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Internet Gateway — Proxy server tailored to organizations that need to share expensive Internet access but lack technical expertise

Vicomsoft Internet Gateway is a proxy server tailored to the needs of small businesses and professional offices that must share expensive Internet access but have limited technical expertise. At $215 for five users, Internet Gateway is more expensive than similar products in its competitive set (our review of Sygate illustrates one example), but it offers additional business-oriented features. Internet Gateway also distinguishes itself by its ease of set up and management.

Vicomsoft Internet Gateway is a proxy server tailored to the needs of small businesses and professional offices that must share expensive Internet access but have limited technical expertise.

At the heart of Internet Gateway is a software router that uses Network Address Translation (NAT) to take Internet (TCP/IP) activity from multiple users on a private network and combine them to look like a computer using a single connection to an ISP. NAT technology has several advantages: 1) translating addresses provides the means to create a firewall (an automatic feature of Internet Gateway); 2) unlike most proxy server systems, NAT does not require applications to be specially configured; and 3) NAT makes it possible to interconnect with many kinds of networks (e.g., LANs and WANs). All that is needed to run Internet Gateway is an ISP account, access line, internal LAN, and a (nondedicated) workstation acting as a server.

In general, setting up the Internet Gateway server is quick and easy. Using the Configuration Wizard, installing the modem took about twenty minutes and test. Internet Gateway supports a variety of connection methods including modem, ISDN, cable modem, routers, leased lines, and ADSL. We also tested Internet Gateway with a cable modem, which turned out to have a few wrinkles caused by peculiarities in the cable system. Vicomsoft does recommend that high-speed connections, like cable modems, use two network cards — one for the external connection and one for the internal network. This separation provides security and performance advantages.

Internet Gateway includes a DHCP Server that configures clients with their own address as they come onto the network. This dynamic approach makes setting up client workstations almost a no-brainer — about six clicks in Windows systems to indicate that the workstation should use a DHCP address. While Internet Gateway is remarkably simple to configure, there is a standard caveat: The level of jargon that accompanies it (typical for this type of product) assumes some knowledge of Internet and network connections.

An obvious question about a connection-sharing server is “How does it perform?” The question is really: How many people can the server simultaneously support? Based on our tests of the server with three workstations, we believe that if the office traffic is largely e-mail supplemented by informational surfing, performance will be quite good, probably sufficient for up to 15 users. Internet Gateway has a built-in page-caching server to boost performance. Caching retains the content of the most frequently visited Web pages and holds them for quick delivery to workstations. It thus works best when users are typically visiting the same sites.

Another built-in feature of Internet Gateway is its remote access server. The remote access server makes it possible for those working outside the office (whether traveling or at home) to dial in to the server and connect to the Internet as if they were in the office. Naturally the speed of these connections varies, but a centralized access for remote workers can save money and provide better security.

Security is a main concern for any Internet connection, and Internet Gateway covers this with a built-in firewall, internal controls over site access, and useful (albeit possibly controversial) support for the CyberNOT service to monitor and filter Internet sites and content. CyberNOT listings, which are updated weekly, are used to block access to sites based on administrators’ decisions of what is appropriate. In the business environment this could mean blocking access to adult or recreational material. CyberNOT is a subscription service with monthly fees.

Internet Gateway has another amenity, called the WebHeader Server, that enables users (with appropriate rights) to place a text or graphic frame (much like a banner) above Web pages viewed over Internet Gateway. This can be used to broadcast information to all users. Vicomsoft provides a template that makes creating these headers a snap. Users can even put links into the HMTL version of the WebHeader.

At the time of this posting, Vicomsoft was preparing a release of Internet Gateway v6.6. This version will feature Connection Teaming, the capability to combine Internet connections to increase bandwidth; Connection Fallback that automatically switches to a different Internet connection if a primary connection fails; and an improved WebHeader Server. Internet Gateway will be repackaged into four versions: Small Office, Professional, Enterprise, and Educational. Pricing for v6.6 is not yet available.

When one does the math: the line cost (e.g., telephone and cable) + ISP fee TIMES the number of users vs. the single line cost + single ISP fee + Internet Gateway cost, this kind of product pays for itself in short order. In this case, Vicomsoft Internet Gateway also comes with important features: page caching, security and access control, and remote access. It covers all the bases without requiring a great deal of technical knowledge and is an excellent fit for smaller organizations trying to cut Internet costs.

Pros: Uses NAT technology, Performance is enhanced by the cache server, Supports remote access, Easy to set up and administer, Macintosh version available
Cons:No Unix or Linux versions

New in v6.6: Faster, more efficient routing; direct support for PPPoE has been built into the core router; includes a faster, more efficient Web Caching Server; Offline Library is significantly improved; faster DNS Caching Server; three new modules: Connection Teaming, Connection Fallback, and Graphical WebHeader Server; Release Notes
Upgrade Meter: 4

New in v6.6.2: Can exclude sites from upstream proxy in the Web cache; fixed a problem where downloaded files could get corrupted in some situations; fixed a problem where Domain Name Resolution would fail for some sites; have the option of Ping before issuing DHCP lease; Release Notes
Upgrade Meter: 2

New in v7.0.0: Improved users and groups capabilities, allowing selected access and filtering controls to be set up for individuals and groups; extended logging capabilities produce logs that report on all Internet Gateway functions, thus producing more comprehensive and easy-to-process data for administrators to analyze; existing VPN support was extended to allow multiple users to connect to a virtual private network using PPTP; product suites realigned to Standard, Plus and Pro, to increase number of users, and functionality; Release Notes
Upgrade Meter: 3

Version Reviewed: 6.5.2
Reviewed by: Nelson King
Last Updated: 2/22/02
Date of Original Review: 2/23/00

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