KVM technology is evolving rapidly and is being used in and ever-increasing range of applications. Jacob Harris spoke with some KVM experts to see where the market is heading.
Keyboard, video and mouse (KVM) switches first came into being around 30 years ago and were designed to allow operators to control multiple computers from one keyboard, video monitor and mouse. Since then, the industry has developed significantly and KVM technology is being used in applications ranging from control room environments, medical equipment control and management, universities, data centres and air traffic control.
“Traditionally, KVM switches were used to reduce desktop clutter and simplify server management in data centres. The KVM industry started with companies like Adder Technology in the UK producing a switch in 1984. Around the same time other companies such as Guntermann and Drunck (Germany), Cybex and Raritan (USA) produced similar products,” says KVM technologist and owner of KVM Australia Kurk Brandstater.
KVM Australia is the Australian representative of Adder, Guntermann and Drunck, Cybex and Raritan.
“Over the subsequent years the technology has grown into a multibillion dollar industry worldwide and has evolved to include multi user matrix style switches, as well as extension technologies for KVM signals to allow remote access and control of computers. With the rapidly changing digital world we have recently seen the introduction of digital matrix switches and extenders which is a convergence of the traditional KVM technology with the AV and IP/network worlds.”
While many small businesses still use some form of KVM switch today to reduce their desktop clutter, a control room might also use KVM technologies to push video signals to video walls via a Cat X cable which can drastically reduce the cabling costs and improve the expandability of the installation while allowing operators to do it all from a single console.
“With the growth of virtual machines, the requirement for data centre KVM equipment hasn’t slowed down as every physical server still requires some form of basic input/output system (BIOS) level access capability. This can be done through a KVM switch at the rack level with one KVM drawer managing anything from a single computer up to hundreds of computers. When you couple this technology with KVM/IP, IT systems administrators have the ability to manage not just data centre computers but serial devices, such as routers and switches as well via corporate LAN, WAN or the internet, making the KVM technologies truly a local or global control solution,” says Kurk.
The integration of AV and KVM extension technology has seen the rise of a whole new segment of the KVM world. These extension technologies allow users to extend computer signals from the standard 2-5 meters up to hundreds of metres – and in the case of digital extension via IP, basically anywhere you can get a network signal to.
One product that reportedly does this is Aten’s VM1600 modular matrix switch. It offers access and real-time control of multiple local and remote AV input devices and displays from a single chassis. Equipped with automatic signal conversion, it allows any combination of digital video formats, such as HDBaseT, HDMI, DVI, 3G-SDI and VGA, making it suitable for large-scale AV applications such as broadcasting stations, traffic and transportation-related control rooms, emergency service centres and any application that requires customisable high speed AV signal routing.
“Aten has been in the KVM business for over 30 years and in the Pro AV KVM market, has a particular strength in video distribution management. The company has even developed its own KVM chipset,” says Aten A/NZ country manager Wesley Wong.
Extension technologies are used in more and more areas to replace the coax cable that used to be required to extend video signals while maintaining high quality and usable images at the remote end. The extension technology encompasses not just the video but also keyboard and mouse extension as well as USB and serial extension over Cat X cable or IP.
“With the technology available today it is no longer a question of ‘can I extend this or can I manage this many computers via IP?’ But rather, ‘what is the best way to do the job now while also allowing for future capabilities?’ Many of the extenders and switches on the market are pretty generic in their capabilities but some vendors have made the jump to go digital with both extension and switching technology so you have the option to extend, switch and manage over an IP network,” says Kurk.
This technology is being installed in an incredibly disparate array of environments including universities, control rooms, defence and government departments. Although costs are higher initially, the systems can be expanded easily and, as IP and KVM technologies improve, provide clear benefits in the long-term.
According to Kurk, 4K extension is a growing market with vendors using a mix of existing compression techniques as well as developing their own. For example, Guntermann and Drunck have developed high-dynamic-image-processing (HDIP) which is already used in the new DVI-Vision systems and the digital matrix systems.
When it comes to high resolutions and a large proportion of moving images, HDIP level 3 leads to significantly improved images and thus to smooth operation. As a manufacturer, Guntermann and Drunck consider it a core competency to handle the transmission of video signals – an extremely important part of the KVM signal mix – themselves. This gives them the opportunity for fast and qualified reactions to the ever-changing requirements of customers who are now able to benefit from the in-house compression method.
“If you want 4K extension without any compression you are generally looking at a fibre solution, like the new DP1.2-VisionXG system which transmits video signals transparent meaning pixel by pixel and without any compression. This way, all details remain visible even when it comes to high-resolution 4K images at the full refresh rate of 60Hz and across the entire transmission distance. Despite distances of up to 10,000m between computer and workstation, users can operate their systems in a 1:1 connection without any latency,” says Kurk.
Aside from growing interest in 4K, Wesley highlights the growing convergence between the IT and Pro AV sectors as a growing trend in the market.
“We have found that some of our customers have been using traditional IT KVM products in the Pro AV space. From our discussions with these clients, we now believe that, sooner or later, either IT installers will move more into the Pro AV market or electricians will cross into the Pro AV market as well. This makes sense from a customer’s perspective. If you could hire one firm to install your server room, cabling and AV systems, that’s far easier than dealing with multiple,” says Wesley
“When it comes to KVM/IP, we’re largely embracing tablets as a control interface. You don’t necessarily need a controller on the wall anymore. In the future, we believe people will simply use their tablets to control everything and not a traditional wall controller. These days you can download an app and pretty much do whatever you like on a tablet. This industry is heading that way too.”