Aventail EX-750 keeps users cleanly connected

Flexible, easy-to-install SSL VPN grants admins the end point controls they need

If you need to provide secure remote access to Web-based apps as well as other network resources, then an SSL VPN is a great choice. Unlike IPSec VPNs, SSL VPNs do not require any special client software in order to access resources inside the enterprise. Now business partners, road warriors, and users at public Internet access terminals can safely and easily get to the information they need without adding to IT staff’s workload.

The Aventail EX-750 SSL VPN appliance provides granular yet flexible secure remote access without requiring an overly complex GUI. Users and resources are easy to create and manage through the browser-based GUI, and Aventail end point management is first rate. Some advanced end point features, however, require additional licensing. The appliance supports all types of VPN access, including Aventail Connect, a Windows application for seamless network integration. Notably, concurrent connections are limited to 50 users.

Ready, set, connect

Initial installation of the 1U rack-mountable EX-750 took less than an hour. I completed the first part using a local serial connection and the rest using a secure browser session. An easy-to-follow wizard stepped me through assigning an IP address, subnet mask, and gateway to the appliance. The Aventail AMC (ASAP Management Console) is neatly laid out and well organized, with a handy Quick Start set of links that guide you through major configuration and policy definitions.

The EX-750 comes with flexible user authentication tools. Users are grouped into realms, with each realm defined by the user store (LDAP, Active Directory, RADIUS, or local user list) and the credential type (digital certificate, token/SecureID, or username/password). For my test, I created a realm based on users in Active Directory in less than 10 minutes. AMC does a fantastic job of making LDAP and Active Directory connections quick and easy, and the included Test Connection feature ensures everything is correct.

Resource definition is another area where Aventail excels. Adding a network resource requires naming it, defining whether it is a network, URL, or file system resource, and configuring its specific settings, such as share name, IP address, or URL.

As with other SSL appliances, the EX-750 offers three modes of access: Web client, thin client, and network-based. Web-client access simply secures and redirects the user to Web resources inside the enterprise via a Web browser. I tested this feature using both Internet Explorer and Mozilla Firefox, and had no trouble accessing Web applications behind the EX-750.

Thin-client support uses Aventail On-Demand, a download-on-access Java applet. Unlike clients for solutions such as Rainbow NetSwift iGate, the Aventail client installs no network drivers and makes no changes to the client’s host file but is also limited to TCP-based applications. When the session is over, the client closes with no lasting traces.

Aventail Connect is a Windows-based software client that runs in the background on a remote user’s PC. Unlike Aventail On-Demand, it provides transparent access to protected resources over both TCP and UDP (User Datagram Protocol) protocols. The client launches prior to the user logging in to his or her computer. This is important, because it allows the user to log in to a Windows domain over the SSL tunnel and come under all group policy restrictions and log-in script processing as defined by administrators. From the users’ perspective, they are part of the enterprise, even though they are not inside the local network.

Maintaining control

Aventail Connect’s EPC (End Point Control) is the end-user security policy engine. Through EPC, Connect can be set to clear the remote user’s browser cache at the end of a session. By purging the cache, any potentially sensitive temporary files are deleted from the PC. Administrators can also force other open browser windows to close at the start of a secure session. Aventail Connect also checks to ensure Zone Labs, Sygate, or WholeSecurity services are installed and running prior to allowing the session to begin. This feature is not included in the base price of the appliance and comes at an additional cost.

Administrators create security profiles using the Connect Administrator Tools and distribute the package to remote users either as a file-attached e–mail message or through the company portal. Because Aventail Connect is centrally managed, administrators can enforce security policies to remote users from one location. For example, decisions such as whether cache cleaning is required or whether a specific anti-virus application is present on the remote PC can be defined and pushed out to all Aventail Connect users.

Aventail Secure Desktop, part of Aventail Connect, is a step up from a simple cache cleaner. Through an ActiveX control, Secure Desktop creates a unique container on the remote client inside of which the secure session runs. When the session is over, Secure Desktop destroys the container, preventing any lingering traces on the client PC. There are no temporary files or cache objects to worry about. Unfortunately, Secure Desktop is only available for Windows platforms and is a separate purchase.

The EX-750 provides a solid set of tools for managing your SSL certificates. Through AMC, administrators can quickly import a certificate, create a new self-signed certificate, or generate a request for a certificate from a commercial certificate authority. There are a number of SSL cipher strengths available to use when encrypting traffic for Web and client server access, from 40-bit up to 168-bit 3DES (Triple Data Encryption Standard). This allows administrators to define the specific level of security for their appliance and applications.

The Aventail EX-750 is a well-crafted appliance that will meet the needs of small to midsize environments, thanks to its flexible resource management and well-designed user directory console. The management GUI is neat, clean, and well laid out, and the appliance doesn’t leave anything out. I would like to see all of the EPC features available to more than just Microsoft platforms, but for most companies, that won’t be an issue.

InfoWorld Scorecard
Ease of use (15.0%)
Setup (10.0%)
Value (10.0%)
Scalability (20.0%)
Interoperability (15.0%)
Security (30.0%)
Overall Score (100%)
Aventail EX-750 7.2 9.0 9.0 8.0 7.0 8.0 9.0 8.4
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