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KVM Battle: Raritan vs. Avocent

Recently I started evaluating KVM console switches and power distribution units (PDU’s) for implementation in the new American Kennel Club Data Center which will be under construction within the next three weeks. At the start of this evaluation all of the SA’s in the IT department worked together under the guidance of the Principal Network Engineer to come up with a set of criteria that the chosen solution should meet broken down into mandatory functionality and bonus features. The mandate from the CIO was that the solution allow us to effectively “seal off” the data center for all routine administrative tasks that did not involve physical adds, moves and changes. This includes the ability to remotely power cycle a server without having to enter the rack.

We have a large assortment of server types and console interfaces to support in the environment. These include serial connections to various Sun servers, VGA, PS2 and USB connections to x86 servers, and ALOM network interface connections into those Sun servers that support them. I should preface the details of this evaluation by stating up front that we are implementing state of the art components in this new environment that most veteran administrators would not suspect of the AKC. We’re investing in some of the latest technologies and current trends in hosting environment solutions. This includes a 25TB SAN, 3-phase 208V power provisioned through overhead Starline Busways, zero-U managed power distribution units and overhead cable trays instead of the old school raised floor tiles. The KVM solution we select must be of an enterprise level sufficient to compliment all of these technologies. Here’s the criteria we set for the Raritan and Avocent proof of concept teams. At minimum:

  • The system must support KVM console connections over both IP and serial interfaces. It doesn’t matter if this requires separate switch models to achieve this.
  • There must be a central management appliance or software to administer all KVM switches and nodes connected to all IP and Serial KVM ports.
  • This central management console must be capable of establishing console management sessions to Solaris versions 8-10, Ubuntu, Windows 2003 Server and VM Ware server instances.
  • It must be able to launch an internal (embedded) SSH terminal client such as PuTTy when making connections to Unix servers.
  • The solution must incorporate the ability to communicate with 3-phase 208V PDU’s or CDU’s (Cabinet Power Distribution units). Additionally it must be able to control each PDU to the outlet level with the ability to associate each outlet to a respective server or appliance node.

Optional components that would be of benefit but are not necessarily required include:

  • RSA SecureID authentication support.
  • Auto discovery of any virtual servers associated with primary VM Ware server nodes.
  • ALOM (Sun) and iLo (x86) support for network management interfaces on servers.
  • The ability to interface with 3rd party PDU’s or CDU’s.

So the bar’s set relatively high. All of the contacts from both companies did a very professional job representing their products and did not hesitate at all to provide any necessary eval units to meet the criteria specified above. Raritan provided a Command Center Secure Gateway v1, a KX2-216 16 port IP KVM switch, an SX-8 serial KVM switch and a PCR8-15 PDU. Avocent has initially provided a DSR 2035 IP KVM switch, a Cyclades PM-10 PDU and a 90-day full version of DSView 3, their central “hub” software for managing all Avocent components on the network. We’re awaiting the arrival of an Avocent serial KVM which should be in later next week.

The Raritan Command Center is their central management solution in an appliance form (it’s a 1U server) and is ready to go out of the box without any licensing required during the initial setup. For Avocent’s DSView3 evaluation software we did create a Windows 2003 virtual server instance for the installation and it did required activation and licensing through the Avocent support website. Obviously this software could have been loaded on to a physical test server but we just didn’t have one available so we opted for the quick VM solution. As advised by our Avocent field engineer we would not put the central hub instance of DSView3 into production on a virtual machine (we’d dedicate a pizza box or something).

Despite the Raritan Command Center being a 1U server with no software installation required, from the installation of the Raritan hardware and obtaining access to the first administrative interfaces took about 4 hours. About an hour of this was probably consumed with network issues such as obtaining available IP’s addresses and running cables. Unfortunately the biggest problem with the Raritan solution was discovered prior to the start of the evaluation process. Currently they do not have an available 3-phase 208V PDU that can integrate with their KVM switches for seamless administration and sever node to outlet association in the Command Center console. Furthermore, they cannot provide such integration to 3rd party PDU’s such as Server Technologies or APC. In Raritan’s defense they do have this complete solution available in single phase 208V Raritan brand PDU’s and they are promising 3-phase by June 2008. We will be moving into the new facility some time in late March 2008 so this key requirement could not be met by Raritan in our time frame.

Avocent on the other hand can meet our PDU management requirements in one of two ways. They have their own brand of PDU’s through the acquisition of Cyclades last year providing the 3-phase 208V Cyclades PM-42. The only problem we have with this unit is that it only comes with 42 outlets (three banks of 14 single-phase 208V receptacles). Since we’re running an “A” power and a “B” power strip into each rack for redundancy this would mean 96 outlets per cabinet. It’s impossible to populate racks with that kind of server density. For this reason we’d like to use something like the Server Technologies 3-phase CW-24V2 CDU. It’s got three banks of single phase 208V receptacles and what do you know – Avocent was an OEM reseller of Server Tech PDU’s before buying Cyclades so their switches can interface seamlessly with this model including server node to outlet association. Perfect.

Update: KVM Battle Part II – Raritan vs. Avocent

5 comments

5 Comments so far

  1. Wendy January 15th, 2008 3:18 am

    Read your Raritan vs. Avocent blog. Go Raritan, a lot less hidden costs, licensing wise, and easier to use. Less expensive overall. If you need pricing, let me know we’re a platinum reseller and there are trade-in discounts if you having any exisiting KVM gear laying around.

    Wendy Newton
    DataCom West

  2. Tige August 14th, 2008 11:11 pm

    Would really like to read the rest of your KVM report. I’m in the same evaluations right now.

    Tige

  3. Tim November 24th, 2008 10:46 am

    Hey Todd,

    Mind if I ask which brand KVM you went with, and what some of the high level points were?

    I’m in the process of having to relocate a server room to an offsite location, and the KVM chosen will be a key point.

  4. Michael December 23rd, 2008 3:12 pm

    Is the rest of this report available somewhere? I’m working on a similar evaluation at the moment and would love to hear about the rest of your findings.

  5. AK December 3rd, 2014 3:33 am

    Hi there. I am doing the same evaluation and would be helpful if I could see the report.

    THank you.

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