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Product Reviews
December 2003

CommPlete 4000

Multi-Tech Systems, Inc.
2205 Woodale Drive
Mounds View, MN 55112
Tel: 763-785-3500/800-328-9717
Web: www.multitech.com

Price: $3,999

Editor's Choice Award

Installation: 4.25
Documentation: 4.75
Features: 4.25
GUI: 4.75
Overall: A

Although xDSL and cable have made significant inroads, the reality is that people often have access to only plain old POTS telephony lines. In fact, dial-up modems remain the primary means to get on to the Intranet/Internet. Now Communication Servers come turbo charged with the V.92/V.44 dial-up modem specification from the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) that introduces new features providing convenience and performance for the modem user. This specification enhances primarily three areas over the previous standard, namely faster upstream speed, quick-connect, and modem-on-hold features.

ISPs and call centers for example who have to serve a variety of users accessing the Internet/Intranet including telecommuting/dial-in telecommuters and road warriors as well as remote agents, home workers, and travelers will benefit from V.92/V.44. It will enhance the user�s dial-up modem experience. Faster upstream speed translates to faster uploading of files, and the bandwidth to make dial-up VoIP, low-rate video conferencing, and multiplayer online games more feasible.
For an ISP or call center, the shorter connect times would equate to operational cost savings. Modem-on-hold means their users can accept incoming calls without crashing the connection meaning users can access the Internet or corporate network without missing telephone calls; they can pause browsing to make a call that again translated to less need for second phone lines at home. It can make resumption of the data call quicker and more seamless. All this augurs well as businesses move to a unified voice/data-networking model.

We decided to check out Multi-Tech�s CommPlete 4000 communications server equipped with eight V.92 modem ports. �Under the hood� is an industry-standard single-board computer with industry-standard PCI slots and you can use any combination of modem, serial, and BRI ISDN server cards to suit your application, an integrated 10/100 Ethernet NIC, a high-performance processor, memory, and preinstalled RASExpress remote access software. A 3.5� floppy drive, hard drive, and universal power supply are also included.

The product is able to handle a scalable mix from eight up to 32 dial-in/dial-out analog or ISDN ports using Multi-Tech serial, analog modem or hybrid ISDN/56K modem cards, with the potential to support up to 32 concurrent sessions.

If you find yourself needing more than eight ports, the solution is scalable. Simply get the server card (modem, serial and BRI ISDN server cards) that suits your application, and slip it into the spare PCI slot; the RASExpress software then recognizes the card and adds it to the configuration. You assign IP ports, the new card starts handling calls.

Security is a part of the package at no additional cost. Multi-Tech provides a built-in client for authentication to third-party RADIUS/TACACS+ servers, and a bundled RADIUS server application for installations not currently using RADIUS security is good value for potential customers.

As for manageability, the tools offer easy management and are quite comprehensive. The bundled management software Multi-Manager 1.43 and the RASExpress remote access software provides extensive reporting using a Web browser; Windows-based GUI, telnet, or SNMP. Local and remote configuration and management can be handled using Web browser, terminal, modem, telnet, ftp, and SNMP etc. All of this meets the common objective, which is to effectively manage remote access.

For time keeping, the built-in Simple Network Time Protocol (SNTP) client enables RASExpress to synchronize its clocking with a remote time/clock server on the Internet/ Intranet. This feature is useful for accounting purposes.

We deployed the CommPlete 4000 on a test bed configuration and used a client PC equipped with a modem for our tests. We accessed MS e-mail, Oracle apps, and the like. Before that we used a serial cable between a PC and the CommPlete 4000 serial port to access the unit for the first time using windows HyperTerminal application. Moving on we selected Quick Configuration of Server option from menu logged in with user id as supervisor and then keyed in the relevant IP address and the corresponding IP subnet mask. We then restarted the system.
Next, we launched the Multi-Manager version 1.43 and completed the system setup relevant to our network including some test users. We also tried the Web access option, which is also very handy for remote operation and control.

The chassis could be smaller now in the age of blade servers and 1U appliances. There are no visual indicators/status LEDs on the front panel or on the back except for the indicator on the power on/off switch. It would be good to at least get some indicators on the system, which tells you at basic things like which specific modem port is handling the call, whether or not the LAN port is communicating, etc.

A 1U chassis with an LCD display coupled with a directional keypad push buttons could prove useful so that we can set the IP address and IP subnet mask right there on the unit and ask for a reboot and then manage it from another PC or management station. These could help Network Administrators in doing simple monitoring and configuration changes right in the wiring closet or computer room.

All in all, we felt the product scored well on the aspect of Price/Performance, for it is well priced for all the bundles price and features, which include appliance management, monitoring options, Radius server, expandability, and the like. The CommPlete 4000 does its job well and is an affordable, simple, scalable, effective, and easy solution to implement. It does not entail any hidden costs like licenses to buy and Multi-Tech offers all remote access upgrades for RASExpress for free. We recommend you take a closer look at this product.

- Written by Biju Oommen

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