What is this tool for supporting a headless computer called?
April 7, 2021 9:43 AM   Subscribe

I’m looking for a particular device that I’m sure exists but for which I don’t know the name, and my googling has failed (I am not good at google sometimes). Its purpose is to provide a “temporary head” for a headless computer. It looks like a laptop but is essentially a small monitor and a keyboard that can be connected to a headless computer to temporarily give it a head so you can poke around on it. Do you know what this thing is? Did I dream it? Thanks!
posted by Going To Maine to Computers & Internet (9 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Are you referring to a rackmount console drawer?
posted by saeculorum at 9:44 AM on April 7, 2021 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Though they might be picturing a crash cart. These days it's more common to have an adapter than an actual console to cart around, IME, especially since you can have out-of-band management over the network. Consoles probably make more sense in the rack.
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 9:50 AM on April 7, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Pretty sure you mean a console drawer connected to a KVM, allowing you to switch between connected servers. Very common for rack-mounted equipment.

The crash cart is useful for accessing a server that's not on the KVM. Back when I had to visit a data center for server support, the crash cart had a monitor, keyboard, and mouse on it—we'd wheel it over, plug in everything, and use it (in a pinch).

Those are hardware solutions for working with a headless computer—some software solutions would be remote access software like SSH (console-only), VNC (for Mac / Linux), and RDP (for Windows). These tools are only useful when the computer you're trying to access can actually boot and access a network.

One other solution I used was a Dell iDRAC system, which allowed you to have a remote view of a server, even when powered-off. It was a virtual KVM that worked over the Internet.
posted by vitout at 10:19 AM on April 7, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Back in the day, I used a Lantronix Spider device, connecting its VGA and 2xUSB plugs to the server and its Ethernet port to my laptop via crossover cable (making a 2 node private net). The Spider presented a webpage to my laptop, from which I could see and operate the console. I could even power-cycle the server from the webpage and connect a laptop-based ISO or floppy image as a pseudo-device to the server over USB.

The Spider of that era used now-deprecated browser/Java techology. I don't know whether the current generation's firmware has been updated for the modern web.
posted by Quesaak at 10:57 AM on April 7, 2021

Best answer: The company building this thing keeps talking about connecting it to a smartphone, but with an USB and a HDMI connector you could hook it up to any headless computer that offers those ports, and with a couple of adapters to DVI or DP as well. Nifty bit is that it's got a battery so that you don't have to faff with a power cord or adapter unless you've got a lot of work to do.
posted by Stoneshop at 12:22 PM on April 7, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Historically this would have been called a "terminal" as once upon a time all computers were headless and you interacted with them through serial terminals and the computers usually had a lot of them connected simultaneously. Nextdock like Stoneshop posted is one, they're used in data center environments like others have posted, but really they're just not that popular. You're probably imagining a device that has monitor and usb connections for connecting to a normal PC but older servers would have also had serial ports to allow for local wired control. Although honestly it's easier just to carry around a normal laptop to use as a serial terminal.
posted by GuyZero at 12:55 PM on April 7, 2021

Best answer: Great answers in here. Most of the time today, we use the virtual consoles like the iDRAC where a console is presented to a web browser on a private network. When that won't do, we use a crash cart, a very cheap cart with a very basic keyboard, mouse, and LCD display. About a decade back, we had a console drawer and kvm, since people seemed to be using the crash cart a lot and it made sense to spend to avoid that. Prior to that, some equipment didn't even have a video card, so you'd use a serial adapter that you plugged a laptop into and that laptop could see the text based console.
posted by advicepig at 1:07 PM on April 7, 2021

The only device that I know of that was used to add screen and keyboard to a device that normally doesn't have one was the Motorola Lapdock for its Atrix Smartphone.
posted by kschang at 8:08 PM on April 7, 2021

As a postscript, if you have a server that doesn't have IPMI/iLO/iDRAC, PiKVM will let you add a remote network console made out of a Raspberry Pi.
posted by fings at 6:03 PM on April 8, 2021

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