What with the insidious game that technology tends to play with one’s mind – first it makes itself indispensable then it spasmodically and unpredictably withdraws its services – Bleeding Edge is prepared to admit that we may have been ever so slightly paranoid about the iiNet Belkin F1PI242ENau voice modem/router which has been keeping the Bleeding Edge cave in touch with the outside world.
After a week or so of having to reboot the thing once or twice a day, and a polite, but not terribly productive conversation with iiNet’s tech support department which elicited the news that we were suffering from a “port error” – a vague diagnosis which could mean anything from interference on the phone line to a faulty line filter or possibly a challenging astrological transit – Bleeding Edge opted to replace the modem.
It’s not the first time we’ve tangled with the Belkin modem, and we weren’t prepared to mess with firmware or engage in another one of those isolation tests in which you uncouple every telephone device and hope that whatever transitory fault you’re suffering from manifests itself before the people who are no doubt trying urgently to ring you start assuming you’ve left town, or been arrested … pardon us for a minute while we pop another one of those anti-paranoia pills.
As it happened, we’d already made the same decision in relation to the small business system we administer. While we haven’t had any problems with the Billion BiPAC 7404 modem/router, we had become increasingly worried by the fact that it lacked an essential feature for any small business: automatic fail-over capability.
Internet connectivity has become as critical to small – even very small – businesses as it is for large corporations. The need for reliable access to email and the Web and the increasing number of useful cloud computing applications is obvious, but with an increasing number of home offices and small businesses also relying on VoIP (Voice over IP) to provide cheap, reliable telephone calls, losing Internet access can be a disaster.
Fortunately, it’s possible these days to build voice and data connections that are even more reliable than conventional phone/data services, by adding a low-cost ADSL, cable, or wireless service to the primary Internet feed. In the past, these fail-over systems were a big-budget luxury. They’re now within the reach even of SOHO operators like Bleeding Edge.
The solution we settled on – the DrayTek Vigor 2820VN modem/router – costs around $480. That’s slightly more than double the price of a consumer modem/router like the Billion BiPAC7404, but the additional features, performance, reliability, ease of use and support that Draytek brings to its product make it a bargain.
Plug in a primary ADSL/ADSL2/2+ and you get fast sync speeds and a robust connection that copes with a heavy load from multiple PCs – a scenario which can at times unsettle cheaper modems.
We’ve been running a second Optus cable service at the Bleeding Edge cave on a separate network. Now it plugs into a second WAN Ethernet port on the modem on the DrayTek which can use it to provide additional bandwidth, which is called load balancing, or automatically switch to it if the primary service fails.
We don’t have cable or an additional ADSL feed at the spouse’s office, where the second DrayTek is going. But because it can also handle 3G, satellite and other wireless USB devices, we can hook it up to a low-cost wireless plan to give us a continuous connection there.
You can also connect two VoIP phones and up to 12 SIP accounts, which gives us a failover capability if the Asterisk VoIP system dies. The VoIP lines have proved to be more reliable than the Telstra PSTN service, so it’s unlikely we’ll ever use the 2820VN for that purpose, but its VoIP connections are particularly clear, and it remains a comforting option. A new DrayTek model, due in the next few months, will offer an Asterisk-like PBX option.
DrayTek employs roughly 40 per cent of its payroll in research and development, and the results are clear in every area of the 2820’s engineering. You can plug in a USB storage device and set up FTP storage, and Its Wireless N range is outstanding, allowing you to run four different SSIDs with separate access and bandwidth controls.
Because most small businesses these days need fast, secure remote access to their office network, VPN (Virtual Private Network) performance was a priority. The 2820VN allows you to set up as many as 32 VPN tunnels. It doesn’t skimp on VPN protocols, offering a choice of PPTP, IPSec, L2TP and L2TP over IPSec. Unlike earlier versions, the 2820 provides NAT, firewall and VPN protection for the WAN and wireless connections.
DrayTek’s Australian website provides useful assistance for setting up local cable and 3G USB modems at tinyurl.com/lykl9r.
Our only disappointment was the fact that only one of the four Ethernet ports has gigabit speeds, although most people who need gigabit capability probably already have a gigabit switch. We’ve been very happy with the TP-Link four-port gigabit switches we picked up at Radio Parts in West Melbourne (radioparts.com.au).