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A KVM switch — sometimes called a KVM switchbox, keyboard switcher, or monitor switch — is a hardware device that allows a user to control multiple computers or servers from a single keyboard, video monitor, and mouse set. Depending on whether you have a standalone KVM switch or multiple switches in a cascading configuration, potentially thousands of servers and devices can be connected, giving IT administrators local and/or remote access to the equipment in their racks, server rooms, data centers, and branch offices. KVM switches save space by eliminating the need for multiple monitors and keyboards, and they boost efficiency by preventing users from having to physically switch locations to access different devices.


How does a KVM switch work?

KVM switches typically include a KVM module (also known as either an IQ module, server interface module, interface adapter, or dongle) that connects the switch to the computers or servers with USB/PS2 and video interfaces via category cable, usually Cat5e or Cat6 cables. Users can easily switch between the connected servers and devices they want to control by using a hot key or button on the KVM console. The KVM switch routes the signal between the connected devices accordingly.


What types of KVM switches are available?

Different types of KVM switches are available for different needs. For example, a local desktop KVM enables in-band or out-of-band management of nearby connected devices while IP-based KVM switches enable management from anyplace that has an internet connection. Both types can be designed for single or multiple users and can connect those users to as few as two servers or to a few thousand servers.

The choice of KVM switch often comes down to the number of users, the number of devices, and where those users and devices are physically located (in the same room or miles or even continents apart). Other factors to consider are the types of devices you need to connect and the type of monitor you will be using to access and control the devices. One very important consideration in many industries is data security. In these cases where there are multiple active computers being operated at different classification levels, a secure KVM switch is the best solution. Being designed to stringent specifications, these switches are ideal for fending off data leakage or cybersecurity threats.


 The major categories of KVM switches include:

  • KVM switch for local use. A KVM switch can be used to manage all of the servers placed in a single rack. In this case, the hardware is located in the same room as the servers and can even be mounted to the rack where the servers are housed with an LCD tray, supporting local rack access (LRA). Rack-mount consoles sometimes feature a built-in keyboard, LCD display, and touchpad console. With some models, the entire setup requires only 1U of space. Local KVM switches can also be used for servers or equipment that are just a bit further away, like in a nearby room or on another floor.
  • KVM over IP switch. A KVM over IP switch offers IP-based remote access to servers and equipment. The servers remain physically connected to the KVM switch. Users, however, can access the switch remotely using an internet connection, allowing IT managers to control servers and computers in their branch offices and data centers from any other location. This is especially helpful when performing network tasks like updating firmware/software that may require access to BIOS-level data during a reboot.
  • Enterprise-level KVM switch. With an enterprise-level KVM switch, users can gain access to a larger number of servers by daisy-chaining, cascading, or tiering KVM switches using the cascading port built into some switches. More than 1,000 servers can be controlled from a single keyboard, video, and mouse counsel.
  • Secure KVM switch. Government, finance, healthcare and other industries that deal with sensitive information need ways to keep data secure when interacting across multiple computers or servers that each have different security levels. A secure KVM switch that is certified to National Information Assurance Partnership (NIAP) and meeting Common Criteria Profile for Peripheral Sharing Device (PSD) requirements means they are field-proven secure KVM switches with special support for government agencies and security conscientious organizations.
  • High-performance KVM switch. For control room and other applications that demand zero latency and best-in-class technology, a high-performance KVM system offers a secured, IP-based solution for flexible, high-resolution control of multiple distributed devices. These types of KVM switches are capable of connecting hundreds of users to thousands of servers and workstations in real time.


What are the main advantages of a KVM switch?

KVM switches are space-saving, convenient and economical. They are also critical in some applications. With the right switch, IT departments can:

  • Conserve space within rack enclosures.
  • Improve the efficiency of IT staff.
  • Reduce the time required to remotely diagnose, reconfigure, repair, and restore servers and network devices.
  • Complement in-band tools to create a more complete remote management solution.
  • Prevent unplanned downtime and interruptions in service by ensuring streamlined, real-time access to all server resources, including those in remote locations.
  • Physically separate the user from the server where necessary for security purposes or where environmental conditions prevent users from being in the same physical space as the connected devices.
  • Monitor and manage multiple computers where various degrees of secure data is required.


KVM switches available from Vertiv

From basic desktop single-user KVM switches, to KVM over IP switches for remote management, to high-performance KVM systems for control rooms, Vertiv offers a complete portfolio of KVM switch solutions to meet all of your requirements, including:

The Avocent® AV100 KVM switch is a basic switch offering simplified local access, management, and control of up to 16 targets from a single console. This single-user, smaller form factor KVM switch is designed specifically for IT rooms, small data centers, and branch offices.

The Avocent® AV3000 KVM over IP switching solutions are also designed for small data centers or remote, branch office environments. The AV3108 model in this series can support up to eight devices being accessed by one local and one remote user while the AV3216 allows for two local and one remote user and connects to 16 server or serial devices. Both options come with integrated management interfaces and are compatible with Avocent DSView software, further enabling streamlined management across infrastructure.

The Avocent® MergePoint Unity™ KVM over IP switch provides IT administrators a complete remote management solution to access and control servers, networking equipment, and other devices found in data centers and branch offices. IT departments can meet service level agreements and minimize downtime through a unified approach that offers a faster method to diagnose, reconfigure, or restore equipment.  

The Avocent® HMX 5000/6000/8000 High-Performance KVM system is an IP-based solution that provides a highly flexible way to securely connect hundreds of users to thousands of servers and workstation equipment in real time.  Ideal for control rooms working with pixel-perfect digital video, the solution supports resolutions up to 2560 x 1600 at 60 hertz.

The Avocent® SV200 or SV300 desktop KVM switches are single head or dual head, respectively, and offer four ports for supporting connected devices using high resolution images up to ultra-high definition (UHD) 4K.

The Cybex™ SC800/900 secure desktop KVM switches are designed to especially stringent specifications for keeping data secure. They allow users to switch between computers on different classification levels, prevent information leaks across computers, and reduce time spent moving between computers.

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