TechAccess shows off Qube Internet appliance

TechAccess will be showcasing its range of Internet gateway products, including the Qube series of low- to medium-end devices.
Pitched at small businesses or remote offices, this is a black-box solution — well, bright blue really — promising a full suite of network services.

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By  Greg Wilson Published  August 30, 2001

TechAccess will be showcasing its range of Internet gateway products, including the Qube series of low- to medium-end devices.
Pitched at small businesses or remote offices, this is a black-box solution — well, bright blue really — promising a full suite of network services.

Out of the box, the Qube impresses from the word go. Encased in a cube of blue plastic, it looks more like a toaster out of Star Trek or the more esoteric sort of hi-fi than an Internet gateway. It's a shape that might be awkward to fit in a wiring closet, but it's certainly cute.

Despite its innocent exterior, round the back you start getting a feeling for what's inside. Unlike devices which go for a minimum of expandability to reduce complexity, the Qube boasts two Ethernet ports, one USB port, a SCSI connector, a PCI expansion slot and a serial port for an analogue modem.

Also on the back is the LCD status panel and a set of buttons for entering data. Like the RaQ, reviewed in NME July, it proved easy to navigate, although the buttons are unlabeled. The navigation (up/down/left/right) buttons are obvious, but the 'select? and 'enter? buttons are indicated by a dot and an arrow instead of a text label.

Any unease is rapidly dispelled by the Qube's start-up configuration process, mainly because it's absurdly easy if you don't already have a network in place. An automatic configuration option will scan for an IP address, start up DHCP services, DNS, web proxying and NAT, and all you have to do is tell it the IP address of the Internet connection, or set up dialup.

That's really impressive — a nearly hands-free install, and all that remains to be done is configuring PCs to use DHCP and to point to the Qube as a gateway. For users who don't understand anything about IP addressing, subnet masks and the like, this is a quick and easy first step.

For getting online, the Qube accommodates most kinds of connections; it has two Ethernet ports allowing connections to any router device, as well as serial and USB ports for external modems. There's also a PCI slot if you want to plug in, for example, an ISDN adapter. Getting at the slot is easy, a screw releases the cover, and access to the drives, memory and PCI slot is easy.

This box packs a lot of services into a small space. First off, the basics. Just what you'd expect, a web cache, e-mail accounts with options to retrieve from various remote sources, personal web space, Windows networking support, and a web-based interface to administer the lot.

What sets the Qube apart is both the additional services that have been included, and also the little extras that make the standard set that little bit better. For example, you can turn relaying off on the mail server, preventing yourself from being abused by spammers.
But what if you want legitimate remote users to be able to relay mail from time to time? No problem - the Qube can request POP3 authentication against a local mailbox account, after which it will detect the user's IP address and permit relaying from that address for 15 minutes.

For the web management interface, immediate kudos are deserved for security. A secure option is presented, which doesn't just use SSL for a secure connection, it presents a 128-bit digital certificate for authentication of the device.

Sadly, no kudos are due for the command line interface. Telnet rather than the more secure SSH, is offered for [secure] access. SSH isn't even installed.

Within the web interface itself, just about everything you'd want to configure is easily accessible. Users and groups can be added, and the Qube offers LDAP out of the box.

Mailing lists are easy to manage, as are standard users and groups. The more advanced features of the Qube — the network services — are well presented in the web interface, with advanced features frequently separated into a second pane to hide complexity, but without removing flexibility.

The standard set of services is there, including DNS, DHCP, web caching, masquerading (NAT), access control and Inter-net access via dial-up or a remote gateway. Security is provided through a very nice GUI to the Linux ipchains services, and although a bit limited (you can modify the standard Accept, Reject and Forward chains, but can't add a custom chain), is easy enough to navigate.

Another area in which the Qube shines is software installation. Using Sun's BlueLinQ service, the interface lists available software and patches, and can be set to periodically check for new updates.

What's especially noteworthy is the depth to which new software can be integrated. Having downloaded Sun’s free Adaptive Firewall, its configuration panel was added to the standard Qube interface as expected, but also extended to the LCD control on the back of the device.

That integration is a sign of good behind-the-scenes platform work. Users can log onto the Qube to set up mail options (forwarding or away messages), to manage their own web space, and to make use of the built-in web-based e-mail client.

That last is a great feature for small companies with mobile users, as it consolidates all the remote mailboxes (as the Qube can retrieve external POP3/ IMAP/Unix mail) into a single point. Aside from the occasional glitch, this is a very strong offering. Cobalt hasn't skimped on anything, packing in features without ending up top heavy. The upgrade potential in particular should make it an attractive purchase for many users.

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