Easy Internet access

Internet access from a network is crucial for many companies today. Deerfield.com's WinGate 3.0 is an impressive Internet sharing solution for workgroups with fewer than 100 users.

WinGate runs on Windows NT or Windows 9x and provides proxy servers for Web, FTP, SMTP, POP3, SOCKS, Telnet, VDOLive, RealAudio, and Xing StreamWorks (XDMA) services. WinGate's proxy servers offer additional benefits, such as caching, that improve overall network performance. The software also runs standard IP server services such as DNS and DHCP. These services are useful if you have a Win95-only network (NT includes DNS and DHCP servers).

Three Versions
WinGate is available in three versions: Home, Standard, and Pro. The Home version is a subset of the Standard version. In addition to all the services that the Standard version includes, the Home version includes automatic configuration. Unfortunately, you can't disable or completely configure some services. WinGate's proxy servers are most useful to networks with dozens of users. Because a home or small business might have only two or three users, the Home version doesn't include proxy servers.

The Standard version is a subset of the Pro version and includes proxy servers for Web, VDOLive, XDMA, POP3, FTP, RealAudio, and Telnet services. You can enable services and proxy servers selectively and configure them individually. (For more information about proxy servers, see the sidebar "Proxy Servers," page 174.) The Standard version supports caching of Web pages and Web access controls. The POP3 proxy server works with existing POP3 and SMTP servers. Screen 1 shows the POP3 Proxy server Properties dialog box. The Standard version doesn't maintain a user database, so security settings and logging are global. Administration is local. The Standard version is ideal for small businesses that can give users identical Internet access.

WinGate's Pro version works best for small to midsize organizations with an experienced systems administrator who needs selective control over Internet access. The Pro version maintains a user and group database, which lets administrators set security and Internet access policies and local proxy server use. WinGate Pro supports local and remote management, and you can view system log files via a built-in Web server operating on port 8010. The Pro version also includes an integrated scheduler for starting and stopping services.

WinGate's Pro version fares well against competitors such as Microsoft Proxy Server. WinGate is easier for users to manage, especially when they use transient connections such as modem or ISDN links. But products such as Proxy Server come out on top when you link multiple proxy servers across a network in which proxy servers cooperate to cache information.

New in WinGate 3.0
WinGate 3.0 adds several new features to the 2.0 version. WinGate Internet Client in version 3.0 uses Winsock Redirector Protocol (WRP), so you don't need to access proxy services directly. For example, Web browsers such as Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE) and Netscape Navigator can specify a Web proxy server to handle all Web access. Web access occurs through the WinGate server, so the Web proxy server can transparently provide cached Web access. WinGate Internet Client uses WinGate's Gateway Discovery Protocol (GDP) to locate the WinGate server, which makes client configuration easy.

WRP lets more than one IP stack operate on a client. This capability lets you establish a connection to local IP-based services and retain dial-out access. Some competing products use one IP stack that forces IP access through the matching server, preventing dial-out IP operation unless you change the network configuration.

GateKeeper in WinGate 3.0 includes new features, such as a history view of user and server activity. The Pro version of WinGate's GateKeeper lets administrators manage WinGate users remotely.

The Pro version's security now limits access by IP address. The integrated scheduler in the Pro version is also new and can start and stop WinGate services and run Windows applications at specified times.

Installation and Configuration
I tested WinGate in two environments. I tested the Home and Standard versions in a small Win95 workgroup with a modem connection. I tested the Pro version in an NT server network environment with an ISDN connection.

Proxy Servers

A proxy server acts as a gateway for client applications. For example, a Web proxy server acts as a gateway to Web browsers. A proxy server has several advantages over a router, which only forwards requests. Proxy servers act as firewalls and can control the information clients can transfer and the sites clients can access. Proxy servers also provide transparent services such as caching. Caching is useful when users frequent the same remote sites. Proxy servers can use a connection efficiently. For example, some POP3 proxy servers, such as WinGate's, can act as a POP3 server that accepts outgoing mail and picks up incoming mail from an ISP. You can make a transient connection to the ISP periodically to exchange mail instead of making a transient connection each time a user sends or checks mail.

Proxy servers can be transparent or can require special client configuration for nontransparent operation. Setup and administration are complicated when special client configuration is necessary. Nontransparent operation also means the client software must support proxy operation. Web proxy support is a standard Web browser feature; FTP proxy support is not.

Installing the Home version was easy. I installed the server software on the PC in the workgroup that had the modem connection, and in fewer than 30 minutes I could access the Internet. I set up additional clients easily with DNS and DHCP support, although I had to add IP support to each client and install WinGate Internet Client on each machine. Administrators with six or fewer users might find the Home version a viable option.

I installed the Standard version on the Win95 workgroup server after removing the Home version. Installation was simple. Managing the software was simple, too, and I didn't need to actively manage the server when I didn't configure advanced options.

Installing the Pro version took longer than installing the Standard version did because I had to disable or configure services such as DNS, DHCP, and POP3 (which NT already provides). I also had to add user accounts, which points to WinGate's one major fault—­lack of integration with NT user and group management. The problem is especially apparent when users change NT passwords and want their WinGate password to match their NT password.

The POP3 configuration was the most difficult part of the installation. I had to decide whether to let the existing POP3 server send mail directly to the ISP's SMTP server or through WinGate. I chose the latter because WinGate provides better logging support.

The POP3 proxy server required minimal tweaking, but it let one POP3 mail account at the ISP service the workgroup. I set up all local users to use the WinGate POP3 mail service. You can use POP3 with an existing local POP3 server, and I tried to do so when I installed the Pro version on my NT server. My network was already using IP and had a local Web server and POP3 server, but no Internet access.

The GateKeeper application was easy to use in all three WinGate versions. In the Pro version, GateKeeper showed usernames in the WinGate Connection Monitor (WGCM) and a history view. GateKeeper automatically saves the history to a file. Although its logging information is extensive and useful, WinGate lacks any type of summary or statistical presentation of this information. The software does add a System tray applet that can display the GateKeeper application on screen or start and stop the WinGate server.

Using WinGate
WinGate was a snap to use from client PCs after I configured the server and client. You experience a short initial delay when you use a modem-based connection if no connection is active between the WinGate server and your ISP. This delay is comparable to the delay any modem-based user would encounter, although WinGate users don't have to worry that the software will prompt them for a dial-out connection. WinGate offers transparent Internet access; any Internet application (e.g., IE) can make a connection.

The ISDN connection was also transparent, and the initial connection took less than a second. I set the idle time at the server to 5 minutes, because the telephone company bills ISDN time on a per-minute basis where I live. The WinGate server automatically brought up the ISDN connection after the idle period caused a termination.

Using the POP3 server reduced the ISDN connection charges, because most Internet use in my test environment was for mail traffic. I limited Web browsing to a couple of hours in the morning and afternoon. The Web proxy server was regularly busy, but the other servers, such as the VDOLive and RealAudio servers, found limited use in my test environment. WinGate makes streaming video for workgroups practical. Without this support, my workgroup's Internet connection quickly overloaded when more than two users viewed a video at the same time.

WinGate 3.0
Contact:
Deerfield.com * 517-732-8856
Web: http://www.deerfield.com
Price: WinGate Home starts at $39.95
WinGate Standard starts at $79.95, WinGate Standard Unlimited User, $699.95, WinGate Pro starts at $299.95 WinGate Pro Unlimited User $949.95, System Requirements:
Windows NT or Windows 9x, TCP/IP network protocol