Advancing Firewall Protection


With more than one million users, U.K.-based SmoothWall's Firewall may just be the most popular software firewall that has yet to become a household name. Test Center engineers recently took at look at products from SmoothWall to see what all the buzz is about and to see exactly why one million users have chosen the product.

The first thing to understand about SmoothWall's Firewall is that there are two versions available: an open-source version that is free to anyone and a commercial version, named SmoothWall Advanced Firewall, that offers significant feature enhancements over the open-source version. The Advanced Firewall product supports add-on security technologies such as bandwidth management, antivirus and content filtering.

At first glance, the SmoothWall's suite of commercial products doesn't seem at all unique when compared to integrated firewalls from competitors. But upon closer evaluation, solution providers will discover that SmoothWall's products are an ideal path to build custom security appliances.

With that in mind, Test Center engineers set out to build a "white box" security appliance with SmoothWall's commercial products, a task that proved both straightforward and economical. SmoothWall Advanced Firewall is built on a secure Linux distribution and is delivered as an ISO image. That image is used to burn a bootable CD, which installs both the Linux OS and the firewall product. Low overhead of both the operating system and the firewall application helps keep hardware needs to a minimum. A hardware requirements calculator is offered on the company's Web site. For testing purposes, hardware needs were calculated based upon a 25-user site, and minimum requirements were calculated as a 266MHz processor, 256 Mbytes of RAM and 9 Gbytes of hard drive space. Test Center engineers chose to use a 1.8GHz Pentium IV system with 512 Mbytes of RAM and a 40 Gbyte hard disk drive. Three 10/100 ethernet cards also were installed in the system, along with a 40X CD-ROM drive. A configuration such as that should come in at less than $300 in most cases, making an affordable appliance a reality for any solution provider pursuing the appliance market. Of course, larger deployments may need more powerful hardware, but luckily SmoothWall's products scale up nicely to meet enterprise needs.

The installation tool involves little more than booting from the CD, entering a license code and then installing any options. Test Center engineers installed the Advanced Firewall, SmoothTraffic (bandwidth management) and SmoothZap (e-mail security and antivirus) modules on the appliance. No complications were encountered during the install.

The firewall uses deep packet inspection technology while the bandwidth management module uses predictive analysis to enhance traffic flow. The products are policy driven and integrate with LDAP-based directory systems. That allows administrators to quickly define policies granting associated rights to individual users, groups of users or even LDAP-enabled applications.
Solution providers looking to build a managed service around security will appreciate the extensive management features offered by SmoothWall. A windows-based application is available to create dashboards and remote management sessions, allowing remote management of several appliances. Other options include multihosting (multiple IP address) capabilities and support of up to nine network cards.

While the company is relatively new to the U.S. market, extensive work has gone into developing a partner-friendly channel program. SmoothWall has broken down the program into four tiers: base, bronze, silver and gold. The base level is designed for small VARs and consultants and offers margins around 15 percent. No sales leads, co-branding or Web presence is offered to base-level partners, but the base level is still a good starting point for those exploring the market. Bronze-, silver- and gold-level partners earn margins of at least 20 percent, 30 percent and 40 percent respectively. Margins are determined by sales forecasts, volume and service commitments. Higher partner levels may require partner-provided on-site support and dedicated technical and sales personnel. Overall the channel program proves to be flexible and offers ample rewards that directly correlate to partner commitment.

All things considered, SmoothWall's take on the "build-it-yourself" appliance market and channel flexibility brings a breath of fresh air to solution providers looking to earn their keep in both the managed services and security appliance markets.