Perle’s Of Wisdom For Remote Users

Perle Systems Inc. (Westmont, Ill.) enters the final quarter of 1998 with both guns blazing, having recently announced enhancements to its network controller and remote access switch devices.

Version 2.0 of Perle’s 594e Network Controller differs from the previous version in a number of ways, most notably with the addition of the Enhanced Networking Feature. This feature enables the network controller to connect remote SNA and IP clients seamlessly to a TCP/IP network and is designed to eliminate the need for a separate router for each controller site.

Perle’s second announcement is its 833IS remote access switch, a modified version of its 833AS switch that offers simultaneous dial-up connectivity for up to 48 users. The 833IS supports from 8 to 16 simultaneous high-speed connections across 4 to 8 basic rate interface (BRI) connections, and is accessible by ISDN or 56 Kbps modems.

Available since late August, the 594e now provides remote IP clients with access to IP-based resources on a corporate WAN across a frame relay-enabled network, including access to AS/400s, Lotus Notes servers, Windows application servers, Unix and S/390, as well as the Internet and corporate extranets. The 594e’s IP routing function uses TCP/IP over frame relay protocol, allowing traffic from IP-based devices on a LAN – attached to a 594e at a remote site – to be routed onto a corporate WAN. The integrated IP routing feature is designed to reduce management costs by decreasing the number of networking devices to be managed.

Enhancements to the 594e platform help Perle customers to keep up with thin client technology, particularly Network Computers, according to Kevin Segriff, product manager at Perle. "With the 594e, we’re taking a traditional remote controller setting and allowing customers to integrate IP-type clients into that environment," he says.

These IP clients can be NCs, Windows Based Terminals (WBTs) and even standard PCs running a more universal client on the desktop, such as a Telnet session into an AS/400, according to Segriff. "We believe there will be a big shift toward NCs over the next several years," he adds.

With regard to TCP/IP over frame relay, there are two configurations available to AS/400 users. The first consists of connecting the AS/400 to the network controller via frame relay, without any requirements for a router either at the host site or the remote site. The second configuration enables an IS shop to go from the controller back to an IP-enabled router at the host site. "This would be for AS/400 users who want to bring their controller and their remote site traffic onto the LAN within their AS/400 operations," Segriff says.

Version 2.0 of the 594e is also designed to deliver support for TCP/IP over a frame relay network for SNA devices, permitting the 594e to connect 5250 devices to one or more AS/400s via a direct frame relay connection using only TCP/IP as the network protocol. This is intended to allow AS/400 users to move to a TCP/IP network without having to deploy LANs or routers at 5250-only remote sites.

Version 2.0 introduces an optional 10/100 Mbps Ethernet feature card for the 594e and is also compliant with V4R2’s TCP/IP load balancing enhancement, which allows an AS/400 to balance network traffic across multiple TCP/IP interfaces on the same network. The 594e base unit is priced at $3,670, while the Enhanced Networking Feature option can be added for an additional $1,500. Upgrade kits for the Perle 494e are currently available starting at $1,000.

Version 3.0 – scheduled for availability during December of this year – is expected to provide stored boot programs for NCs directly on the controller device. Currently, NC users need to install flash memory or access a network server to use the complete network controller solution.

With a variety of vendors talking about the use of the Web as a conduit for remote user access to LANs, the security and performance of Web access still leaves a lot to be desired, says Sean O’Donovan, Perle’s VP of marketing.

The 833IS supports up to 80 users accessing the switch with "short bursts of activity," O’Donovan says. The new switch – priced at about $6,000 – "gives mid-sized populations of dial-in users all the features and functions they’ll find in a high-end remote access switch, but in a smaller and more manageable product, with a price tag attached to it which reflects its entry-level positioning," he adds.

The Perle 833IS also includes an auto-sensing 10/100 Mbps Ethernet connection – enabling migration from 10 to 100 Mbps Ethernet in the future – as well as the Windows NT Domain Server Authentication security feature.

While the 833IS can function as an access switch to intranets, it may take some time before Web access – even through virtual private networks – takes the place of direct dial-up access, according to O’Donovan. "VPN is a cheap alternative to remote switch access, but it’s an unproven technology, and it poses a security risk," he says. "Plus, it doesn’t have a standard performance level. You can dial in at certain times of the day, and it can be running like a dog. I believe remote access switch products will always have a place providing high-speed secure access for local dial-in users."