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Top 5 Reasons Why CAT5 KVM Switches Solve Common KVM Switch Limitations

By Robert Pavlokovic

Simplifying server rack environments by introducing a CAT5 KVM to help ease server cabinet clutter is an example of how beneficial UTP cabling can be.

This article will analyze additional techniques of how to simplify KVM management at the rack and in busy operation centers by using CAT5 UTP cabling.

CAT5-, 6- and 7-Supported KVM Solutions

Our engineers often run across operation centers with pre-installed UTP cabling within the walls, server cabinets and raised flooring. Many times over, pre-determined UTP cabling forces data center managers to purchase and install a KVM solution that does not necessarily meet their needs in justification to comply with established UTP cabling. Building code for new and old data center structures are repeatedly out of the IT manager's control; consequently, inadequate CAT5 KVM solutions are regularly rolled out.

KVM manufacturers are beginning to provide KVM solutions that will support any type of UTP cabling that already exists within data centers - CAT5, 5e, 6 and 7. In the long run, all UTP variants should be supported with evolving KVM specifications, thus, valuable time and expense for data center and IT managers will be saved.

If at all possible, check with the technical specifications of the targeted KVM solution before installing UTP cabling or deciding on a CAT5 KVM switch.

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Plug and play is a term often used in the KVM industry which signifies ease of implementation. Most analog-based CAT5 KVM switches install into server rack environments without much trouble. The hardest procedure regarding CAT5 KVM switch set-up is booting the attached servers in order for the KVM and target computers to register the required Computer Interface Modules. Other than booting servers, basic KVM switching and advanced KVM management details are easily programmable and will take minutes to configure.

Connecting UTP cabling from host computers to the KVM switch takes no time at all to employ. Though, routing CAT5 cabling through server rack cable management systems could take a bit of pre-planning before the actual CAT5 connections between hosts and KVM are terminated.

Costs of Implementing CAT5 KVM Switches

CAT5 KVM Switches can cost more than basic non-CAT5 KVM Switches; however, added features and benefits associated with CAT5 KVM switch varieties regularly out-perform comparable non-CAT5 KVM versions. An exception to this rule is the Minicom Smart CAT5 8- and 16-port KVM switches. Bundling a Smart CAT5 16-port switch and all required dongles often prices out lower than comparable 16-port KVM switches plus cables.

Implementing a CAT5 KVM solution requires not only the KVM switch but additional hardware such as Computer Interface Modules or Dongles are mandatory. Dongles replace older style 3-in-1 KVM cables and can cost anywhere from $60 to $275 per unit. These tiny devices connect to each target computer's keyboard, mouse and video monitor ports and operate as CAT5 or RJ-45 converters. A CAT5 cable will then attach the two components together to create a communications pathway. Distance between the switch and dongles is what separates CAT5 KVM switches and standard KVMs apart. Higher-end CAT5 KVM switches, such as the Raritan Paragon II, will permit users to extend their console up to 1000 feet away from target computers. For an even comparison, extending KVM signals over the same distance with a standard KVM cable is not remotely possible.

Multi-platform Support via CAT5

Standard non-CAT5 based KVM switches often times enough only support PC and UNIX based platforms with PS2 and VGA connections. Multi-platform machines such as Sun, Mac, or Serial can connect to standard KVM switches; although, costly adapters will be needed in order for KVM and computers to communicate properly. As a result, cost as well as additional points of failure will increase by adding multi-platform devices to basic KVM switches which are not initially set-up for them.

CAT5 cabling will communicate with any type of signal. Whether if Sun, Mac, or USB computers all are connected to the same KVM switch, inexpensive CAT5 cabling will transfer all signals across UTP without resistance. All that's required are platform-specific dongles to support the type of multi-platform device - PS/2, Sun, USB, Mac, or Serial.

Maximizing Distance with UTP Cabling

CAT5 distance specifications between user and computer is a question often asked about UTP based KVM switches. For the most part, it will depend on which type of CAT5 KVM you implement: Analog or IP based. For IP-based CAT5 KVM switches, the maximum distance from user to server is approximately 10 meters. Although, higher-end analog CAT5 KVM Switches will allow users extend as far as 1000 feet from user to computer. Patch panels can assist with maximizing distance allowances; although, Hubs and network switches cannot be connected anywhere along the CAT5 cable.

For a better idea on CAT5 distances, please check with the technical specifications of the desired KVM switch.

Implementing CAT5-based KVM switches is often easier than managing data centers with standard KVM switches when considering these 5 simple arguments. Benefits such as allowable distance over CAT5 along with ease of use designate CAT5 KVM switches as the go-to solution for today's modern data center.

Copyright 2005 by Directnet, Inc.

About the Author:
Robert Pavlokovic is an expert in the KVM and Server Management Industry and is the technical writer for server and data center management topics. He also has a strong background in product testing and evaluation. He writes professionally for 42U (www.42U.com), KVM Switches Online (www.kvm-switches-online.com), Server Racks Online (www.server-rack-online.com), DirectNET (www.directnet.us). He provides consultation on enterprise solutions for server management equipment and is also the lead product trainer. Robert Pavlokovic comes from a strong 3-year sales and engineering background for enterprise server management solutions.

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