Is there a way to use an old laptop as an external keyboard and monitor for my rack servers?
From a hardware perspective, there is no straightforward way to do that. The video ports on most laptops are outputs, not inputs, and you can't reverse that. The keyboard/mouse ports are inputs, not outputs. Most USB controllers inside your server and laptop will fight over devices connected to the same bus, so attaching them via a hub is also not practical.
- Use some remote desktop/vnc/X-terminal (but of course, why do you even need to be in the server room?)
- If your system has a serial port and a boot management processor (like iLO) you can connect directly to the BSP, which will then generally let you get a terminal session on the server. This is true for both *nix-ish and Windows systems. HP Integrity servers tend to have this capability.
There is a KVM from Epiphan Systems that connects your laptop to the monitor/keyboard/mouse of another system using a USB based VGA framebuffer. At $399 the price may be a bit steep though.
There are a couple of pieces of hardware around like this:
But I haven't seen one wholely accepted solution. I've thought about this many, many times while cursing a crash cart that was locked in someone else's cage at my colo.
I wonder if you could leverage the mirror support in Maxivista for this?
You could also use a software KVM with an adapter. They're few and far between.
One such product from epiphan (Never heard of them before today's google) Product Page
The Lantronix Spider is a IP KVM dongle that you can plug into the server and the network, and gives you an OOB console to poke at. It's slightly cheaper than the Epiphan solution Matt suggested ($365 vs $400), but (in my mind, at least) offers a lot more functionality.
Of course, the proper solution is to buy servers with built-in OOB management (iLo, DRAC, or another IPMI implementation) so that this issue never comes up to begin with.