Network Composer puts network usage, threat data in SMB admins' hands
Cymphonix's latest offering is strong on reporting and malware filtering but light on QoS
There’s no shortage of solutions helping admins keep track of “who is doing what” on the Internet. It isn’t unusual to find Internet-traffic content, virus, and malware filtering in the current crop of UTM firewalls, and routers and other devices have been shaping traffic forever. Thanks to a growing convergence among these tools, however, admins overseeing smaller networks can now do all of this from one easy-to-use appliance and reduce their management overhead.
Network Composer from Cymphonix is a veritable Swiss Army knife of network-management, usage-reporting, and threat-protection tools rolled into a single appliance. From one console, admins can impose bandwidth limits on users as well as applications, scan Web content and TCP streams for spyware and viruses, and block access to Web sites deemed inappropriate.
Wrapped around all of these capabilities is a comprehensive reporting engine that provides clickable graphs and detailed usage information on application and user. Targeted at the SMB market, Network Composer does an excellent job of filling a need without breaking the bank.
I tested the DC30X Network Composer 2U appliance on my production network and found the device surprisingly easy to configure and deploy. It dropped into my network as a transparent bridge, with its two 10/100 Mbps interfaces connected between my core switch and Check Point firewall.
I like that even at its low cost point, Network Composer includes fail-to-wire in case of power or operating system failure and an additional 10/100 Mbps management interface for connecting to a separate management network. Maximum throughput for the DC30X is 30 Mbps, typical of most cable and DSL connections.
Initial set up and configuration took less than 30 minutes and was aided by a helpful wizard. The wizard took care of all the normal chores of IP addressing on the DC30X as well as things such as the default bandwidth shaping policy and SNMP information. Premium Filtering, Cymphonix’s name for virus and Spyware scrubbing, is not enabled by default but easily set up through the management UI. During my tests, I couldn’t detect any noticeable additional latency while Premium Filtering was enabled and scanning all traffic for digital nasties.
A UTM by any other name
A case can be made that many Network Composer features are already widely available in gateway security devices, such as firewalls. This is true, but there is a general concern that firewalls, specifically ones in the SMB price range, cannot provide the level of performance necessary to inspect traffic through Layer 7 without adding significant latency. Network Composer is designed to add little or no latency while improving network edge performance -- during my testing, timed test scripts showed sub-1-second latency on fully scanned HTTP and FTP traffic.
The traffic shaping feature does a good job of managing the flow of data in and out of the LAN without being overly complex to deploy. Shaping is based on upload and download speeds for each group of applications -- VoIP, HTTP/HTTPS, streaming media -- from “unlimited” to “disabled” or some percentage in between.
I set limits well below my Internet connection’s maximum bandwidth for FTP, streaming media, and e-mail traffic to make sure that these traffic types never consume too much of my available connection. Network Composer comes with a solid list of predefined applications and services, and administrators can create custom definitions for nonstandard traffic, such as a custom Web application.