Jeff Klaus is general manager, Data Center Manager (DCM) Solutions, at Intel Corporation. Jeff leads a global team that is pioneering data center infrastructure management (DCIM) technologies.
Monitoring data center and mission-critical assets remains as important today as it did 20 years ago. The environmental requirements, enabling technologies, delivery mechanisms, and best practices have, of course, evolved immensely along the way.
Regardless of these innovations and improvements in operational excellence, continuing opportunities to innovate can yield immediate value as well as future strategic capability.
It is not surprising that progress in this area has been made at the expense of simplicity. Today’s monitoring and management solutions have to “speak” the latest protocols and keep up with rapidly changing industry standards for connectivity. Each data center and NOC now resembles a "Tower of Babel," with a myriad of device connectivity languages.
KVM Hardware Overcomes Connectivity Challenges, but Introduces Others
When early versions of keyboard, video, and mouse (KVM) switches were introduced almost 30 years ago (initially supporting only keyboard and display functions), these hardware solutions simplified connections to managed infrastructure assets. Data center sprawl was sending IT running, literally, from room to room and site to site. KV, and later KVM, helped IT centralize management by delivering the ability to connect to any remote server or networking device through an overlay network of dedicated hardware switches.
However, the introduction of KVM switches also increased energy costs in the data center and represented yet another layer of hardware to be maintained, serviced, upgraded, and refreshed. Virtualization has helped to avoid some of these costs in the data center. Hardware KVM solutions have been replaced with software solutions and in many instances merged into holistic management consoles and platforms.
This has been great for some, but not all, data center sites, because many organizations are now faced with multiple solutions and diverging approaches. Plus, legacy sites where virtualization is not an option cannot take advantage of the benefits of control offered by KVM. And what about technology teams that need more flexible connectivity options? For example, most NOCs still face extreme challenges related to large-scale real-time infrastructure management. If anything, the challenges here have increased with the growing numbers of interfacing standards and options, and higher-speed, higher-capacity endpoints. The Tower of Babel just keeps getting taller.
A New Era for KVM – More Features and Product Innovations
KVM is still a vital tool for the teams that must deal with complex, large-scale, heterogeneous networks. To meet the latest challenges, many new KVM solutions offer expanded feature sets and greatly enhanced visibility of assets. Best-in-class solutions also support monitoring of a growing diversity of intelligent endpoints that include network servers, kiosks, video servers, surveillance systems, and more.
Perhaps the most exciting KVM trend involves product integrations. Today, it is possible to introduce leading-edge KVM connectivity and monitoring capabilities without introducing any hardware KVM switches. Firmware-based KVM capability can be embedded directly into servers. The virtual KVM serves the same purpose: it gives data center and NOC teams an easy way to connect to any remote endpoint and creates a single-pane-of-glass view of the infrastructure.
The Virtual Gateway to the Future
Virtualizing the KVM switch comes at an opportune time. In recent years, it has become increasingly difficult to keep KVM hardware in sync with server and network connectivity standards. Incompatibilities and constant upgrades have put a strain on lean support staffs, and driven up cost of ownership for the hardware KVM deployments.
Virtual KVM solutions, besides providing complete visibility and control, actually go well beyond the one-to-one capabilities offered by hardware switches. Software solutions are more tightly integrated with the target systems. Virtual KVM solution vendors are introducing combined views, with user-defined groups of blades, racks, or servers. Vendors are also adding automation to streamline common tasks. Upgrades are similarly enhanced, and much more cost-effective, since a new interface standard can be supported with a software patch or new release instead of requiring the purchase of the latest hardware switches.
As a result of the easy deployment and upgrades, organizations can transition at their own speed to new virtual KVM technology. This simplicity is also unifying organizations that have been struggling with multiple monitoring solutions. Instead of having to rip and replace KVM hardware, the data center teams and NOC teams can standardize on a single virtual software-based KVM solution.
This is just the beginning. By migrating away from hardware KVM switching infrastructures, data centers and NOCs position themselves to consolidate many monitoring functions and systems into more streamlined platforms and practices. Choosing a virtual KVM solution should therefore put priority on broad vendor support for servers, and communications options that offer full device coverage.
Yes, the Tower of Babel still exists in the data center. The underlying complexity is still there. Thankfully, virtual solutions can shield IT teams from the low-level connectivity challenges and introduce some much-needed simplicity for monitoring and management.
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