The K1 is a new family of keyboard/video/mouse(KVM) adaptors that route all functions over IP. It is deceptively simple looking, a little box metal box about 2x2x.5 inches, with four cables coming out of it. The cables are a keyboard and mouse pass through, and a VGA in and out. There is also a mini-USB port, an Ethernet jack, an RS232 adaptor, a DC in port, and something labeled AUX. It is a mini computer.
You plug the MegaRAC K1 into the back of any computer, and plug the keyboard, mouse and video into it. It sits between the computer and the world, and lets you do everything you normally would remotely. Imagine PCAnywhere or VNC on steroids, with some really amazing advantages. It is an OS agnostic remote control device that will work even if the OS does not. It will even allow you to install an OS anywhere that has an IP connection to the box you want to control.
It snoops the three ports it plugs into, and sends a copy to you. As I mentioned earlier, it is like VNC, but it doesn't require you run a program on the host, it has a web server built in. All you need to do is browse to it with IE, log in, and you are effectively sitting in front of the computer.
Setting up the K1 is beyond simple. You plug it in, and press ctrl-alt-shift. It then pops up a menu on the monitor, and you set the IP address. There are also some rudimentary user addition features, but those are really unnecessary at first. That's the initial setup, all of it, and if you have ever set up a computer before, it should take you three minutes max, less you only skim the setup guide to find the keystrokes to get to the menus.
You can then go to any computer and log in to it simply by using IE and typing in HTTP://. Once you log in, go to the icon that says user management, and change the root password from the default settings. If you are so inclined, you can also add another user here, but that is optional. Then you simply click on the Remote Console icon, and log in again. In a few seconds, the remote computer is your to command.
It really works quite slickly - almost as if you are in front of the machine. The mouse lags a little, but that is tolerable. If you have a slower connection, it can get a bit annoying, but that is true for any remote control program or device. The more bandwidth you throw at it, the snappier the response.
AMI has updated the K1 and put in a bandwidth management feature. You can cap the bandwidth usage at 1, 10 or 100Mbps, or simply let it use whatever is there. This feature is still in testing, but expect it to be out in the next few months.
There are, however, two annoying ergonomic gaffes here. The first is that the program grabs your mouse and will not let you leave the window. This is due to a default setting that you can change with a mouse click, if you can get out of the window. The trick is to - to another program, then carefully come at the menu from the top. You then go to the options menu, and click 'dual mouse'. This frees up the mouse and lets you leave the window so you can interact with your local PC as well as the remote one. This should be set as a default, and annoyingly, it resets every time you log in.
As an aside, we brought this problem to AMI's attention, and it said there is a fix for it. Expect it before Thanksgiving, probably in the same firmware update as the bandwidth management functionality.
The other problem is that as soon as you turn on dual mouse, you get a second cursor, in this case a cross-hairs one. The maddening part is that it does not track at the same rate as your local mouse. Reading the manual, it says to turn off mouse acceleration. I did, and it was still tracking badly. I pulled my hair out for a bit, then realized that the remote computer was the one that could not have acceleration turned on. That was the price I paid for not reading the manual, and I can live with that.
The other problem I ran into has to do with the OS installation features. This box is meant to do something that no simple program can, to fix non-OS related problems from a distance. If your RAID controller goes all weird on you, or you the computer locks hard enough to require a three finger salute, PCAnywhere will do you all of no good. VNC will not help you set BIOS options when the server is on the next continent.
The MegaRAC K1 will however let you do all of this. From the very first BIOS screen to watching a movie in Media Player, you can do it all. But how does this help when Windows refuses to load, or worse yet won't load without the CD in? Imagine if Windows decides that life is no longer worth living, and you know from experience that the best way to go is to format, reinstall, and restore from tape. Easy enough, and only the better part of a day wasted.
If you are in New York, and the server is in California, there is a bit more of a problem. Sure, you can see the BIOS and RAM check all you want, but it doesn't help you put that darn CD in. It also does not put CD2 in either, no matter how much you wave the mouse around. That is where the K1 made me sit up and take notice.
It has a little mini-USB port on the back, and the magic's all there. The MegaRAC K1 can emulate a CD drive remotely as well as the keyboard, mouse and video. You plug the USB cable in the back, preferably before you go home to New York, and then you are set. If the server goes down, and will not come back up, then you just go into the BIOS, and set the boot device to AMI CD, and off you go. Log into the K1, pick the CD to be emulated, and drop the disk in your local drive. It may take a while, but it works.
One thing to be aware of is that the CD that is emulated appears to be behind a USB hub. Some BIOSes, from companies who shall remain nameless, appear not to be fully USB compliant. One I tested absolutely refused to see the remote CD until Windows booted. It worked fine from then on, so it is passing data right, but the BIOS did not play nice. If you plan to deploy these little boxes by the dozen, get an external CD and plug it in to a USB hub. If it the BIOS recognizes it, you are set, otherwise, bitch at the BIOS vendor until they comply with the spec.
As far as features go, I found two things that I would consider missing. The first is support for non-MS browsers. If you are a security conscious IT pro, you probably are using Firefox by now, and the MegaRAC K1 does not support it, yet. AMI told me the last time we talked that the support is in the pipeline, so don't worry, it will happen. Because it is on the way, I won't dock them any points for this.
The other thing I would dearly like to see is power management. If your computer locks up really hard, rarely the good old ctrl-alt-del won't do the trick. In this case, neither will the K1. If there was a power controller on this box, it would be perfect, this should be a must for the K2. The one saving grace here is most data centers have this capability either as an option or built in to the racks. AMI has a plan to address this with a product called the Power Buddy in the near future, but until then, you have to rely on integrated server power management features like IPMI.
Overall, the K1 is a real treat. It simply does what it says, and works right. The most problematic things fell into the 'minor glitch' category, and the manual was more than clear on what to do. If you are dealing with hardware that implements USB in the BIOS correctly, there should be no problems.
The first time I set it up, it took less than five minutes, and most of that was pulling the twist ties off the cables. It never crashed, never did anything weird, and just worked. I like that in a product.
For the numerically inclined, I would give the AMI MegaRAC and 8/10. I docked it one point for the lack of integrated power management, something that is almost a necessity when dealing with remote machines. The other point was price, the K1 costs $899, which is a bit steep for a single machine. It is by no means out of line with high quality datacenter equipment, and if you plug it into an ordinary KVM, you can control a whole rack from across the net. If you have 20 machines to run, a single K1 adds little to the overall cost, and that would make it an easy 9/10. Compared to multiple lights out management cards, it is very affordable.
Overall, this box is quite heartily recommended, AMI is adding features and listening to feedback. If they add a power switch to the next one, I would probably consider it perfect. Data center monkeys running multiple remote machines should definitely check it out. µ
Looks like someone pressed the wrong button on the routing machine
Half-Life 3 VR anyone
Whilst some old favourites graduate to the main browser