Firewalls used to be this mysterious doohickey that only big companies needed, and no average home PC user ever had the interest or the money to put a firewall on his home PC. But with the popularity of broadband Internet access, a plethora of hackers and crackers out there, and the advent of home networking, security has become a serious issue for the home user, especially for users with cable or DSL and a home network.The two main ways of protection are either to install a software firewall solution such as Zone Alarm or to put the entire network behind a hardware firewall solution.
Both categories have seen a drastic increase in popularity in the home and small office environment. As a result we’ve seen the arrival of a great range of products with affordable prices. However, most hardware solutions offer not only protection but also a number of additional features, such as DHCP (Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol), filtering, DMZ (Demilitarized Zone), VPN (Virtual Private Network), and NAT (Network Address Translation) that make them very attractive.
One device that falls into this category is the SonicWALL SOHO Telecommuter (SWSOHOTC). While the SWSOHOTC is definitely on the pricier side, it is chock-full of useful features and very well worth the money. The old adage “You get what you pay for” certainly holds true here. Let’s take a closer look at it and see what makes it such a great product.
When unpacking the box you’ll notice already that somebody wanted to do this right. The unit is securely packed, yet no styrofoam wasted here. The contents include the SWSOHOTC itself, the power supply, a regular ethernet cable, a crossover cable, a companion CD, a quickstart guide, a 170 page manual, an addendum to the manual, and a VPN users guide – everything you need to get started. The clearly illustrated quickstart guide demonstrates how to set up the hardware, connect it to your network and computer, configure a PC on your network to access and manage the SWSOHOTC, and how to initially configure the SWSOHOTC. This procedure is easy, and a wizard helps you with the initial configuration. If you’re comfortable with the manual configuration you can of course bypass the wizard and dig right in.
The SWSOHOTC is configured via a web interface that is accessed through your browser. The interface is very user-friendly, in contrast to the Netgear’s RT311 and RT314 antiquated Telnet mode, and, even though it offers a plethora of features, is easily maneuverable. The manual is very well written, with clear step-by-step instructions and plenty of illustrations and screen shots. The beginner will be happy to find plenty of pages with explanations of basic network and firewall lingo.
The initial configuration consists of setting an admin password and connecting the Sonicwall to the ISP by entering the basic settings, such as IP address, subnet, gateway, etc. It doesn’t matter whether you have a static or dynamic IP, whether you use PPPoE or not, the SWSOHOTC supports it all right out of the box. Once it’s configured you can use the Tools/Diagnostics menu to do a ping or DNS lookup to make sure you have connectivity to the outside world. Now you set up all PCs on your network and point them to the SWSOHOTC as the gateway and you’re set. On a small home network the setup process takes less than half an hour.