NetTEL 2520/2500, PoPToP
Manufacturer: Moreton Bay
Price: under $400 US
Reviewer: Jon Valesh
There are three words that go to the heart of Linux's appeal for many of us, words that define the spirit of Linux developers and users alike: “Do It Yourself”. It could be the Linux motto, but even with that great do-it-yourself spirit, there are times when having someone do it for you sure would be nice.
The new NetTEL VPN routers from Moreton Bay are great examples of how nice it can be. A NetTEL does nothing a network whiz couldn't do with their favorite Linux distribution, an old PC and a network card or two, but with a NetTEL, you don't need to be a network whiz. You can forget about understanding configuration files, and just tell the NetTEL what you need it to do. If you are feeling like a whiz, you can still learn those configuration files and do it yourself if the need or fancy takes you, because the NetTEL runs Linux and uses the same GNU tools you would have used to do the job.
Let's forget that attractive fact for a moment and concentrate on what the NetTEL does. The NetTEL is first and foremost a Virtual Private Network (VPN)/Network Address Translation (NAT) router. The 2500 model includes one Ethernet interface and two serial ports for modem or ISDN Internet access or incoming PPP connections to your LAN. The 2520 model adds a second Ethernet interface for ADSL or cable Internet services.
For its VPN role, the NetTEL uses the widely available point-to-point tunneling protocol developed by Microsoft to allow secure access to your local area network (LAN) by computers anywhere on the Internet.
As a NAT firewall router, the NetTEL allows every computer on your LAN to share a single Internet IP address, protecting your computers from Internet attacks, saving you money and allowing you to share resources more easily.
The NetTEL doesn't stop there, of course. Moreton Bay obviously made a real effort to cram as much network functionality into the NetTEL as they could. A DHCP server, dial-in support, transparent IP tunneling, configurable packet filtering, a good suite of diagnostic tools and more merge to form a very useful network tool for small to medium-sized businesses as well as home users who want the latest gadgetry.
Using a NetTEL, you can access the Internet from all computers on your LAN without paying for extra IP addresses or using expensive dedicated Internet services. That's because the NetTEL supports NAT, a feature derived from the Linux kernel networking support. NAT has one unchangeable rule: you can reach the outside world, but the outside world can't reach you. Great for security, but lousy if you want to transfer a file from your office computer to one at home. Moreton Bay has addressed this by implementing VPN, which allows you to create network links between any computer running the proper software and your LAN. Thus, you can access computers sequestered by the NAT firewall without exposing them to the hazards of being on a public network.
If you don't always have Internet access or you want to link remote offices without sending your data over the Net, the NetTEL's dial-in PPP feature allows modem-based wide area networking between NetTEL's or any PC or router supporting dial-out PPP. Incoming PPP and VPN connections are user ID- and password-authenticated, using information stored in the NetTEL. All that can be configured by anyone, even if they have never set up a network before and don't know VPN from PNG—that's the promise, anyway.
As with everything, the ultimate test is getting everything running the first time. A smooth start is doubly critical for a product like the NetTEL. After all, if it isn't easier to install than building your own, what's the point?
The NetTEL I received was a pre-release version shipped before the final packaging was ready, so a few details like a printed quick-start guide were omitted. The retail package should be a little easier to get working.
If you have some real work to do and no time to learn a new trade just to set up a network, the NetTEL's manual will come in very handy. You can download it in PDF format from the Moreton Bay web site to check out the installation and configuration process before spending any money. The manual doesn't limit itself to details on setting up the NetTEL, either, so if you are new to LANs and especially VPNs, you'll get a good introductory tutorial on the technologies and configuration of both to get you started. Die-hard Linux nuts will find the manual a bit too Windows-oriented. Fortunately, the instructions assume you will be using the web interface for configuring all the major features, and that keeps it platform-independent.
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