Check Point NGFW Review

Gives users more confidence online because the gateway is going to help them out where needed

What is our primary use case?

For the SMB appliances, the use case is tricky because I don't actually like them too much. If you have a very small branch office, you could use one of them, but in that case I would just go for the lowest version of the full GAiA models. But for small locations that are not that important, it is possible to use one of the SMB appliances, the 1400 or 1500 series. 

The full GAiA models, starting with the 3200 and up to the chassis, are the ones we work with the most, and you can use them in almost every environment that you want to secure, from Layer 4  to Layer 7. The only reason to go higher is if they don't perform well enough, and then you go to the chassis which are for really big data centers that need to be secure.

About a year or a year-and-a-half ago, they introduced the Maestro solution, which gives you the flexibility of using the normal gateways in a way that you can extend them really easily, without switching to the chassis. You can just plug more and more gateways into the Maestro solution.

How has it helped my organization?

It's difficult to say how these firewalls have improved our clients' companies because a firewall isn't meant to improve things, it's meant to make them more secure. Nine times out of 10, it's going to give you something that the end-users aren't so happy with. But Check Point Next Generation Firewalls improve security and, indirectly, they improve the way users work. They can access practically everything on the internet without being concerned about what's going to happen. They give users more confidence when doing something, without having to worry about the consequences because the gateway is going to help them out where needed, preventing malicious stuff.

What is most valuable?

The feature I like the most is their central management, the Smart controller which you can use to manage all the firewalls from one location. You can get practically all information — but not all the information, because not everything has been migrated from the previous SmartDashboard version into the SmartConsole. Being able to access almost everything in one location — manage all your gateways and get all your logs — for me, is the best feature to work with. 

As for the security features, that depends a bit on what you're doing with it, and what your goal is. But they're all very good for application URL filtering. Threat Prevention and Threat Extraction are also great, especially the Threat Extraction. It's very nice because your end-user doesn't have to wait for the file that he's downloading to see if it's infected, if it's malware or not. It gives him a plain text version without active content, and he can start working. And if he needs the actual version, it will be available a few minutes later to download, if it isn't infected. That's a great feature. 

Anti-Bot also is also very nice because if a PC from an end-user gets infected, it stops it from communicating with its command and control, and you get notification that there is an infected computer.

It's difficult to distinguish which feature is best, because they're all good. It just depends on what your goals are. As a partner, we are implementing all of them, and which ones we prioritize depends on the client's needs and which is the best for them. For me, they're all very good.

What needs improvement?

The MTA (Mail Transfer Agent) may not be the greatest, and the full proxy that you can activate instead of just doing application control is also not the greatest, but they don't even recommend using those. They're just available if you want.

But the biggest improvement they could make is having one software to install on all three levels of their products, so that the SMBs, the normal models, and the chassis would all run the same software. Now, while there is central management, everything that has to be configured on the gateway itself works differently on the three kinds of devices. That is a bit hard because you have to update your skills on all three.

A practical example is that I have a client that I run scripts for to get information from 40-plus firewalls. That client is thinking about refreshing and there may be SMB appliances in the roll-out that don't run those scripts. That would make my job a lot harder. So the best improvement would be standard software on all their devices.

For how long have I used the solution?

I started working with Check Point firewalls in 1999, so it's been about 20 years. In the last year I have worked with all the SMB appliances, through the full GAiA and up to the 64000 series.

There's not much difference between a Check Point 3200 and a 5200 because they're running the same OS. There are just performance differences. So I can't say I've worked on every model, because I don't always check the model when I come to a client. But I've worked on every model that runs different software. I've worked with all three kinds of software that are used by Check Point.

What do I think about the stability of the solution?

The SMBs have room for improvement in stability. They're not as stable as they could be.

The chassis are great, but they are running behind. Maybe "running behind" is an overstatement, but the roll-out of new features on them is really slow because they want them to be tested and tested and tested. The clients installing these chassis are large banks or very large customers that can't have any downtime whatsoever, so it's normal that they test them more thoroughly. 

For the mainstream models, we do run into bugs on a regular basis, but they're mostly not showstoppers. You can run into a bug, but either there's a possible work-around or it doesn't impact things so much that there are huge problems for the client.

What do I think about the scalability of the solution?

The SMBs are not scalable. New devices come out from time to time that are more performant. The mainstream devices are also not scalable except if you go with the Maestro version, and then you can just plug in an extra firewall and it scales up. With the chassis you just plug in an extra blade and it scales up also. So the Maestro and the chassis are very scalable, but for the other models it comes down to buying new boxes if the current ones aren't sufficient anymore.

How are customer service and technical support?

Check Point support is a very difficult question because not so long ago I had a major complaint with Check Point about their support. Now, they give us much better support because we have the highest level of partnership. They recognize that the people from our team, in particular, are very skilled, so we don't go to first-level support anymore. The moment we open a ticket, we get tier-three support, and that is good.

But we haven't had this privilege for that long and, in the past, support could be a bit tricky. If we got a tier-one engineer it could be okay for support that wasn't urgent but if we were doing an implementation, especially since we had a lot of experience, they were mostly asking questions about things that we had already checked. Often, we had more knowledge than they did.

For us, it's great that we now immediately get access to tier-three. I just wrote an email to the support manager this morning about an issue we had last night, and I told him the support was great; no complaints anymore. It took a while, but now it's good. I can't complain anymore.

It depends on the partnership you have with Check Point. If you're a lower-level partner, you have to go through the steps and it takes a bit of time. If you're working in a company that has a good partnership and you can negotiate some things, then support is good and you get very good people on the line.

How was the initial setup?

The initial setup of these firewalls is fairly straightforward for me, but they're not the easiest ones to learn and to set up. But I've been working with Check Points for 20 years. So if you're a new user, I wouldn't say it's easy. If you have experience, it's not really that difficult. But the learning curve is higher than some of the competitors.

The time for deployment depends on the features you want to enable on the firewall and the environment you want to put it in. If it's a branch office with a small network, a DMZ and an internet connection, that would take half a day or a day. It also depends though on if it is a completely new installation where you also have to install a Management Server. On average, we count on about one day per gateway and one day for the management, but it depends on the complexity of the environment, of course.

Our implementation strategy differs per client, and it even differs by the engineer who does it because everyone has his own skills and tricks from the past that they're using. But a uniform implementation approach, especially for different clients, is very difficult to do because every firewall is a complex product. You can't do for client A what you're going to do for client B.

If it's an installation we go the standard route, with a high-level design and get it approved by the clients. Then we go for the low-level design and implementation. A standard implementation is a clustered environment with a separate Management Server. We almost never deploy one gateway, so one cluster with a separate Management Server is the most basic level. We usually set up the management on a virtual system, not an appliance, and we try to go for appliances for the gateways, depending a bit on the customer's needs; it could be virtual.

What's my experience with pricing, setup cost, and licensing?

Make sure you get the correct license. For instance, I did an audit for one of our clients recently and I saw that they always were buying the most expensive license and not using the features that were included in it. That's one thing to look at: If you're not going to use some features, don't buy the license related to those and go for a cheaper license. 

Also, negotiate. There's always room for discounts.

You get licensing bundles, so depending on which features you want to activate, your license is going to be more expensive. Some things, like Threat Extraction and Threat Emulation, require subscriptions. They don't come with a standard firewall. 

I'm not a licensing expert, but as far as I know there's the standard firewall, the Next Generation Firewall, and then the Next Generation Threat Prevention license. The price goes up in those bundles.

Which other solutions did I evaluate?

Another vendor I work with and have the most knowledge about, when compared to Check Point, is Palo Alto. They force you to work a bit more with applications instead of ports, although that's not something Check Point cannot do. 

The central management is different for Palo Alto. You can install it, but it doesn't work the way it works with Check Point. I like both. I like that with the Palo Alto you just go to a web browser and can configure the firewall all the way, but it's also easy to have the SmartConsole from Check Point where you can manage multiple devices. Palo Alto doesn't really have that. They have a central manager where you can get logs and where you can distribute some policies, but it doesn't work the way Check Point's central management does.

Both have their pros and cons. It depends on how you like to work. I like working with both of them. It's a bit different, but in terms of security and features, I don't think they're that different. It's just another way of working.

What other advice do I have?

Make sure you have a good partner doing Check Point work for you because, as a direct client, it's very hard to get the necessary skills in-house, unless you're a very big company. Contact Check Point and ask them which partner they recommend and go that route. Don't try to do it yourself. The firewall is too complex to set up and maintain yourself, without the assistance of people who do it every day.

Learn and get experience with it. Don't be overwhelmed. When you start with it all the features and all the tips and tricks that you need to know to maintain it, it can be overwhelming. Like I said, the learning curve is very steep, and when you start with it, it's going to look like, "Whoa, this is impossible." But stick with it and when you get some experience it's going to be okay. It's a difficult product, but once you get the hang of it, it's one that's really nice to work with. We still run into issues from time to time, but Check Point products are very manageable and fun to work with. Check Point is my favorite vendor. I like working with it a lot.

I would rate Check Point's mainstream solutions at eight or nine out of 10, and the same for the chassis. I would rate the SMBs around a six. I don't really like those too much. Overall, Check Point is an eight, because most people are going for the mainstream solutions and those are very good.

**Disclosure: IT Central Station contacted the reviewer to collect the review and to validate authenticity. The reviewer was referred by the vendor, but the review is not subject to editing or approval by the vendor. The reviewer's company has a business relationship with this vendor other than being a customer: Partner
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