Many companies with multiple locations could benefit from a Virtual Private Network (VPN) securely connecting LANs or remote users. Unfortunately, setting up a VPN can be quite a challenge for less-experienced Linux users, and not everyone has access to skilled system administrators.
Enter the NetMAX VPN Server Suite, a VPN and firewall solution based on Red Hat Linux that’s built on top of the FreeS/WAN code base. NetMAX VPN makes installing and configuring a Virtual Private Network server or firewall a snap.
A VPN is an encrypted tunnel that allows secure communication between two hosts over an insecure network, such as the Internet. While free VPN solutions for Linux do exist, they usually require recompiling the kernel, downloading several different pieces of software and setting up authentication keys, and performing other tasks that make non-expert users cringe.
Installation and Administration
The NetMAX VPN Server installation and basic setup took about 40 minutes on a Pentium Pro 200 MHz machine with 64 MB of RAM. The installation is easy enough that anyone with even a rudimentary knowledge of computers should have absolutely no problem with it. However, the VPN’s configuration process does require a bit more expertise.
All administration is done through NetMAX’s Web-based browser interface, which is fairly friendly and easy to use, though the online help is a bit cryptic at times and could leave newcomers to Linux and networking scratching their heads. We found it a bit frustrating that most changes required double confirmation before taking place.
Cybernet’s NetMAX VPN is not a one-trick pony. It can serve as a DHCP server, time synchronization server, and proxy-caching server, and it can be configured to generate alerts and traffic reports. The Web interface makes it easy to e-mail alert notifications to any address or have alerts simply pop up on another machine.
Additionally, system administrators can download updates to the server through the Web administration system. It only took us a few minutes to update to a new version of BIND through the Web-based interface. NetMAX also makes RPM updates available from their Web site in case you prefer to handle this task manually.
Administrators who need to support “road warriors” who use a flavor of Windows will be able to easily set up NetMAX VPN Server for those users. Unfortunately, remote users of MacOS and Linux clients are on their own. We expect NetMAX to correct this oversight in future versions.
If you’re looking to connect two LANs across an unsecured Network, NetMAX VPN is the way to go. The setup is fairly painless, and the minimal hardware requirements make it easy to convert an older Pentium or Pentium II into a Firewall and VPN. It is important to note that NetMAX VPN is a proprietary product, however. Unlike Red Hat and most other Linux distributions, it requires a license for each server.
The remote administration features and ease-of-use make NetMAX VPN a must for anyone without a full-time system administrator on the payroll. It’s also well worth the price for anyone who doesn’t want to spend the time learning the intricacies of VPNs and firewalls.