Your Linux Data Center Experts

For the last several years I've been watching the state of KVM-over-IP, particularly those based on VNC protocols. A couple of years ago, you could get one, but it was over $3000. These days there are many KVM-over-IP solutions available in the sub-$1000 range, and a few of them even use VNC. After much research, I decided to get one of the StarTech StarView SV1110IPEXT units in to test out.

The StarView SV1110IPEXT (which I'll just call the StarView for the remainder of the review) is actually one of the cheapest of the KVM-over-IP solutions I saw, but it also seems to be one of the best for my needs. I was extremely impressed with it, it met or exceeded my expectations in nearly every way. Plus, it runs Linux, which is a definite benefit. How? See the related article, linked above, for information on how I modified the KVM so that it would allow SSH public key authentication for an example of the benefits of using Linux.

The StarView is a 1-port KVM, meaning that it only has one port for connecting to a computer to control. Almost all of the VNC KVMs are single-port units, meant to be connected to a larger KVM for controlling many computers. StarTech has some nice 1U 16-port KVMs, which you can cascade up to 130-something ports, controlled by a single StarView. In fact, the StarView has a “KVM” button which can be programmed to work with a few different KVMs to bring up the on-screen menu of available machines to control.

Another neat feature of the StarView is that it has a USB port on it. You can either upload floppy images to the StarView, or you can point it at an HTTP server with ISO images, and the StarView will emulate a USB CD-ROM or floppy drive, allowing you to remotely install the OS or boot into rescue mode, if your system supports it. Sadly, the test machine I was using did not support booting from a USB device, so I was unable to test this feature. I decided instead to set up PXE boot to allow me to remotely install machines or boot into rescue mode.

The system also includes two Ethernet ports which can be set up as separate interfaces, or bridged so that it can be placed inline with the computer it controls, saving a switch port. That's a neat feature. It also includes two power jacks so that you can run redundant power bricks.

It also supports different ways you can connect to the StarView as well. You can either use VNC directly to connect, or you can tunnel it over SSH connections. We prefer to tunnel over SSH for security reasons. There's also a built-in iptables-based firewall which you can use to allow or deny access to the KVM, and ports for the different services can be re-assigned from their standard Well Known Service ports.

I've only found a couple of drawbacks. One is that there's no supported way of using SSH public key authentication for access to the system. I was able to hack it to get it to do it, but a supported way would be really nice. My biggest gripe though is that it's got a button on the main VNC interface which sends a Ctl-Alt-Del to the remote machine. Probably handy if you use Windows machines where you have to type Ctl-Alt-Del to login, but most Linux machines are by default set up to reboot if you hit this sequence.

I've written to StarTech asking that they optionally either remove that button from the main button bar, or ask for confirmation. Sure, you can modify the configuration of the Linux systems to not honor Ctl-Alt-Del, but it can be handy to have at times.

Over all, the StarView is a fantastic product which I'm very happy with. It has constantly met or exceeded my expectations.

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