ImageStream Internet Solutions (ISIS) offers a configurable, adaptable router for existing enterprise (and companies moving to that world) organizations. The ImageStream is a basic chassis that can accept several types of telecommunications and networking cards. At the moment, ISIS offers most of their cards in both integrated CSU/DSU configurations and those without the CSU/DSU. The basic line-up consists of WAN cards with a choice of RS232, EIA-530 or V.35 interfaces, as well as cables for connecting to external devices. In addition, there are Ethernet (10/100Mbps) and Token Ring cards, as well as telecommunications links through T1/E, T3/E3, ISDN (BRI and PRI), and V.90 cards. A console RS232 port is also provided.

The ImageStream is a big unit, black, deep, and heavy. It is designed for rack mounting (it is a 5U rack size), but requires a deep rack. The front of the unit has several small fans to draw air into the chassis, while the back of the unit has tons of expansion slots (18 PCI slots in the unit we tested) for cards to be added. The construction is impressive. This is as solid and bullet-proof a router as we have seen, with many features that are remarkable considering its low price (compared to other enterprise-class routers). For example, there are four 200W power supplies for redundancy, all configured for load sharing. You can have dual processors and 128MB RAM on the Linux-based control board.

Configuring the unit is a matter of using the console port or the network connection, and setting up a telnet session. The character-based menu system lets you configure many aspects of the unit and its cards. The entire system is Linux based. Setup and configuration takes a while, especially if there are a number of expansion cards installed in the unit. The supplied documentation does a good job of guiding you through each of the steps required for expansion cards, and while a lot of the configuration requires manual modification to ASCII files inside the Linux O/S, the guide is clear and explicit. If you know the basic information (IP addresses, protocols, phone numbers, and so on), you can completely configure a basic ImageStream in an hour or two.

We used the supplied ImageStream in place of our existing Cisco 7000 router on a test network. Both units had similar setups, connecting two LANs segments into a WAN and adding T1 telephone line support. Once installed and configured, we let the ImageStream take over the routine tasks of managing our network and Internet access for a two week period. In that time, we had zero problems with the unit. One item on our wishlist would have been a backup capability for configuration information built into the ImageStream. However, we did perform backups of the system across the network, but restores would be problematic. A built-in tape drive or other backup device would be a nice option for some administrator.

As hinted at earlier, the expansion capabilities of the ImageStream are impressive: up to 144 T1 or E1 lines, up to 6 full T3s or 8 full E3s (fractional T3/E3 lines are supported), and enough expansion slots for a host of WAN and modem cards. Our ImageStream had only three expansion slots populated, but in a side-by-side comparison to one of our Cisco 7000 routers with a similar configuration, the ImageStream blew away the much-more expensive Cisco router in terms of performance, ease of use, and flexibility.

There’s all kinds of capabilities built into the ImageStream for gateway support, flexible protocols, and tons of other stuff. There’s more than we can get into in a short First Look, so if you are in the market for this type of device, visit the ImageStream web page for more information. There are a few things we would have preferred to see with the ImageStream. First, the supplied documentation is focused around configuration, and steps your through the basic process. A little more explanation and detail would have been nice. Second, there is not as complete a diagnostic suite as there are with competing units, such as the Cisco 7000. While diagnostics are often not needed by administrators, they are handy in case of problems, naturally, and a few more flexible diagnostic utilities would have been nice.

Since both these complaints are minor, they don’t change our opinion of the ImageStream. It’s a comparatively inexpensive, solid, talented enterprise router with remarkably easy setup and maintenance routines. Compared to other enterprise routers on the market, this one has all the right components. We were very impressed with the ImageStream, and highly recommend it to anyone in the market for this class of router.

$7000 base chassis
ImageStream Internet Solutions
7900 East 8th Road
Indiana 46563
219-935-8488 fax

Summary: Solid, fast, load-balancing enterprise-class router at a fraction of the price of the competitors. A winner.