KVM switch

Short for keyboard, video, mouse switch, a hardware that enables a single keyboard, video monitor and mouse to control more than one computer one at a time.

KVM switches have become popular among users who have upgraded their home PC systems and want to still use their old computers but do not want to invest in a second keyboard, monitor and mouse. KVM switches are also used by business to save money when one person uses more than one computer and in server farms where it is only necessary to periodically access each separate server in the farm one at a time.

KVM switches are small devices that allow a computer user to switch between multiple computers easily, while using just one monitor, keyboard, and mouse. KVM switches work by switching the controls from one computer to another, allowing user and companies to save the money of needing multiple monitors. KVM switches also free up much needed desk space, helping unclutter working environments, and typically increase productivity by allowing computer users to work faster on multiple machines. KVM switches typically save on energy use as well, since only one monitor is powered up at a time.

KVM switches come in a wide variety of designs. Some KVM switches simply allowing switching between two computers. Others allow over one hundred - typically used for managing servers or other large banks of computers from one central location.

KVM switches also come in a variety of styles, from small and sleek to simply designed boxes that are just about functionality. Some also allow switching of sound, allowing one set of speakers to be used between multiple computers. Many KVM switch manufacturers now also offer USB versions, making them easier to install and setup.

The idea of being able to switch between multiple computer systems on the fly is not a new one. In the server world, most IT shops have used technology like this to control multiple servers in rack configurations for many years. The benefit of this is that it only requires one keyboard, one pointing device, and, of course, one monitor. Besides the obvious benefits of reducing costs and taking less physical space, switching also reduces costs not normally considered, such as reduced energy usage.

The days of this switching technology, or what is called KVM (Keyboard/Video/Mouse) technology, being exclusive to IT shops is over. Many home PC users are now looking for a way to use both their new and old systems without having to purchase an additional monitor, keyboard, and mouse.

The two biggest traditional complaints about switching technology have been that it doesn't work very well and that it costs too much. However, when compared with the cost of adding a second monitor, keyboard and mouse, today's KVM switches FAR overrule these issues.

Many of the fancy bells and whistles that IT folks have come to expect with high-end KVM switches are now making their way into the commercial arena. These new KVM switches even include a few new features that are targeted at the home user or power user. Best of all, the prices have come way down. Previously, it was not uncommon to spend about $350+ for a fully equipped KVM switch, but now home owner versions can cost about half of that amount.


Brief history of KVM Switch Server Management Industry

Single-User KVM Switch Solutions
In the early 1980's as the computer industry grew, many server rooms and data centers were faced with the problem of having dozens and even hundreds of monitors, keyboards, and mice, taking up valuable rack space, and adding unnecessary heat disbursement issues. They also created server management problems for larger data centers in which technicians had to physically walk to each server they needed to work on.

Who created the 1st KVM switch (Keyboard Video Mouse Switch) is disputed. Actually the very 1st switches would more approximately be called KV switches. As both graphical environments and mice were not common in the early 1980's, the 1st switches only supported keyboard & video switching. The first switching units were very basic A/B type push button switches, grew to hot-key controllable switches, and later added OSD's (On Screen Displays).  

Addressing some of these issues, these KVM switching products allow a single user to access multiple CPUs from a single monitor, keyboard, and mouse. In addition to improving server manageability, heat disbursement issues, and the space savings, there was a huge cost savings from not having to purchase a separate monitor, keyboard and mouse for each CPU.

Single user KVM Switches are widely used today and can be found in almost every data center. The best of these products have intelligent on-screen firmware, are software independent, and allow you to connect multi-platform CPUs - such as IBM PC and Compatible, Apple Macintosh, Sun, Silicon Graphics, IBM RS/6000, DEC Alpha, HP 9000.

Multi-User KVM Switch Solutions
Single User KVM switches could handle dozens of Servers with a single monitor, keyboard, and mouse. However, handling large amount of servers with these KVM switches is cumbersome at best, and impractical if more than one user requires simultaneous access.

The KVM industry (see "KVM Switch Vendors" for additional historical information about each KVM vendor), addressed this need by creating KVM switches geared to being enterprise wide solutions, which allow data center managers to set up a NOC or Control Room where their technical people can remotely access any or all of the servers/devices in their server farms. In addition to no longer having to walk and locate a server you need to work on, they allow managers to restrict unnecessary physical access to sensitive equipment. These Multi-User KVM switches have security features which allow you to setup up who can login and access a user station. These KVM switches can be configured be either partially-blocked or allow you to have non-blocked access to every connected server/device.

Though the Multi-User KVM switch solutions shown on our pages are all dependable products manufactured from KVM Switch Industry's leaders, all have different capabilities and features. The KVM Switch products and solutions you select should be tailored for you specific environment and usage needs.