My favorite hardware was Ascend Communications' Pipeline 75 ISDN router with firewall. I used this router to provide Internet connectivity for my 10-system Windows NT network.

Installing the Pipeline 75 was drop-dead easy. From the hardware standpoint, I simply plugged the ISDN and network connections into the correct ports. For wiring-challenged users, Ascend provides color-coded connections, and the Start Here manual has pictures to help the novice user connect the router.

Configuring the router was almost as easy as the installation. The Pipeline 75 includes a Java Based Pipeline Configurator (JBPC), which provides a logical and easy-to-use graphical interface for setting up the router. The JBPC starts by assigning an IP address to the router, and you can follow one of the example configurations provided in the Start Here manual to set up the router to meet your configuration. The documented examples include setting up common ISDN configurations and common TCP/IP settings such as Network Address Translation (NAT). I found that the documentation was more oriented toward the Telnet configuration rather than the graphical configuration, but for the most part, the transition was manageable.

The only problem I ran into when I set up this device was the JBPC's incompatibility with the Java libraries that come with Internet Explorer (IE) 4.0. As you might expect, Ascend's technical support was well aware of this problem. After I made a short support call, I ran the configuration from an IE 3.0 system, and it worked flawlessly. Once I had the Pipeline 75 up and running, it was extremely reliable and had more capabilities than the average small network will need. On the WAN connectivity front, the Pipeline 75 supports Point-to-Point Protocol (PPP), Multilink PPP (MPPP), and Multilink Protocol Plus (MP+), which enables dynamic band- width allocation. MP+ and dynamic bandwidth allocation let the router automatically add bandwidth under high usage conditions by opening an additional connection using the second ISDN B channel. As you would expect, the Pipeline 75 can route both IP and IPX, and it can provide NAT, which lets all the systems on your network share a single ISP connection for Internet access.

Securing your Internet connection is just as important as connecting your local network to the Internet. For small networks, it's hard to beat the Pipeline 75's integrated firewall and filtering capabilities. The optional firewall component is available for a nominal price, and I thought it was a great value. You configure this firewall with the same JBPC that you use to set up connectivity parameters. The User's Guide includes a chapter that provides a set of recommended Pipeline 75 security settings.

In addition to routing, the Pipeline 75 can perform several other networking functions such as providing Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP) and Domain Name System (DNS) services. Overall, the Pipeline 75 router is feature-rich and easy to set up.

Pipeline 75
Contact: Ascend Communications
800-621-9578
Web: http://www.ascend.com