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Is there a way to use an old laptop as an external keyboard and monitor for my rack servers?

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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.

  1. Use some remote desktop/vnc/X-terminal (but of course, why do you even need to be in the server room?)
  2. 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.
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  • See my answer below for a method in which you can connect directly to the server using a special type of KVM. – Matt Jun 3 '09 at 1:18
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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.

http://www.epiphan.com/products/frame-grabbers/kvm2usb/

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2

Use servers with "lights out" modules. This way network is all you need and your notebook will be a nice terminal.

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1

If it's a Linux server, you can connect to X remotely, or tunnel it through SSH, if security is concern.

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  • 3
    of course, if it's a Linux server, it shouldn't use X – Javier Jun 2 '09 at 19:14
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    well, there is no reason for it to have X started all the time, but you can, ssh to it, and then start X to do whatever you want, then turn X off (I know it's hard to imagine, but some people may prefere GUI over console, shocking, I know :) ) – Slartibartfast Jun 2 '09 at 20:41
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You could use Remote Desktop with the /console (or /admin) switch if they're both on the same network.

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0

There are a couple of pieces of hardware around like this:

http://www.iogear.com/product/GCS661U/

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.

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  • 1
    This appears to be a Windows (2000, XP, Vista) only solution. – Matt Jun 2 '09 at 18:37
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I wonder if you could leverage the mirror support in Maxivista for this?

http://www.maxivista.com/

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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

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0

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.

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