USB KVM Services Servers; Blue Slime Saves Humanity
By Jim Bray
IT pros in charge of multiple servers have a nifty new tool in StarTech's Laptop KVM Adapter, while slobs like me can now clean some of the crud off our gadgets with Cyber Clean.
Isn't life grand?
Startech's laptop KVM adapter is a USB 2.0 device that can turn a portable computer into a portable KVM/Server console, which could make life easier for IT folk who work with servers that don't have keyboards and monitors of their own. It essentially lets you use your notebook computer as a KVM (Keyboard, Video, Mouse) console, saving space and the expense incurred equipping each "headless" server with its own KVM thingies. It's also easier to haul a laptop than to push a "crash cart" around – and you're less likely to be confused with the mail room person or "Nut Man".
All of which means little to me, a home office user whose experience with major corporate IT departments in years past was generally confined to whining about how long it took for anyone to answer my calls. Fortunately, my son, Chris, wears among his many hats one of just such an IT pro, so I handed my sample unit over to him and asked him to report back to me.
I haven't seen him since...
Just kidding. He tells me he's quite impressed with the device.
Chris reports that it's very easy to move between computers with the adapter, using USB. It also features a PS/2 interface, but he says that method isn't particularly hot-swappable (you can't just plug it in and have it motor ahead), so you often need to reboot the server before it'll connect that way. Clearly, USB is the preferred method if the server allows it.
My intrepid reporter is also pleased with the adapter's size and the fact that it gets its power via the USB (or PS/2), which means no separate power adapter is required. The software, he reports, is "almost idiot-proof" (good thing I didn't try it or I might have put the lie to that report!), and its installation software comes on a USB key – so it's suitable for use with netbooks that don't have optical drives built in.
The StarTech also comes with both Windows and Mac clients, a nice bit of flexibility.
All isn't sweetness and light, of course. The adapter only has a VGA connector instead of DVI, but Chris says most servers only have VGA capability anyway so that may not be a big deal. He also reports that he ran into a couple of machines that didn't support the USB interface during the installation of the Operating System, which required a reboot to switch the PS/2 capacity on and off. "Very frustrating," he said.
Mouse tracking is "pretty good," he says. "Not 100 per cent, but better than many IP-KVM products I've used. But these kinds of things are mainly used during setup and emergencies when remote desktop connections aren't available anyway."
The bottom line for my son is that Startech's KVM Console to USB 2.0 Portable Laptop Crash Cart Adapter is a very useful tool for small businesses or even for homes looking to save space and money on a monitor for one or more servers. "It's even more convenient than a real monitor & keyboard," he says, "Because it's easier to move around."
The adapter can be packed easily into a notebook bag and comes with its own cables so you don't need to haul separate ones around with you.
It's also a good alternative to an IP KVM, which my son says allows the same functionality over a network but is much less portable. "I used this same unit successfully across 5 machines in two offices in one day," he reports, "Which would not be possible with an IP or by lugging around a whole monitor and keyboard."
He thinks the biggest market for the device is probably in a roaming tech support/field support kind of role, but it's also wonderful for small office/home setup – or just for tinkering – if you can afford the $469.99 price of admission, which he thinks could be prohibitive for smaller shops.
Startech notes that, because the adapter lets you work with the laptop PC you probably use already if you're in this industry, the product also eliminates the need to hunt around for power outlets in the field or in the server room.
As long as your laptop's battery is charged, of course.
Unlike the KVM adapter, Cyber Clean is something I can understand: it cleans stuff, merely by pressing it onto whatever you want cleaned, then pulling it off again – like Silly Putty can pick up the image from a comic.
You may have seen this "high-tech cleaning compound" advertised on TV; I was intrigued enough by the commercials to wonder if it could help me shake off the years of dust I've allowed to accumulate on my stuff – so when the maker's PR people offered me a sample, I jumped.
When I landed again, a little plastic package of Cyber Clean had arrived and I tore it open eagerly, looking forward to a im-press-ive experiment in sticking it to my remote controls, keyboard and other surfaces that grab dirt in the little spaces between the buttons and refuse to let go. My wife thought I was nuts, though that's becoming a more common reaction the longer we're together.
Cyber Clean is very easy to use, as long as you don't mind your fingers feeling and smelling a bit gross for a while. The manufacturer says the smell is minty but if so it's more like virtual mint coupled with something like Mr. Clean. That isn't a knock on it; I'd rather it smell like a mint-sing Mr. Clean than have the stuff not work. And it does work, though some of the tasks I had in mind for it were more suitable for an exorcist than for a cleaning product, thanks to years of neglect on my part.
The first thing I used the goop on was the remote control for a CD changer so old I'd forgotten it even had a remote. Needless to say, the device had become about twice its original thickness, thanks to all the dust and crud, but after a quick application of Cyber Clean – just stick it on and pull it off again – the remote looked brand new.
Next I tried pulling some dried milk stains off a computer keyboard, at which time the Cyber Clean acted like a Tribble near a Klingon. It removed the dust, but the dried milk stayed; it would probably require a good hosing down from a fire hydrant to clean that particular keyboard; easier to just throw it away and get a new one.
The company says this "virtual vacuum" is also ideal for people who want to maintain that new car smell (I assume they're talking about in their vehicles, not recommending its use as a deodorant). As with consumer electronics, the dirt more often than not builds up in little crevasses, air vents, cup holders or whatever other little nooks and/or crannies are nearly impossible to reach. It worked well when I tried it in my ancient Infiniti Q45.
And if you're buying into the H1N1 hype, Cyber Clean may be just the panacea you're been dreaming of. To heck with this hand sanitizer gel stuff that only keeps your paws safe from the evil world around you – with Cyber Clean, a teacher can spend otherwise productive prep time pulling all the horrors of life from the classroom's calculators, or the office worker assigned to water the plants can also make the firm's telephones safe for human use.
At least you won't be just wasting time forwarding email jokes.
Copyright 2010 Jim Bray
Jim Bray's columns are available through the TechnoFile Syndicate.
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