Windows-based FTP server with IRC tie-in and detailed administration control that functions similar to a proxy server

By ServerWatch Staff (Send Email)
Posted June 5, 2002


Internet sharing is a hot field these days. With the rapid spread of broadband connections, such as cable modems and ADSL, many enjoy enough bandwidth to share between two or more computers. At its core, Avirt's Gateway software is a just such an application, allowing multiple computers connected together in an internal network to share a single external Internet connection.

In the field of Internet sharing, there are two approaches to this end: proxy servers and Network Address Translation (NAT). Both approaches require multiple computers to be networked together as a LAN, generally using TCP/IP.

In a proxy server configuration, the "host" computer is that which possesses the physical connection to the Internet, whether by analog modem or Ethernet (e.g., cable modem or ADSL). All of the subordinate computers in the LAN are configured to send their Internet requests to the proxy server — the host computer — which relays the requests to the Internet, and returns the incoming data to the requesting machine. Proxying is a very popular means of Internet sharing, and it offers the organization the ability to control sharing on an application-by-application basis and a certain degree of firewall protection.

On the downside, proxying requires each network application to be configured to use the proxy server. Avirt Gateway, although an FTP server, is a proxy-server style sharing application. The typical traits of such applications are important to keep in mind because the pros and cons of proxy serving render Avirt Gateway more or less attractive to the organization's particular needs.

A popular alternative to proxy servers is NAT, wherein several machines "hide" behind a single Internet IP address. On the surface, NAT and proxy serving seem similar, but NAT works at the routing level while proxying takes place at the application level. In many respects this makes NAT easier to set up and less subject to application-specific issues. That said, servers using both the NAT and proxy approaches sometimes encounter trouble with certain Internet games and conferencing packages.

Installation of Avirt Gateway was relatively straightforward on our Celeron-500-based Windows 98SE, with a cable modem connection. Unfortunately, the installation routine defaulted to C:\Program Files and does not allow the user to override this. It also installed the server executable in the Windows\System folder, which is a questionable choice to force on someone, despite its slim 200 KB footprint.

From this point on, Avirt takes care of most of the hard work, setting up the proxy server on the host machine, and configuring the proxy settings for applications on the client machine. Avirt's accompanying help documentation is very clear and aimed at the typical user rather than a network guru. Installing Gateway on a client machine takes care of proxy settings for most common Internet applications, including the Web, e-mail, and streaming media (such as RealAudio and its peers). At the time of this writing, Microsoft's Netmeeting is one stalwart application that is troublesome in proxy server environments due to the transmission protocol it uses. Thus, if using Netmeeting among shared machines is important, you might need to think twice about a proxy-server-type solution to sharing.

As a proxy server, Gateway acts as a firewall, limiting and protecting the type of access outsiders can gain into the internal network. In the outgoing direction, administrators can also limit the types of Internet activity in which users on their shared machines may engage. Making configuration changes in Gateway is easy and straightfoward using the GUI accessible from the task bar on the host machine. Administrators can also make advanced changes to the port mapping that Gateway performs if they so choose. In this light, Avirt Gateway is a powerful proxy server accessible using an intuitive interface.

That said, Avirt Gateway is far from the only Internet-sharing solution on the market. In fact, Windows 98SE even includes a Microsoft version of NAT knows as "Internet Connection Sharing" — which may do the trick for no extra cost if a 98SE-based LAN is being used. Other popular NAT products for Windows include NAT32 and WinRoute. Both products allow administrators to achieve the same Internet sharing goals as Avirt Gateway at a lower cost, depending on the number of machines being shared.

It is also important to consider hardware-based solutions to Internet sharing. Both Linksys and Netgear now offer sharing hardware that is a combination router and hub, using NAT sharing to multiple machines from a single physical Internet connection. These devices are currently selling in the $150 to $250 range and remove the burden of software configuration and processing from a host machine. Avirt Gateway is a powerful, easy-to-set up proxy server, but it is one of many solutions in the field to consider.

Pros: • Simple installation • intuitive configuration • coherent help documents • performance-as-advertised
Cons: • Lack of configurable installation path • application-specific limitations inherent in proxy servers • wide array of competing products that may provide similar functionality for lower cost in larger LANs
Version Reviewed: 4.0
Date of Review: 3/16/00
Date Updated: 8/16/00
Reviewed By: Aaron Weiss

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