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Cisco edges F5 in VPN shootout

All five reviewed products deliver impressive SSL VPN features

By Susan Perschke, Network World
April 22, 2013 06:09 AM ET

Network World - Connecting remotely to network servers is a fact of life for millions of end users. Whether working from a PC or a mobile device, users rely on secure, reliable remote connections to maintain their productivity.

We tested five products that deliver remote SSL/VPN connectivity: WatchGuard SSL 560, Barracuda SSL VPN 380, Dell SonicWall EX-7000, F5 Networks BIG-IP Edge Gateway 3900 Platform and Cisco's ASA 5515-X security appliance.

We found each of these products to be capable, fully mature and established in the marketplace, which made it a bit of a challenge to choose a winner. Our top pick, the Cisco ASA 5515-X security appliance narrowly edged out the competition. While it didn't dominate in every category, the Cisco ASA 5515-X won top billing due to its rich feature set, powerful and granular configuration options and overall balance of capacity and features.

The other four products were essentially all runners-up, each with unique features that make them suitable for implementation, depending upon individual remote connectivity requirements. The SonicWall EX-7000 and F5 Big-IP appliances are higher capacity units that can handle up to 5,000 and 60,000 concurrent users respectively.

The Barracuda SSL VPN 380 and WatchGuard SSL 560 fall more into the mid-range with the ability to handle concurrent users in the hundreds. Beyond capacity, which may narrow the field for organizations needing to support large numbers of users in a high throughput environment, choosing an SSL VPN solution is largely a matter of matching features to remote connectivity requirements.

[ALSO: Cisco has a long history with VPNs]

The SonicWall EX-7000 maintained a slight edge in endpoint control and logging features; while the Barracuda SSL VPN 380 proved to be more capable in creating resources and displaying system status. Both products offer an efficient web admin interface that streamlines administration tasks.

The WatchGuard SSL 560 had a somewhat dated interface and lacked the ability to dynamically link to external directories, for example, Active Directory and LDAP. On the other hand, setup and deployment was a breeze with this unit compared to all the other products we tested. The WatchGuard SSL 560 is truly a 'no fuss' solution that is ready to roll right out of the box, very appealing for any shop needing to get up and running quickly. (Watch a slideshow version of this story.)

The F5 has a lot of firepower and features, but we found configuration to be an arduous task compared to the competition. Configuring the F5 unit was time-consuming and sometimes cumbersome, even with the use of built-in wizards. On the plus side, the F5 appliance has an impressive client interface and excellent reporting capabilities. Did we mention mind-boggling capacity and throughput?


How we did it

We set out to test several scenarios; access to a remote LAN including file shares, remote desktop, internal Web resources and applications, as well as the basic mobile capabilities of each product. Some of the appliances tested were primarily SSL VPN solutions whereas others include additional features such as firewall, anti-virus and network accelerators, to name a few. Generally speaking, the more features, the steeper the learning curve, but this is only logical.

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