Feeling Secure With S-Box

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These days, small-office routers with four-port hubs go for $50. At that price, you can afford to throw the thing away if your needs change. But the more interesting market segment, especially for VARs, is at the higher end of the spectrum, where you can get real firewall features and a monthly service annuity to boot.

SofaWare's S-box fits squarely in the middle. For an entry price of $299, you get a solid firewall and the ability to subscribe to SofaWare's Security Management Portal (SMP). Included in this price are Web-content filtering, antivirus protection and a true stateful packet-inspection firewall based on the granddaddy of them all, Check Point Software (an investor in SofaWare). Pay a bit more, and you get support for VPNs, either point-to-point or by connecting to Check Point's VPN-1 products. One advantage is that you can connect two users who have dynamic IP addresses via these S-boxes; most other firewalls require at least one of the users to have a fixed IP address.

Like other small-office firewall/hub models, the S-box comes in a small box that isn't much bigger than a standard hub, and it uses a standard Web browser for configuration and management. Unlike products from SonicWall, you can grow the number of users with firmware upgrades (the low-end SonicWalls are limited to five connections).

The trick is that the S-box works in conjunction with a managed service provider, which provisions the potential for various security services on the box. The ultimate network administrator can then enable these via the Web interface. The provider automatically updates the box to protect networks against new attacks, and also can set security policies for the remote users. This is a boon for VARs and consultants, but can be vexing for standalone users (though there is a way to configure the box for standalone operations, too).

SofaWare's pricing is, perhaps, the most complex aspect about the product. The basic $299 model supports five-node networks. For VPN support, add another $100. The $599 model supports VPNs and 10-node networks, and the $1,199 model supports 25 nodes and VPNs. Add another $50 to $250 per year to subscribe to firmware updates, and more to replace the unit if stolen or dies.

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