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Product Reviews
August 2000

 

RS4200

Ariel Corporation
2540 Route 130
Cranbury, NJ 08512
Ph: 609-860-2900; Fx: 609-860-1155
Web site: www.ariel.com

Price: $9,493

Editor's Choice Award

RATINGS (0-5)
Installation: 4.5
Documentation: 4.5
Features: 4.5
GUI: 4.25
Overall: A-


Using either the Red Hat Linux 6.1 or Windows NT 4.0 operating systems, Ariel's RS4200 delivers a robust remote access system that provides four T1/E1/PRI lines for up to 96 or 120 modems, and also has ISDN BRI, analog, and V.90 56 Kbps support. On a call-by-call basis, the RS4200 automatically detects the type of data (analog or digital) of the incoming call and routes it to the appropriate modem. The system delivers remote dial-in, LAN dial-out, and voice/fax-over-IP capabilities.

INSTALLATION
Originally, we intended to set up the RS4200 system on an older computer that had Red Hat Linux 6.1 installed. After reading the warning in the manual which stated that 3.3 volts of power must be supplied, we used Mapletree Networks' LED card that Ariel had included with their boards to test the computer we were going to use. We simply installed the card into an available PCI slot and turned on the computer. The board showed a solitary red light, which indicated that the computer only supported five volts of power. For this reason, it was good that we checked the manual and tested the voltage before installing the cards. If we had not, we could have damaged the Ariel hardware. Immediately, we took out the LED card and tested another computer that was accessible with enough free PCI slots available. Thankfully, the card showed both a green and red light, which indicated that this newer computer supported both five volts and 3.3 volts of power. This particular computer had Windows NT 4.0 installed, so it turned out that we would use this operating system for testing the product.

According to the flow chart in the manual, we had to install Service Pack 6 and then the Routing and Remote Access Service (RRAS) on our Windows NT Server 4.0 system. We did not have any trouble downloading this software from the sites indicated in the manual. Unfortunately, we were required to reinstall Service Pack 6 just in case the RRAS software changed any of the original settings, but this procedure still did not take very long.

It was now time to install the hardware, which consisted of an RS4200 line card and a modem pool card. These sizeable cards were a little tricky to place because of some intrusion from cables already connected in the computer. With a little maneuvering, we were able to place these cards in two available PCI slots. Connecting the H.100 cable from one board to the other was more difficult. Fitting the cable in the slot on the RS4200 line card took a little effort because the cable would not easily fit snugly on the board.

When this was finished, we connected all of the cables required and powered the computer up. We installed the RS4200 software from Ariel's CD-ROM, which includes the drivers for the cards. To do this, all we needed to do was go to our network adapters screen, click add, click have disk, select our CD-ROM drive, select the Ariel RS4200 card set, and wait a few moments for the adapter and modem installation to complete. To configure the ports, we switched to the services tab, selected the RRAS option, added the RS4200 digital modem, configured the port usage, and cloned the information 95 times. Sixty ISDN BRI ports can also be configured in the same manner.

Finally, we installed the management console. This procedure was similar to installing most of these types of applications and did not take much effort. Overall, the whole installation process was simple compared to that of many remote access systems.

DOCUMENTATION
The Installation and Users Guide for the RS4200 gives you virtually everything you need to know about the product. The guide is almost like following the yellow brick road to Oz; the instructions are informative, concise, and easy to follow. It also provides plenty of screen shots and tables. The only drawback is that the guide does not have an index.

While the manual does give information about the Ariel management console, there are not any help files associated with the GUI, except for an almost useless "About" dialog box. Detailed help files would make it easier to navigate the management console.

FEATURES
The following is a list of the key features of the RS4200:

* PCI plug-in solution that provides four T1/E1/PRI interfaces for up to 96 or 120 modems, and can support analog connections as well as V.90 56 Kbps and ISDN BRI connections;

  • Supports dial-in and dial-out, is voice/fax-over-IP capable (supports T.38 for FoIP and G.711, G.723.1, and G.729a/b codecs for VoIP), and supports VPNs;
  • PowerPOP Architecture -- aids reliability and performance of the product with such functionality as DNS and Web caching in each POP and RADIUS mirroring;
  • Supports both Windows NT 4.0 and Linux and provides PAP, CHAP authentication, MPP, FTP, e-mail, Web hosting, and automatic callback; and
  • Java-based console to manage any ports on the system with the use of status reporting, statistics, call screening, event logging, and system diagnostics reporting.

OPERATIONAL TESTING
Since we not only had one but two T1 simulators available for our tests, we felt that we could do a few interesting demonstrations. First, we had to make sure that both of our T1 simulators contained the appropriate settings so that they could communicate with the RS4200. The settings for GL Communications' simulator (reviewed in the July 2000 issue of Communications Solutions) were already set up correctly, so all we needed to do was run the software. Gordon Kapes' simulator, reviewed in the September 1999 issue of Communications Solutions (formerly CTI), needed a little tweaking but was ready once we changed the appropriate settings so that it would be performing on the network side.

We connected both systems to the RS4200 and plugged the RJ-45 cables into two different ports. When one of the simulators synchronized with the RS4200, the icon next to the remote access server's IP address, which we had already entered into the management console as the host address, turned from red to green. We tried both connections separately as well. Everything was as green as Irish hills, which told us that it was working properly.

We then made sure that the appropriate T1 line configuration settings were in place on the RS4200 so that we could call into the system. We changed the line configuration settings so that the RS4200 was set for T1. We also added the appropriate phone number required, which could be any number as long as it consisted of the proper number of digits that was set for that particular simulator. We did the same for the other three T1 ports. From two phones that were connected to the Gordon Kapes' simulator, we called any two numbers and heard them each register with the RS4200, i.e., we heard the fax/modem tone. When we clicked "refresh now" and checked the channel status, we noticed that line ID 0, channel ID 1 and line ID 0, channel ID 2 were active. We did the same with the GL Communications' simulator and soon saw line ID 1, channel ID 1 and line ID 1, channel ID 2 were both active as well. The test results appeared in the management console GUI.

But we were not quite finished with our demonstrations yet. We decided to add a real-time atmosphere into our lab testing. We called the RS4200 from a PC with a 56 Kbps modem that was connected to the Gordon Kapes' simulator, which we used as if it were a "central office." The transmission passed through the central office and reached the RS4200 (the ISP). We saw that the call was active when viewing the management console. However, we did not perform any benchmark throughput tests because the T1 simulators' analog ports did not support full V.90 56 Kbps connectivity; thus, we were only connecting at 33.6 Kbps.

ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT
As in all our reviews, we thought of a few suggestions that would improve the product. Integrating the RS4200 line card with the modem pool card would be beneficial for small ISPs. Requiring only one card would free up a PCI slot and would ensure an easier installation so that an additional cable would not be needed. We realize that this integration might be difficult to accomplish, possibly forcing Ariel to sacrifice the number of modems from 96 to a lesser number. However, the beauty of this design is that Ariel would already have modem pool cards and H.100 cables available so that ISPs can expand modem ports if needed. For example, if the original RS4200 comes with two T1/E1/PRI ports for an availability of 48 or 60 modems, then adding an additional modem pool card into the extra PCI slot would allow for six T1/E1/PRI ports for an availability of 144 or 180 modems. Furthermore, additional boards can increase the number of modems even more, giving the ISPs a very high level of scalability.

We also have a few suggestions for the management console GUI. We did not like how we had to keep refreshing to see whether certain modems were active or not. As it stands now, the fastest refresh rate is once every minute. We would like to see the refresh rate in real time instead. Currently, the line configuration option can only be chosen when "T1/E1 line interface status" under "remote access servers" is highlighted on the left side of the screen. We think the line configuration should be available from any selection as long as the RS4200 is seeing the server's IP address. In addition, there should be more right-clicking functionality, especially when viewing the channel status.

We already talked to Ariel about our last two recommendations, which are to provide support for Windows 2000 and to add actual voice/fax-over-IP software to the RS4200 (the RS4200 currently supports voice/fax over IP but does not provide any specific software for it). Ariel said that they were already developing these capabilities and that they would be out later this year.

CONCLUSION
As Ariel's literature says, the RS4200 can indeed build a better network. Even though some improvements could be made, the RS4200 still delivers on that promise. This remote access system is certainly a solid product for use with ISPs or companies requiring extensive remote access capabilities.







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