEs are available in two-port and four-port versions. Expect to pay $120 for the two-port version or $140 for the four-port unit. Cables typically run from $20 to as much as $100 or more for each system that’s connected to the KVM.

The OmniView Pros offer several versions, beginning with a four-porter. You can also purchase eight- or 16-port versions, which can be daisy chained together to control up to 256 systems. Prices range from $250 for the four-port version to almost $600 for the 16-port units.

One important advantage of the OmniView Pros over the OmniView SEs is that the Pro versions offer on-screen displays. The on-screen display can be used to identify and switch the systems being controlled. With the Belkins, though, I’ve found that pressing the hot key (the Scroll key) twice in rapid succession is about as simple as a switching mechanism can be.

From personal experience, I can attest that the Belkins work well with all of the following operating systems:

  • ·        Linux Mandrake 7.2
  • ·        Red Hat 6.2, 7.0, and 7.1
  • ·        Windows 98
  • ·        Windows NT Server 4.0
  • ·        Windows 2000 Professional, Server, and Advanced Server
  • ·        Windows Whistler Beta 1

I’ve also found excellent support for a wide range of hardware. I estimate that I’ve used the Belkin KVMs with more than half a dozen brands of PCs and all kinds of monitors. The Belkins work well with Microsoft optical Explorer and IntelliMouse pointing devices, as well as popular Logitech mice. In fact, I’ve yet to run into incompatibilities related to hardware and software, which is why the next time I need a KVM, I’ll look to Belkin.