Proxy servers are designed to connect to a network and allow any network user to access the Internet through one device, sharing the connection with everyone else who needs it. By using a proxy server, a number of benefits accrue. First, there is only a single point of exit to the Internet or an ISP, simplifying administration and security to some extent. Second, instead of installing a modem in each machine on the network, the single proxy server can be used hence saving money. Third, having an account everyone can share solves the problems of individual ISP accounts for users in the company. Finally, cable messes, installation of modem phone jacks, and other associated hassles with providing everyone access to a phone line for ISP use is simplified by having a single connection location.

We looked at MultiTech’s first proxy server product in a remote access server review several years ago. MultiTech is not one to sit idly by without updating their products. The latest version of the three-port ProxyServer is different product than the older unit, primarily because this one doesn’t include modems and is a much smaller size. The last ProxyServer was the tradition MultiTech unit, a long, slim case with a ton of lights on the front panel. That modem included three 56k modems in the ProxyServer box. The newest incarnation of the ProxyServer is smaller than a paperback book, weighs only a few ounces, and has only eight lights on the front panel. It has no modems internally, acting simply as a proxy server to connect to three modems and the network.

The back of the ProxyServer sports five jacks, three for connecting to the modems themselves, one for a network cable, and a fifth for a connection to a serial port for configuration purposes (the ProxyServer can be configured over the network in most cases, instead of requiring this direct connection to a serial port). MultiTech even includes all the cables you need, including the DB9 to RJ45 connector for configuring the modem. (MultiTech still offers the older ProxyServer unit with three modems built in. The reason for selling the newer unit is to allow customers with an existing supply of modems to take advantage of ProxyServer features without wasting money duplicating existing modems.)

The ProxyServer can be connected to three separate V.90 modems providing 56k connectivity (usually limited to much less by the ISP and FCC regulations). Alternatively, up to three ISDN modems can be used. Two or three modems can be ganged together to provide a single, much faster connection if your ISP supports MultiLink PPP. Installing and connecting the ProxyServer is simple. It sits on the outside of your firewall (if you have one), connecting from the firewall to the modems and then your ISP. If you don’t use a firewall, you should make sure that your internal network is safe from intrusions through the ProxyServer unit. Connect the ProxyServer to the network, connect the three supplied cables to three modems, and turn the unit on. Software on a supplied CD-ROM runs only under Windows. It detects the ProxyServer over the network and lets you set up the ProxyServer and modems. You need to specify a unique IP address for the ProxyServer, of course, but the process is fast and easy. There is no printed User Guide: it’s on the CD-ROM in Adobe Acrobat format (we still prefer printed documentation, but then we’re probably getting old!).

To access the ProxyServer from clients, they need to be told that a gateway is on the network. Under Windows, you simply configure the network applet’s gateway page to point the IP address of the ProxyServer. Under UNIX, you can use the network configuration routines in both SCO OpenServer and SCO UnixWare to configure the gateway. After that, dial-out is a snap. Whenever a user wants to access the Internet to download e-mail, access the Web, or use some other service, the connection is automatically dialed using the account names and passwords set up during the configuration process. As other users want to use the link, they share the throughput. Naturally, as more users share a link, the slower each user’s throughput becomes, but with MPPP this can be alleviated (but not all ISPs support MPPP). When all users have finished with the connection, the ProxyServer terminates the connections automatically. This dial-on-demand capability will save users money on non-unlimited use ISP policies.

Any gripes about the ProxyServer? Of course! The network connector supports 10BaseT only, so 100Mbps Ethernet users will have to step the speed down. Also, there’s no way to use internal modems with the ProxyServer. On the positive side, the ProxyServer provides good security through its built-in firewall services (although it is still no replacement for a dedicated firewall). MultiTech includes a CD-ROM of TUCOWS’ Top 100 Internet applications for Windows, which is a nice touch. All in all, the MultiTech ProxyServer is a well thought out, mature product that solves many problems for small network users. Highly recommended.