[ Go to January 1997 Table of Contents ]|
-- by Art Brieva
ISDN has made high-speed Internet access more affordable for smaller companies. But connecting more than one user at a time can still quickly run up costs and add a level of technical complexity many businesses aren't equipped to handle. A host of new ISDN routers promises to make it easier and cheaper to connect multiple users to the Internet. I looked at three of the newest entries in this category: FlowPoint Corp.'s FlowPoint 100, SBE's netXpand Routeman XL and Trancell Systems' WebRamp 1x8IP.
ISDN routers let you connect your network to a single ISDN line a number of users can share. The actual number of simultaneous users varies among routers and may depend largely on the traffic each user generates. Many routers can serve up to 12 users, but you should start with a smaller group-six or fewer-and test to see if performance is adequate.
Before you can start plugging in wires, you must take care of a few administrative tasks. You need to load IP stacks and addresses at each workstation. Most ISPs assign addresses dynamically, and some routers can work within that scenario; however, you may need to apply static IP addresses for each workstation on your network. For a nominal charge, most ISPs will supply additional addresses.
The Routeman XL and FlowPoint units both support dynamic IP addressing, but you still need IP addresses for each participating workstation. Networks built around NetWare servers can take advantage of the Trancell WebRamp's optional IPX gateway, which requires only one IP address loaded on the router.
All the routers I tested had wizard-like setup assistance to step you though the configuration process; all also included straightforward administrative applications. Wizards aside, you'll still have to be prepared with information such as SPID numbers, ISDN switch type, IP addresses, the default IP gateway, the subnet mask and PAP/CHAP authentication. This information should be available from your telco, your ISP or the router's manual. All three products do their best to help you: When you start up their administration/configuration applications, the programs will locate your ISDN router. The FlowPoint also requires a one-time serial-port connection to set the IP address.
Security is also a concern. Most routers use packet filtering to firewall a network from unauthorized access. The Routeman XL didn't support packet filtering, even though its manual described it. The WebRamp and FlowPoint routers both support packet filtering, but the FlowPoint's firewall protection isn't very well documented. With the WebRamp, you can create custom outbound and inbound filter sets, much as you can with more expensive routers.
The netXpand Routeman had the most interesting hardware configuration. It consists of a four-port hub with a PC Card slot that can hold a modem or an ISDN terminal adapter. I tested the Routeman with a ThunderCard DD 1280 PC ISDN adapter card. The Routeman has three unlabeled-but described in the documentation-LEDs that indicate system status and WAN or LAN activity. In my tests, the Routeman connected to our ISDN remote-access servers without any problem, with successful connections to NetWare and NT servers. Although no easier to configure than the others, the Routeman offers both flexibility and economy. Its documentation is among the best I've seen.
Trancell's WebRamp has an integrated eight-port Ethernet hub. It offers built-in NT-1 termination equipment and can be configured to connect enterprise networks that support the IP protocol. Like the others, the WebRamp can be set up to sense the type of traffic and automatically dial up the appropriate connection. The unit has clearly labeled LEDs that indicate workstations are connected to its Ethernet ports. It also has LEDs for each B channel. Installing the WebRamp for an Internet connection was easier and faster than for the other routers.
The FlowPoint doesn't supply Ethernet ports for workstations, but connects to an existing network hub. The FlowPoint is a true multiprotocol router that supports dial-on-demand, bandwidth-on-demand, and IP and IPX spoofing. The FlowPoint arrived configured for IPX support, which is standard. It was easy to configure and compatible with all our ISDN access servers. LEDs on the unit's front panel show activity on both B channels, NT-1 termination and LAN activity. The FlowPoint would be a good choice for connecting a branch office with an enterprise network. You can add an Internet connection later if you wish. The device's weakest feature is its documentation.
Copyright © 1997 CMP Media Inc.[ Go to January 1997 Table of Contents ]