The Instagate EX2 is one of the handiest networking devices we've seen for small to medium-sized businesses (up to 250 computer users). Marketed as an "Internet Security Appliance," the laptop-sized EX2 connects between a company network and the Internet, providing firewall-protected access to the Web for all the company workstations while occupying only one IP address. In addition, you get integrated IPsec and PPTP VPN (virtual private networking) for letting workers securely connect to the company network remotely via the Internet.
Unlike competing products that come loaded with features (often never used) for two to four times the price, the EX2 can be upgraded easily by downloading "SoftPaks" through the Internet; these SoftPaks will provide the precise functions your company needs. For 25 users, these upgrades range in price from $150 to $969 each and easily integrate new features into the EX2, such as Web, FTP, DNS, and email serving, as well as spam filtering, site (URL) filtering, anti-virus screening, firewall monitoring, and more.
We were able to connect the EX2 to our internal Windows network and high-speed Internet connection, install the client utilities, and completely configure the settings in a matter of about 30 minutes. The excellent installation wizard made it almost impossible for us to miss a setting due to its built-in error correction, which let us know if any of our IP settings were out of the acceptable range. Once up and running, we were pleased with the speed at which we were able to access the Internet and customize EX2 for our office.
Next, we downloaded and tried out all the SoftPaks we could. This was facilitated by using the SoftPak Director, an administration program that makes subscribing and downloading SoftPaks a breeze. Once the add-ons were downloaded, we set up user accounts, mail accounts, and collaborative workgroup tools, such as file sharing, group calendars, address books, and a message board. The Site Filter let us download an update of over 600,000 Web sites covering 27 different categories for blocking inappropriate Internet access. In addition we set up anti-virus screening with virus signatures updated automatically on a daily basis.
For serving our test Web site, we configured the DNS server, Web server, and FTP server, and uploaded our site files. After our DNS settings cleared in Network Solutions database (this took a couple of days), our Web site was downloading faster than ever and we were already saving money (namely, the monthly check to our former service provider).
Our only complaint about the Instagate EX2 is that the price of adding the SoftPaks increases incrementally with the number of users. For that reason, the cost can get very pricey if your company has 100 or more users. For example, if your company has 250 users, the cost for all the options can soar into the $20,000 to $25,000 range. With 25 users you will find your company spending $2,000 to $3,000 for all the bells and whistles.
If your business is looking for a reliable and scalable Internet Appliance, then we would highly recommend checking out the Instagate EX2 before buying another product that has features you don't need for two or three times the price.
MANUFACTURER: eSoft, Inc.; 888-903-7638; www.esoft.com
PRICE: $949; Downloadable "SoftPaks" expand features for more money. For example, you can add (for 25 users) Web, FTP, and DNS services for $199; a Spam Filter for $199; Web Mail for $199; Anti-Virus screening for $750; Site Filter (URL screening) for $540, etc.
REQUIREMENTS: Windows 95/98 with 80486 CPU or higher; 8MB of RAM (16 recommended) or Windows NT 4.x/2000 with Pentium CPU or higher; 16MB RAM (32 recommended); 2MB of hard disk space; 15MB hard disk space with Netscape; 27MB hard disk space with Internet Explorer; TCP/IP enabled; Ethernet
PROS: Low price for basic unit -- add on only what your company needs; easy to set up and maintain
CONS: Can get very pricey with 100-250 users and lots of add-ons