For many years now I’ve been suffering with a low-speed (1.5Mb/s) DSL connection that prevented me from enjoying today’s Internet. It was a nice step up from our previous Internet connection, Hughesnet, but didn’t allow streaming of movies, reliable video conferencing, etc. A couple of months ago I was able to remedy that with WiMax from local company Kellin Communcations. So far that link has been reliable, but we have yet to experience real winter weather, so I’ve retained the DSL line for now as a backup. That lead to the question, how can I automate switching to the backup DSL line in case the WiMax link fails? And can I use both simultaneously?
The answer to both questions is yes, using a router that supports Dual-WANs (Wide Area Networks). Unfortunately there are no consumer-grade Dual-WAN routers; I mean how many people have multiple Internet connections coming into their homes? But I did find a couple of options aimed at small business that had prices in the range of consumer devices. One is the SYSWAN Duolinks SW24 Dual WAN Loadbalancer. The other is the Linksys (now Cisco, as Linksys’ small business products have transitioned to their parent company) RV042 4-Port VPN Router. Having had a recent failure with a Linksys product I decided to give the SYSWAN a try.
SYSWAN is a small Oregon-based company and there is little information available about them or their products. What I did find suggested that they made a very good product but that it was somewhat hard to use, had poor documentation, but good technical support. Although I’m not a “networking guy”, I do have modest knowledge and a willingness to learn, so I wasn’t too worried about the quality of the SYSWAN documentation. I ordered one and when it arrived a few days later proceeded to install it. My first impression was, wow, this thing has lots of settings! But within a few minutes I had it up and running with both the WiMax and DSL line connected.
So the good news with the SYSWAN was that initial setup was easy, however that is just the start of the story. Shortly after my excitement over now having an automatic backup Internet connection wore off I realized that my AT&T Microcell was no longer working. Now the Microcell is a strange networking device in that AT&T tried to make it as much of a black box as possible. In other words, there are absolutely no settings and no way to see what is going on inside of it. It is all supposed to work by magic, and if it doesn’t then there are a few settings you are supposed to change on your router to make it work. I tried them all, not that it was easy. The SYSWAN used different terminology and hid things in different places than most other routers. Nothing worked! Finally I decided to try the one thing that had to work and place the Microcell in the router’s DMZ. This would effectively get the router out of the way and make sure the Microcell could communicate with AT&T. Well, to begin with I’m sure I’ve lost many of you. And that is precisely the problem with the SYSWAN. The fact that I even have to talk about these things means that the SYSWAN isn’t intended for anyone other than a networking expert to deal with. In fact, I could write pages about what I did to open up ports, change packet sizes, write rules, etc. trying to get it to work. And oh how much time I wasted. But now I’d solve the problem using the DMZ. Except this is where the design of the Microcell and the design of the SYSWAN conflict.
On all routers you specify the IP address of a server inside your LAN to put it in the DMZ. This means you either have to configure the server with a fixed IP address, or use a feature in the router’s DHCP server to reserve a specific dynamically assigned IP address for a particular server using its MAC. Essentially you use DHCP to make a dynamically assigned static IP address. Since the AT&T Microcell doesn’t allow you to configure it (with a fixed IP address or in any other way) I configured the SYSWAN’s DHCP server to assign a specific address to the Microcell’s MAC address. However, when I tried to place the Microcell into the DMZ the SYSWAN complained about the use of the DHCP-assigned IP address. Damn, it will only put a server with a true static IP address into the DMZ.
Before I finish the SYSWAN story I should mention that a few days before trying the DMZ option I’d sent SYSWAN Support an email describing my problem and asking how to configure the SW24 so my AT&T Microcell would work. I never got a response. So now I’ve put several hours into trying to solve the problem and have exhausted my options. The SYSWAN is so unknown that the typical BING it and someone else will have posted instructions didn’t work (and yes, I tried Google as well). All that was left was the prospect of a phone call to SYSWAN support. I picked up the phone and dialed. And discovered that their support line closes at 5PM Mountain time (which yes, if you are on the west coast means 4PM). Of course it was only 4:50, so despite their limited hours I should have squeaked through. But I guess they went home early that day.
Faced with waiting for the next day, and then likely spending an hour or more only to be defeated by the clash between the SYSWAN and the Microcell’s lack of configurability, I went to Amazon and ordered a Cisco RV042 with 1-day shipping. It arrived, I swapped out the SYSWAN, spent about 2 minutes on configuration, and tested that failover between the Internet links worked. I then plugged back in the AT&T Microcell and waited. A few minues later it was up and running with no special configuration on the RV042.
I’m sure the SYSWAN SW24 is a great small business router if you have some special needs that it supports and are willing to pay a networking expert to setup, tweak, and tune it to perfection. If I were actually trying to review the two for small business use I’d do a capability comparison and try to identify the situations where the SW24 excels. But that wasn’t my intent. Certainly for consumer or SOHO use, the Cisco RV042 makes a lot more sense. It’s too bad I didn’t start out with it.