• United States

Security appliance for nervous types

Sep 09, 20044 mins

* New ServGate appliance offers flexibility, but Dell partnership raises questions

ServGate makes a “family of integrated modular security platforms” under the EdgeForce name, all in a big flat purple chassis suitable for a data center shelf. The new M30 model has two special features: It comes with your choice of virus, spam or Web filtering and is sold (along with all the new EdgeForce M series models) exclusively through

These aren’t low-end routers with basic firewalls – they’re aimed at businesses nervous and large enough to spend $1,110 for the box and $233 for each additional filtering module. But you get a lot for your money: Web caching, a certified stateful packet inspection firewall, hacker and denial-of-service defenses, and VPN support for connecting other offices and remote users. Fully loaded, the appliance provides complete firewall, user authentication, spam and virus filtering, and control over what users can view on the Web.

The M30 has three Ethernet ports, one for your internal network (LAN), one for your Internet connection (WAN) and a DMZ (demilitarized zone) port for servers that need to be visible on the Internet (like Web and e-mail servers) but separate from your internal network. A hard disk provides quarantined storage for e-mail with suspicious code (viruses) and Web caching.

Setup is a bit convoluted. You need to know how to configure a content filter and call that from a security policy after setting the proper spam, virus or Web filter service settings. So you’ll probably need some help.

But since the M30 is only available from, you can’t rely on a local dealer or reseller for setup as part of the purchase price, and your dealer can’t provide warranty support since you bought the box elsewhere. Unfortunately, the quick start guide and administration manual (on CD) are only adequate. It would be great if ServGate would add some wizards to ease set up.

Why is ServGate partnering with Dell? It expects the leading PC manufacturer to yield “a good revenue channel,” of course. ServGate is betting the direct sales channel will be more effective than building up its reseller channel, but I’m not sure that’s the case. Tell me who you trust more: a local reseller you work with, or Dell’s Web site, and I’ll pass that info along to ServGate.

The administration utility stacks menus on the left to call the appropriate settings page in the main part of the browser window. Online help screens are complete but not context-sensitive. The manual and help screens fall into the too-common trap of explaining each menu item without tying together all settings necessary for common tasks. Wouldn’t you want the spam filter wizard to ask whether you want loose, medium or tight spam controls? ServGate has how-to documents online, so why not integrate them into the management software?

The three filters already reside on the box. You choose which filter(s) you want at the onset, and Dell will install the box and activate the filter(s) for you. Adding more filters requires you to download a key file from Unfortunately, each key file uses the appliance’s serial number and a .key extension. You must manually change the names of downloaded keys or save them to a different folder to avoid overwriting an earlier key file – another self-service detail that begs improvement.

Once set up, however, the box works quite well. I enabled all three filters on my test system, and spam was caught and deleted, viruses trapped and killed, and a range of non-work Web sites were blocked. ServGate includes a “Dashboard” screen as the home screen in its administration utility, and it shows current information such as the number of blocked spam and killed viruses. Competitors like SonicWall and Check Point don’t provide any type of real-time performance feedback, so ServGate gets kudos for that.

ServGate says the exclusive Dell partnership won’t last forever, and that the company hopes to extend it to other “powerbrand” partners in time. Sure, Dell’s online sales provides tremendous customer reach, but that reach benefits commodity products primarily, not small business security appliances – not yet, anyway.

Note to ServGate: Don’t let Dell talk you into a rebate marketing program.