If you are an IT or network manager you know how frustrating it can be to try and troubleshoot a rackmounted server that doesn't have a monitor or keyboard hooked up to it. After all, LCD rackmount console can be pretty expensive.
Often referred to as "headless servers", in many cases you can use Windows Remote Desktop over an IP connection to access the machine and troubleshoot. However, if you have a BSOD (Blue Screen of Death), the network card dies, you have an IP address conflict, or you need to get into the BIOS, you can't use Remote Desktop or other remote desktop software.
Well, StarTech.com's USB 2.0 Laptop KVM Adapter
turns your notebook or netbook into a portable server crashcart, eliminating the need to carry a large, heavy video monitor, keyboard, and mouse. This device will turn any laptop into a portable console for headless servers, PCs, ATMs, kiosks etc.
How does it work? The adapter sports a USB and VGA connection on one end which connects to the computer you are connecting to. The VGA connection captures the VGA video and the USB connector provides emulated keyboard and mouse activity. The other end connects to your laptop using a nice and long mini-USB-to-USB cable. Your laptop then runs StarTech's software which is able to transmit and receive video, mouse, and keyboard activity over the long mini-USB-to-USB cable to the main StarTech rectangular unit and finally to the terminating VGA and USB connectors.
Here's an architecture diagram showing exactly how it connects and how it works:
Importantly, you can use this from the back of your racks, which is often where much of the troubleshooting is done, i.e. checking network connectivity. I tested a StarTech KVM Console to USB 2.0 Portable Laptop Adapter and was pretty impressed with how versatile this little device is. Below is a screenshot of one of my test sessions. Note the 3-finger salute (Ctrl-Alt-Del) icon in the toolbar (all the way to the right). A handy feature. You can also send other special keys or combination of keys using the Virtual Keys feature, which is also depicted in this screenshot:
Performance was very good. The screen redraw was pretty quick and the mouse kept up with fast movements pretty well. As a test, I played a YouTube clip and surprisingly the video frame rate was pretty good. Within the software I was able to zoom to various levels, turn on MacOS X scaling, swap mouse buttons (for lefties), and even save a screenshot as a PNG file. Oh, and since it uses the VGA standard, along with standard USB for keyboard and mouse control, this device works not just on Windows, but Macs and Linux as well. Specifications:
Highest resolution portable console available; ultra high resolution support up to 1920 x 1600 @ 60Hz
• Draws power from the server side, saving the battery of the user's laptop; no power adapter needed, and no more searching for outlets
• Works with any VGA computer, server, or other machine; No server side software required
• Instant-on technology ensures the user sees the entire startup, ensuring critical screens are not missed (eg. BIOS posts, System ID information)
• Simple, automatic video scaling when resizing the viewing pane from the console PC (laptop), means it works right away, every time
• True USB mouse synchronization ensures accurate navigation of the connected server
• Manual video override adjustments allows it to work with legacy and industrial devices where other portable consoles don't
• Cost effective solution for areas where dedicated rack mounted LCD Consoles are too pricey or cumbersome to install
• Eliminates the need for huge, bulky crash carts in the server room or distributed networks
• Overall size is similar to a cell phone, small ruggedized casing is easily stored in the front pocket of a laptop bag
• 1 year warranty and free lifetime technical support Price: It retails for $469.99, but I see it sold for less than $350.
If you have lots of servers with no monitor, keyboard, or mouse this is the perfect device. Why spend hundreds if not thousands on KVMs or LCD rackmount units when all you need its this little bad boy. All in all, this is a worthy tool to have in your IT arsenal. Two thumbs up.