Good things come in small packages

Keep it simple. That's the mantra for setting up a remote office. Unless, of course, as an information technology administrator you want to spend a lot of time traveling to the hinterlands to resolve network problems.

EmergeCore Networks LLC offers an impressive solution that can help technology managers keep things simple. Its IT in a Box combines a grab bag of network functionality: an e-mail server, a Web server, a Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP) server, an Ethernet hub, a wireless access point, virtual private networking tunneling, a firewall, a proxy server and more in a single, easy-to-manage box.

We found the device's interface to be refreshingly straightforward to use. When IT administrators connect to IT in a Box, also known as the IT-100, the Web-based wizard leads them through the initial configuration. EmergeCore makes it surprisingly easy to understand all of the options.

We were especially impressed with the ease of setting up a wireless network. The built-in wireless access point worked well, with better than average coverage. Unlike many 802.11b access points, this one comes with service set identifier broadcast turned off by default, which prevents at least one security trapdoor.

As expected, the device allows administrators to limit wireless access to specified Media Access Control addresses, and it supports Wired Equivalent Privacy encryption of transmissions. Given WEP's vulnerability, however, we feel it is important to support virtual private networking for wireless clients, a feature that has not yet been added. Although the IT-100 offers VPN, it is only for wide-area network communications, not for the local-area network.

Because the IT-100 includes a 20G hard drive, you can configure the device to serve as a file server and e-mail server for the remote office. Both functions were easy to set up.

The IT-100 does have limitations. The most obvious one is the 20G hard drive. If the device needs more storage space as a file server, a user must buy an external device for additional storage. EmergeCore officials say they are considering making a larger drive available as an option.

Another limitation is the single Transmeta Corp. Crusoe 544 MHz TM5600 processor and 128M of system memory. The hardware may meet the demands of small, remote workgroups, which is the recommended usage, but if there is a slowdown in performance, users might be disappointed to find they cannot add processors or memory.

We also found the firewall to be limited. IT staffers can choose among four settings: no firewall, minimum security, medium security and high security. If they employ high security, all outbound traffic is blocked and the device can't be remotely managed. If they select medium security, pinging is blocked, and ports required for Web, FTP and e-mail are opened. You can block specific IP addresses from accessing the network, and the latest version of the software offers basic manual configuration of individual IP ports on the device.

The IT-100 makes it a snap to set up network address translation and DHCP so that multiple computers can share Internet access and have their IP addresses hidden. EmergeCore supports port forwarding so that some services, such as a Web server, can be accessed from the Internet.

Don't expect extensive logs and reporting tools. We did find, however, that the bandwidth monitoring and activity reports provided via the Web interface are useful and accessible. The basic set of alerts and monitoring tools are also easy to employ.

The bottom line: The IT-100 packs a surprising amount of functionality into an easy-to-use package that is fairly inexpensive. The trade-off is the device's limited expandability and configurability. Overall, we were impressed.

REPORT CARD

IT in a Box (IT-100)

EmergeCore Networks LLC
(208) 947-8555
www.emergecore.com

The list price is $1,395.

EmergeCore Networks LLC's IT in a Box has two outstanding virtues: simplicity and a low price tag. If you're looking for a painless way to implement a small remote office, you'll want to check out the IT-100. The downside: limited expandability and no virtual private networking capability for wireless clients.

We installed the IT-100 in front of a Hewlett-Packard Co. Compaq ProLiant ML350 server with dual Intel Corp. Xeon 2.2 GHz processors and 256M of system memory running Microsoft Corp. Windows 2000 Server. We tested client access with an HP Workstation xw5000, employing both Ethernet and wireless connections, the latter employing a Cisco Systems Inc. Aironet 350 802.11b PCI adapter.

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