Network resellers are getting more requests more often to connect an entire com-pany to the Internet or to another branch office. But if the client baulks at the prices of gear from the ABC of wide area networks (ie, Ascend, Bay, Cisco) why not take a look at their lesser known rivals.
You'll find many of the same features from vendors you don't know, and who are forced to charge lower prices to get your attention. You and your customers can take advantage of these vendors' relative obscurity - while it lasts. If they manage to sell up a storm of WAN kit, they'll probably join the high-priced majors in short order.
You will probably already know Shiva (www.shiva.com) as a supplier of remote dial-in gear that works very well but is not the cheapest around. What you might not know is that it has a budget priced ISDN router called the Shiva AccessPort, which does everything the big guys do, and has the legendary Shiva ease of setup. Shiva started out making products for the Macintosh so they had to be easy to use. The AccessPort supports up to two ISDN lines and understands how to do IP, IPX and Appletalk right out of the box.
Relatively unknown in Australia, but selling up a storm in its home country, Canadian based Develcon (www.develcon.com) has a wide range of WAN toys, but its Orbiter 500 appeals to the cost conscious buyer. For a tad under $1000 you can get one of these units, which also has some firewall technology built-in. Although targeted at the SOHO user, don't forget that you don't need a lot of routing grunt when all the data is restricted to what fits down a 64Kbit/sec ISDN pipe.
Kirk Garlick, Develcon's regional sales man-ager, says they are having a lot of sales success with "developing countries, second tier Telcos and schools" at the moment. Develcon is making a concerted push into Australia at the moment. You can get more info from Reed Computer Engineering in Melbourne on (03) 9598 4177, or Retix in Sydney on (02) 9985 7013.
ISDN is damn nice
The people at Digi International (www.digiboard.com) have been doing remote access for a long time and their DataFire series of adaptors range from a single ISDN line model to multiple line monsters.
Digi's DataFire ISDN solutions provide remote users and branch office LANs with high-speed access to the corporate network or connect the corporate network to an ISP. DataFire LAN adapters connect with Basic Rate Interface (BRI) lines, each of which support two 64Kbit/sec B channels and one 16Kbit/sec D channel. The B channels can be used independently for two simultaneous 64Kbit/sec connections, or can be aggreg-ated for a single 128Kbit/sec connection. Plus, the client adapter features PPP (Point-to-Point Protocol) support. This ensures interoperability with other types of ISDN devices and facilitates connections with the Internet and other outside resources.
The DataFire ISDN adapters integrate with Microsoft and Novell operating systems to take advantage of operating system features such as routing, data compression, and security. These adapters help companies achieve additional utility from existing Microsoft and Novell servers by equipping them with remote communications capability.
Eicon Technology (www.eicon.com) is their main competition. Their DIVA range provides varying levels of ISDN connection at affordable prices. The DIVA Server BRI's two B-channels and DSP (digital signal processor) technology enable simultaneous analog and ISDN transmissions. Installed in the server, the DIVA Server BRI card gives corporate LAN users the ability to connect to various ISDN services and to the Internet, and to send and receive faxes. For remote users, the DIVA Server BRI enables simultaneous remote access and data transfer via ISDN, modem or GSM mobile phone.
Eicon's DIVA Server BRI offers several other features making it an ideal communications platform for small and medium size organisations. Full software support ensures compatibility with a range of operating systems and with other client/server cards in the DIVA ISDN family. Support for communications standards such as CAPI and PPP enable interoperability with third-party hardware and software, whilst support of international protocols and approvals allows companies to use the product globally.
Integration with third-party audit and security schemes guarantees secure remote access and the provision of software upgrades and the ability to build a stackable solution (up to four cards can be placed into one server to increase usage) protect customers' investments into the future.
This ISDN card in the server approach is only going to save money if you can use their existing server.
If the server is already flat-strap you'll do better buying a stand-alone WAN router than forking out for a new server just to provide ISDN access.
You may not have realised it, but if the customer already owns a NetWare server, they have their very own multi-protocol router (MPR) already. If you opted for a standard install from the CD, you won't find the code loaded on the hard disk. But if you reload the installer and choose from the list of available items, you'll find one of them is the MPR.
After installing the software you can configure a serial port to provide modem based connections to anywhere that understands PPP, which is darn near every ISP on the planet. Of course you can also configure it to dial other branch offices, including demand dialling based on need to connect parameters.
Microsoft's Windows NT server might be what the customer has installed, and with the release of Routing and Remote Access Services (RRAS), previously known as Steelhead, your client can use their server to provide the WAN services they will need to connect to other places including the Internet.
Either of these popular server platforms can be used to get full-bottle access to an ISP using an add-in ISDN card, instead of a stand-alone router.
When it comes to connecting branch offices together, don't forget that it is often cheaper to connect each office to the nearest ISP and then use the Internet to communicate between offices. If all they need is e-mail, you've solved the problem. If they want secure access to sensitive files, you can activate Microsoft's point-to-point tunnelling protocol (PPTP) which comes with NT server and lets you establish a secure private link over decidedly insecure public networks like the Internet.