Product Review: SyGate update connects users cheaply

Allocating Internet resources for your branch office just got easier. As the network manager of a branch office, you need to get all your users to quickly and easily connect not only to the Internet but also to your company's intranet. But because you have only a few dozen users, you don't want to invest in a full T1 access link or allocate a Class-C subnet. To solve this dilemma, Sybergen Networks has released SyGate 3.0, Internet connection sharing software that acts like a proxy server or Internet gateway.

SyGate lets you subscribe to just one Internet account that all your users can share. It also provides a packet filtering firewall. Priced at $US299 for an unlimited-user licence, SyGate will save you hundreds of dollars in Internet-access fees and hardware costs and hours in configuration headaches.

Without SyGate, you would have to purchase and maintain a router, a firewall, and a Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP) server; and you would have to subscribe to high-speed access through an ISP. SyGate 3.0's competitors include WinGate Pro by Qbik New Zealand, SoftRouter Pro by Vicomsoft, WinProxy by Ositis, and Gateway Server by aVirt.

SyGate will work with any type of connection to the Internet, including any Digital Subscriber Line, T1, ISDN, cable modem, and even Direct PC. If your SyGate server accesses the Internet via a dial-up account, SyGate will automatically connect to your ISP when a user makes a request.

As a firewall, SyGate protects your users behind the server, closing all unnecessary ports. And as a DHCP server, SyGate automatically assigns users addresses from a private address space such as 192.168. All user requests are sent to the gateway, which strips the user information, sends it to the site, waits for a response, and returns that information to the user.

SyGate 3.0 is a major update from Version 2.0. One of the most impressive new features is an automated diagnostic screen that checks your system for the necessary hardware and automatically makes all the required changes to your network configuration.

While configuring itself, SyGate will even add protocols and bindings if it detects they are not installed. This diagnostic capability does not interfere with its renowned installation and configuration, which are just as easy to complete as ever. In fact, I had the software running in six minutes flat, and the only difficulty I encountered while testing SyGate was adding a second network interface card to my Windows NT 4.0 Server.

SyGate supports most Internet applications out of the box without any user intervention, and Version 3.0 has added support for a user-configurable list of supported applications. You must edit this rather cryptic list by hand, but I was able to add support for my RealNetwork's G2 encoder, which runs on port 4040. I added six lines to the apprule.cfg file, in the same directory as the SyGate application.

Also new to SyGate 3.0 is the Blacklist and Whitelist, an optional URL blocking feature. Entries in the Blacklist prohibit users (all or one, per entry) from accessing a particular IP address that is using a particular application port. For example, I restricted all my users from accessing www.dirtybird.com at IP address 123.456.789.1 by adding an entry using the SyGate BWeditor in the Blacklist. The Whitelist is the opposite, so when I added the same entry into the Whitelist, my users had Web access only to this site. If you need to give access to a Web server or other server behind the SyGate server from outside your company, you can add a few more lines to the apprule.cfg file.

If you are planning to provision some branch offices with Internet access and want to save money and avoid headaches, Sybergen Networks, SyGate 3.0 will prove to be a pleasure to work with.

Dan Seoane (dan_seoane@infoworld.com) is the Test Center's infrastructure architect. He handles the day-to-day operation, maintenance, and management of the Test Center infrastructure.

The bottom line: very good

SyGate 3.0

Summary: SyGate lets you share one Internet connection among many users by acting as an Internet gateway or proxy server. It can handle the most demanding Web access needs of any branch office or small enterprise network.

Business Case: Add SyGate to an Asynchronous Digital Subscriber Line (ADSL) from SBC/PacBell, which costs $US1000 a year, and you will spend less than $1500 a year for full Web access for your entire office.

Pros

+ Simple installation and configuration

+ Supports virtual private networks

+ Has extended application support

+ Includes built-in Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol serverCons- Lacks an application-rule editorCost: $US39 for a three-user licence; $299 for an unlimited-user licence. Upgrade pricing available at a discount.

Platforms: Server: Windows 95, Windows 98, Windows NT; Client: any TCP/IP-based systemSybergen Networks Inc, Fremont, Californiawww.sygate.com

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