Remote Control the Hardware Way
Key-View II really will make you feel like you’re sitting in front of the server.
- By James Carrion
I’ve dreamed of sitting on the beach with my laptop and wireless modem,
remotely fixing all the computer problems back in the office while I calmly
sip a piña colada. Although Avocent doesn’t say Key-View II will afford
you such a life of luxury, it does claim its product can remotely control
any computer without having to install software on that computer first.
How’s that possible? Key-View II intercepts all video, keyboard and mouse
signals from the host computer before it even reaches those devices and
then assumes control of all computer input/output. Key-View II consists
of a rack mount computer running Windows NT Workstation, pcAnywhere 9.2
and the Key-View II software. The Key-View can remotely control PCs connected
to a Keyboard Video Management (KVM) switch.
To put it to the test I first connected the Key-View II to a single computer
set up to triple-boot between Windows 2000, Windows NT, and Windows 98.
Making the connections was straightforward. You plug the monitor, keyboard
and mouse into the Key-View II and use the multi-connector cable provided
to connect it to the computer’s VGA, mouse and keyboard ports. After booting
the Key-View II into NT, it automatically loads Symantec’s pcAnywhere
Host and the Key-View software. The package includes a built-in Ethernet
card and 56K modem. I first connected via pcAnywhere Remote from across
the network and then via modem. Once the connection was made, I used the
Key-View II software to select the single computer for remote control.
Whether I was connected via the network or modem, the video refresh and
screen redraw was slow. I also had problems controlling the mouse pointer.
The manual recommended that the computer be set to a slow non-interlaced
video refresh rate with limited screen colors, so I set the computer’s
video card to 60 hertz and 256 colors. This still didn’t entirely fix
the redraw problem, so I resorted to using the Key-View II hotkey for
redrawing the screen manually (pressing left shift three times). Adjusting
the mouse settings was even trickier and after much finagling I was able
to get the pointer moving in the direction and at the speed I wanted.
Because the Key-View II is working at the hardware level, it didn’t matter
which OS I booted into—remote control worked the same.
The second test was to see how well the Key-View II worked with my Belkin
OmniView KVM switch, so I plugged the multi-connector cable between the
input ports on the switch and the Key-View. After I did quite of bit of
tweaking, the experience and performance of remotely controlling computers
connected to the KVM switch was comparable to that of remotely controlling
the single computer.
Avocent says you can use the remote control software of your choice.
So why not just install your chosen remote control software program directly
on your servers instead of using Key-View II as the intermediary? It has
the distinct advantage of being able to remotely control a computer during
the entire boot up sequence. This means you can diagnose and repair a
computer problem at the BIOS level if necessary. I don’t know of any software-based
solution that can perform that task.
Software-based remote control programs are significantly cheaper but
don’t give you the granularity of control that Key-View II does. Plan
to dedicate time to tweaking the configuration—and even then, don’t expect
the smooth mouse movement and screen redraws that software-based products
offer. However, when you need to control a computer completely and remotely,
Key-View II is the next best thing to being there.
James Carrion, MCM R2 Directory, MCITP, MCSE, MCT, CCNA, CISSP has worked as a computer consultant and technical instructor for the past 16 years. He’s the owner of and principal instructor for MountainView Systems, LLC, which specializes in accelerated Microsoft Certification training.