Open source routers deliver low cost, flexibility

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Economical and flexible

Open source software offers an economical and flexible option for deploying basic home, SMB or even enterprise networking. These open source products deliver simple routing and networking features, plus they are combined with security functionality, starting with a basic firewall and possibly including antivirus, antispam and Web filtering. These products can be downloaded and deployed on your own hardware, on a virtual platform, or in the cloud. Many of them sell pre-configured appliances as well. We reviewed five products: ClearOS, DD-WRT, pfSense, Untangle and ZeroShell. We found that ClearOS, pfSense, and Untangle could be appropriate for home use all the way up to the enterprise environment.

Read the full review.

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ClearOS is more than a simple router, it’s a unified threat management (UTM) solution that offers more than 120 functions, all configurable via their web-based interface. ClearOS is the downloadable OS. ClearBox is their hardware line with ClearOS pre-installed. There’s also ClearVM, which is a management solution you can utilize to deploy multiple VMs of ClearOS, other Linux distributions, and even Windows OSes on your physical server. ClearOS Business pricing ranges from $108 to $1,308 per year, based upon which subscription you choose. The ClearVM solution is offered free for limited usage and monthly pricing options are offered for increased usage limits.

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DD-WRT is primarily known as a free and open alternative firmware for consumer-level wireless routers. It contains features and functionality typically only seen in business and enterprise class products, such as multiple SSIDs, VLANs, captive portals, and VPN server/client. In addition to consumer routers, it can be used with embedded hardware and even x86 platforms. They sell some hardware and also offer professional services for customizing the firmware interface and/or features. You can put a router model number into the DD-WRT router database and it will list the compatibility details and show download links for the supported firmware versions. The firmware can typically be freely used on consumer-level routers, whereas using it with some business and enterprise class products requires the Professional Activation that starts at around $20.

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pfSense is similar to Untangle, but lacks some of the extra functionality like web filtering and antivirus, sticking more to the traditional router and firewall feature set. However, there are over three dozen third-party add-ons for easy install via the package manager. The pfSense OS is based off of FreeBSD with a custom kernel that you can install on your own hardware or virtual machine. You can also buy pfSense preloaded on their hardware or even quickly deploy in the cloud via Amazon Web Services. In addition to their professional support and services, they offer a full membership for $99 per year. For support and services, you get resources like a library of developer lead videos and digital book on pfSense, plus automatic backups.

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Untangle is most similar to ClearOS. It’s a Linux OS currently based off of Debian 8.4. The basic network router functions are provided free and paid apps add additional functionality and features, all managed via a web-based interface. The technical name for the OS is NG Firewall. You can install the OS on your own hardware or virtual machine, or buy an appliance with NG Firewall pre-installed. Beyond the free basic network features, you can purchase individual apps for $5 to $25 each per month to add functionality or features. Furthermore, you can buy the NG Firewall Complete subscription that includes all apps starting at $50 per month or $540 per year for up to 25 users. For residential non-commercial use, they provide a Home license for only $5 per month or $50 per year.

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ZeroShell is a Linux distribution for servers and embedded devices, designed to provide the main network services a LAN requires. The basic features are installed by default and a handful of packages are offered to add functionality, such as Samba File Sharing Service and Asterisk VoIP PBX. The latest releases are provided via a CD image that can be run in the live CD mode or installed on the machine’s hard drive and a USB image. Once the Linux distribution is running, you can configure and administer the platform via the web-based interface. Out of the box, you can utilize the package functionality of ZeroShell to install any security or bug fixes that are released. However, to install the Add-Ons, New Features, or New Releases, you must obtain a subscription key.

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