KVM (keyboard, video, mouse) switching and KVM extension provide access to critical IT assets. They might be deployed to give desktop users access to multiple computers from a single console, keyboard, and mouse, or implemented by facilities to enable distribution of high-quality video, audio, and peripheral signals across networks and through hybrid physical and virtualized server infrastructures.
John Hickey, Senior Director KVM and R&D, Black Box.
These capabilities are valuable in control rooms and production environments in broadcasting, post-production, air traffic control, industrial manufacturing, and other collaborative environments. The maturation and embrace of IP technologies across these sectors has made space for IP-based KVM systems and the numerous benefits they offer. This is why Black Box has gone all-in on designing KVM technologies that support future-proof concepts such as IP distribution and virtual machine connectivity.
Taking KVM To The Next Level
Black Box began developing the next generation of IP-capable KVM systems a little more than four years ago to support the evolution of control room technology and workflow. We recognized that organizations were interested in technologies that could deploy with greater flexibility to enable greater efficiency and productivity. We saw KVM technology as a critical enabler of change.
Driving change in the control room environment was a desire to move from physical machines to virtual machines and from proprietary systems to Ethernet and IP-based systems. Those two key trends would shape not only the evolution of control rooms, but also the development of KVM systems.
The philosophy behind our KVM development was to facilitate seamless integration of access to physical machines and virtual machines, using standard IP Ethernet infrastructure and a software-based approach focused on allowing people to control their workflow.
Uptake of such products gained momentum as broadcasters increasingly migrated to IP from traditional proprietary KVM systems. Presenting new requirements in terms of social distancing and remote work, the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated this trend. Businesses embraced our new IP-based KVM system because it offers capabilities and characteristics critical to maintaining operational efficiency and to achieving the agility and scalability so valuable in a time of rapid change.
As more and more businesses look at how they can build scalable, fault-tolerant control room systems, the shift to virtual workloads — enabled by KVM technology — is often a key element in system design. Fault tolerance can also be improved by establishing multi-site operations. Remote access thus is an important aspect of current and future control room designs. It addresses the requirements of distancing and remote work while supporting the distributed operations that contribute to greater fault tolerance.
The move toward software-based systems and workflow automation has likewise fueled adoption of advanced KVM systems. At the click of a button, authorized users can instantly reconfigure a video wall layout, the video and data being piped to specific operator workstations - both local and remote - and many other elements of the control room environment.
An equally important benefit of sophisticated, IP-based KVM systems is that they allow businesses to run standard IT networks already familiar to staff and to scale up systems very rapidly. One advantage of leveraging Ethernet infrastructure is that a business can scale the network from 1 GbE to 10 GbE to 100 GbE as needed. The attachment at the edge to KVM appliances might be a 1 GbE connection, with links to both physical and virtual machines. As that switch gets filled up, the business can aggregate multiple switches with a larger 10 GbE or 100 GbE switch to create a leaf-and-spine model of networking, building a bigger topology with flexibility in adding new ports that proprietary systems can’t provide.
Those four trends — virtualized workflow, multi-site focus, software-based-for-workflow automation, and network-based — will be key to the way control rooms and KVM are going to operate moving forward.
Addressing Future Growth And New Requirements
Looking forward, we see KVM technology and systems evolving to support broader integration.
More specifically, we envision extensive integration with standard IT infrastructure, including SNMP managers, active directory servers, and other tools that IT departments use to manage their business. The shift of KVM from proprietary to IP-based technology will allow it to become part of that standard flow rather than remain a special on-the-side element.
We also anticipate increased integration with devices, not just with respect to different types of video sources, but also in terms of more varied ways of linking into systems within a controller. REST APIs today serve as a primary means of linking up different systems so they can interoperate and interact. One example of this integration, already deployed within a real-world control room environment, is the Lawo VSM driving the Black Box Emerald KVM system at the click of a button.
In fact, in developing and expanding our Emerald unified KVM product line, we have been dedicated to ensuring interoperability. When they buy Black Box KVM systems, our customers can be confident that those products have been tested extensively with third-party devices.
As always, security will be a concern for future KVM implementations. As various businesses re-examined their operations moving into the COVID era, they began to realize that proprietary KVM systems and traditional KVM models were a barrier to remote operations because they made it difficult to enable secure remote access. Now, by shifting to Ethernet and IP-based KVM, businesses can take advantage of standard networking technology rules, VPNs, and other mechanisms of control essential to optimizing both access and security.
IP-based KVM systems benefit from the hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars spent every year better protecting IP networks. This gives IP networks much better protection in general than any proprietary system can achieve. When just one company drives a proprietary model, a measure of protection might be achieved through obscurity, but vulnerabilities are far less likely to be identified and addressed. Within the IP world, efforts to mitigate the potential for breaches is both broad and continuous.
Moving Forward With Black Box
We anticipated the need for a future-proof, IP-based KVM system years ago, and we’ve seen the technology come into its own in enabling the evolution of control room operations. As this market continues to evolve, our KVM technology will drive more IP-centric integration of third-party systems, make it easier to automate workflows, and allow operators to focus their time and energy on their work rather than on the tools they use to perform it.
The Emerald KVM line allows organizations to explore new and better ways of working. For this reason, the use cases for our Emerald products are expanding into a broad variety of applications — broadcast, postproduction, live production, and others — where IP-based KVM delivers valuable benefits. With the ongoing development of our next-generation, IP-based KVM system and a strong team of experienced technicians, we’re helping broadcasters around the globe to establish more flexible, secure, and future-proof remote access and signal distribution infrastructures every day.
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