Product Reviews

Remote Control the Hardware Way

Key-View II really will make you feel like you’re sitting in front of the server.

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.

About the Author

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.

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