Those little SOHO firewall\/VPN appliances are getting a challenge from PCI cards that perform much the same function.SnapGear is introducing PCI630, a $300 card that it says takes the place of those appliances and can be installed in servers to protect them from internal and external attacks.The card has a single Ethernet port that plugs into a LAN or a broadband modem, depending on where the host computer is located.Just like the separate appliances, the cards offload all the firewall and VPN processing so the performance of the host machine is unaffected. The performance of the card is considerable below fast Ethernet wire speed at 6M bit\/sec Triple-DES encryption, which is plenty to keep up with a cable modem or DSL connection, but not a LAN link.The cards can be managed via a Web browser independently of the management of the host, which SnapGear points to as a plus. If the host becomes corrupted, the card itself is still accessible to network administrators who can shut down that machine's access to the VPN or alter policies of its firewall to mitigate attacks.With a separate card for each remote machine, the devices could theoretically do away with software-based remote access clients for home offices or any site that has a way to plug into the Internet via an Ethernet jack.Still, $300 is a little pricey, given that you can get a commodity appliance for the same price or less, and the appliance has no direct connection to the host PCI bus. For corporate use you might as well spend a little extra money and get a device that is tied into a sophisticated management system, although SnapGear says it will release management software to handle groups next month.Please send in thoughts you might have on these new devices for a later newsletter. Thanks.