IP KVM switch, or serial console box for remote admin?

Isaiah: 02 February 2022

We have a small server farm (11 now, may add more in the future) of HP Proliant DL160 G6s. They all run either Linux (server only, no X11) or VMware ESX. We had intended to get models with iLO, in case BIOS-level remote admin became an issue, but that didn't happen.

I had an IP KVM switch recommended to me (along with some sort of Remote Reboot hardware.) I've since realized that none of our machines need GUI administration, so perhaps a serial console switch would be a cheaper and more appropriate option. Something like this:

Do you folks have an opinion on which way is a better choice? Should we go for the ease of setup (plug and go, instead of turning on the feature in the BIOS and making sure the serial settings are correct) and the flexibility of an IP KVM switch even with the extra cost? Or is a serial console switch just fine?

Waylon: 02 February 2022

If an IP-KVM solution is in your budget, I'd go for that, particularly if you have the ability to remotely trigger power cycles and the like.

Can I recommend getting the type that doesn't use thick KVM cables, but instead uses CAT-5 or the like? The big cables are a PITA to run and deal with, where as we're all pretty much used to CAT-5 by now.

If you go that route, keep yourself sane by color-coding the cables so that your KVM lines don't resemble your network connections.

Serial cables do work, but the ones I've used are susceptible to interference, plus the BIOS has to support redirect-to-serial (many do now, but there's always an outlier).