Virtual Private Networking (VPN) isn't a very new concept or particularly exciting technology, however it is something that most network engineers and managers of technology fear. Not so much because deploying VPNs is particularly challenging, but you will understand when you get that 2am telephone call from the CEO, who can't connect to the company's network during a business trip.
VPNs are a technology which most IT departments want to keep as simple and straight forward as possible. There is no better way to deliver this than a Secure Socket Layer (SSL) VPN connection. As its name suggests, users can launch this VPN via their Internet browser and the Netgear SSL312 helps you do just that.
I recall using Netgear products many years ago, in the days when Internet access meant 28.8Kbps dial-up, and I must say Netgear developed a product look and feel that has not changed to this day. Same sturdy metal chassis, same ports, even the same device colour. Naturally the underlying technologies have changed dramatically, but it is good to see that Netgear has introduced some semblance of familiarity for systems engineers over that period despite the leaps in technology.
How We Tested
We took a look at the Netgear SSL312 and considered factors such as physical attributes, installation, configuration, administration and features.
The SSL312 takes a relatively difficult task, and makes it simple and straightforward. Essentially its function is to provide Virtual Private Network (VPN) access via a Secure Socket Layer (SSL) connection. The target market is small to medium businesses (SMBs) whose employees may need to remotely and securely access the organisation's network resources. They can do this providing they have a computer system with an Internet connection and browser that supports Java, ActiveX, cookies and of course SSL.
As with the majority of Netgear's business class products the SSL312 is encased in a sturdy metal casing. The front of the unit has a series of LEDs which show network activity and the speed (10Mbps or 100Mbps) for each of the two RJ45 Ethernet ports. There are also power and test LED indicators. The only other features on the front of the device are a recessed factory default reset switch and a male DB9 interface which is used to access the console and command line interface (CLI). The rear of the product has a on/off toggle power switch and a standard IEC power cable port (no nasty plug packs or external power adaptors to be seen here).
Considering the functionality offered by this product, when you open it up internally, the main circuit board is no larger than any video card and the only stand out components on the board are a cell battery and a heatsink. All cables are of the right length to ensure access and reduce the possibility of interfering with other parts. Airflow appears adequate despite the lack of fans -- there are ventilation grills along both sides of the casing.
Access to the configuration system can be either via a Web browser or serial port to the command line interface (for all those die hard techies out there). Once connected the configuration and administration interface is another feature that is similar across the Netgear range. Most notably is the fact that almost half of the interface's real estate is a very detailed, clear and concise help page that enables those with even modest technical background to navigate and configure the device even through often very technical details.
Excellent granular controls are provided in the SSL312, enabling multiple groups, domains and specific policies (both global and individual). Users and hosts can be created and stored on the unit itself and there is also support for off-box authentication with support for interfacing with common authentication servers such as LDAP and RADIUS. NT Domain and Active Directory are also supported.
We thought the Netgear SSL312 was a very impressive unit. Surprisingly in today's market, a technology company is giving thought and making efforts to deliver a product that does exactly what it says -- no more, no less.
While some competing products out there might come with all the bells and whistles, at the end of the day how many businesses are going to need or use each and every feature these products come laden with? If, however, your organisation has the need to facilitate up to 25 concurrent SSL VPN user sessions then the Netgear SSL312 is definitely worthy of short-listing for evaluation.
|Very good levels of support for external authentication systems as well as SSL support mean that most VPN applications/requirements will be serviced by this device.|
|Internet browsers and SSL are not likely to disappear in a hurry, nor are VPNs therefore this technology purchase should last the long run.|
|At AU$749 it would be very hard to find such an easy to use and deploy VPN solution that is so well suited to an organisations VPN requirements (providing the number of concurrent users is likely to reach 25).|
|Comes standard with a lifetime warranty -- the only factor to consider is potential turnaround time.|