ServersInternet-sharing proxy server withsvirtual private network capabilities

Internet-sharing proxy server withsvirtual private network capabilities

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Sharing a single Internet connection among several computers makes a lot of
sense these days, especially with the growing availability of high-speed connections
through cable modems and DSL lines. Most software solutions to Internet connection
sharing fall into two categories: proxy servers and Network Address Translation
(NAT). Each type of solution has its own set of pros and cons; however, proxy servers are the more popular choice. ITServ’s RideWay PN is one such solution, and it offers a
unique twist.

Most software solutions to Internet connection sharing fall into two categories: proxy servers and Network Address Translation. Each type of solution has its own set of pros and cons; however, proxy servers are the more popular choice. ITServ’s RideWay PN is one such solution, and it offers a unique twist.

Proxy servers generally all work in a similar manner: A single computer owns the Internet
connection, and it behaves as a server within an internal network. Other computers
within the internal network send their Internet requests to the proxy host,
which then passes these requests out to the Internet at large, and then passes the
results back to the originating computer within the internal network. RideWay
PN does all this, but it also has the capability to construct “virtual private
networks” over the Internet. Basically, this boils down to allowing a computer
in one location to access files from a computer in another location. The
Internet serves as the communication medium, and the travelling data is encrypted
along the way. Thus, far-flung machines can engage in “private”
communications even though their data is flowing across a “public” network.

Installing RideWay PN on a Windows 98SE system was a breeze; we followed the
usual Install Shield wizard, and the server consumes a mere 1.5 megabytes of disk space.
Configuring RideWay PN, though, is another matter. After installation, the software
pops up a text file of configuration instructions, with the recommendation that
the user read it through in its entirety. We second that opinion. To be fair, proxy servers
by their nature require much network fiddling, and this is one of the reasons
why some people avoid proxy solutions. The RideWay PN configuration is divided
into two categories: configuring the Internet sharing (the “RideWay”
part) and configuring the private network (the “PN” part).

The RideWay configuration part involves creating a local area network among the computers
designated to share Internet access. The “server” must already
possess a working Internet connection. (And it is here that the documentation stumbles.) The
server may possess an Internet connection by analog modem or Ethernet (e.g., cable or
DSL), although we suspect most users of a product like this will be
using a high-speed Ethernet type of Internet connection. Those who follow RideWay’s
instructions will literally, in creating an internal private network among machines,
disable the server’s outside Internet access. Of course, a server
needs both external and internal network access. ITServ’s sentence regarding
this most important matter is a bungle:

“Before you begin, the PC acting
as the RideWay server must be able to browse the Internet using Dial-Up Networking
(if using a modem, operate the TCP/IP protocol and have a network interface
(or LAN card) installed.”

This begs two questions:

  • Why would my cable modem need to access the Internet
    using dial-up networking?
  • What does “operating the TCP/IP protocol” even mean?

What ITServ really means is that you need two TCP/IP stacks
configured. (Dial-up users, however, already have TCP/IP configured for external access,
so they need add only another TCP/IP stack bound to their network card for internal
network access.) Most cable or DSL users have only the one network card, yet they
will need to access both an external (Internet) and internal network. This can
be done in Windows by adding a second TCP/IP stack in the network configuration
control panel, also bound to the single network card, and configuring this second
stack as per the rest of the RideWay documentation. Alternatively, some cable/DSL
users may wish to have two network cards, one configured for Internet access
and one configured for the local area network. Sadly, there’s little mention
of any of this in RideWay’s documentation.

Assuming you get this far, the remainder of the proxy setup involves configuring
each Internet application on the client machines to access your proxy server,
(e.g., Netscape, Internet Explorer, Eudora, and Outlook). Although this
sort of thing is a pain — and makes it especially difficult to use these machines
for non-shared Internet access on the spur of the moment (perhaps they also
have a modem you only occasionally use) — it is the nature of proxy servers
and not an inconvenience unique to RideWay.

Setting up the private network feature of RideWay is another matter. RideWay
offers default 40-bit encryption (as well as up to 128-bit for qualifying customers
at a slightly higher price), which is all very nice for private communications
across the Internet. RideWay’s private network is based on a “main office/branch
office” model, with “main” being the RideWay server and “branches”
being remote clients.

However, considering that RideWay PN promotes its Internet
sharing capabilities for modem and cable/DSL users, the private network documentation contains
a real showstopper of a prerequisite: “The main office requires a fixed
IP address and dedicated connection.” One has to wonder, how many dial-up users have either
a fixed IP address or a dedicated connection? And for that matter, how
many cable/DSL users, who do have dedicated connections, also have fixed IP
addresses? Only the “main office” is subject to this restriction,
which may make this requirement a nonissue for enterprises with dedicated connections at the office and
employees out in the field. But aside from organizations in situations like that, its usefulness is seriously limited.

Pros: Proxy server and virtual private networking is a convenient bundle, easy to install, low resource usage, straightforward interface

Cons: Documentation makes setting up external and internal networks confusing, intrinsic inconveniences of proxy-server-based sharing, private networking feature must be served by a host with a static IP and dedicated connection

Version Reviewed: P6

Reviewed by: Aaron Weiss
Last Updated: 6/21/00

Date of Original Review: 6/21/00

Operating Systems / Latest Versions:

Windows: NT, Windows 9x, and 2000

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