Cisco ASA Firewall Review

SourceFIRE has improved the IPS functionality, however, it could use better troubleshooting capabilities.

What is most valuable?

With the ASA there are multiple products depending on your needs based on the two generations of the ASA. Roughly split-up there are 4 products.

  1. 5500 Series basic/standard firewall - This I would rate as 7/10 due to the fact that it's easy to use, manage and deploy. Its scalable SSL, and IPSec VPN options, and is lacking throughput
  2. 5500-X Series basic/standard firewall - This I would rate as 8/10 due to the fact that it's easy to use, manage and deploy. Its scalable SSL, and IPSec VPN options, and it has high throughput
  3. ASA5500 Series with firewall and CX - This I would rate as 5/10 due to fact that even though the firewall and VPN part is easy to manage and deploy, the CX is lacking in stability, and features. Also, it is rather complex to deploy. Add to this the CX lowers the throughput even further
  4. 5500-X Series with firewall and Sourcefire - This I would rate as 9/10 because it's easy to use, manage and deploy the firewall, VPN, and also the SourceFIRE. SourceFIRE works rather well and is by far the most advanced IPS system available. But it decreases the throughput more than you´d like

In general, I like both the SSL VPN and SourceFIRE. Firstly, for the VPN, both the client and client-less versions are very scalable, flexible, and dynamic in configuration and probably the best SSL VPN solution available in the marked. Secondly, SourceFIRE has improved the IPS functionality and stability of the ASA to a point where you can begin to enjoy the fruits of your solution and root out the bad seed in you network.

How has it helped my organization?

For many of my customers, the SourceFIRE solution has been an eye opener of exactly what their users are generating of traffic. Some customers, after reviewing the traffic application usage reports are astounded by the amount of traffic used, for example by Facebook and YouTube. My customers like the visibility into their network usage, and not necessarily wanting to block it, but just to know that they can control the network traffic and utilization if needed.

What needs improvement?

Definitely the throughput could use an upgrade when running the SourceFIRE/AMP with the ASA. Also, it could use better troubleshooting capabilities. You are, most of the time, bound to have access to TAC for troubleshooting advanced problems.

For how long have I used the solution?

Customers where I have deployed these solutions have had them for three plus years, and most of them have, at the present moment have first generation solutions, or are planning an upgrade to the second generation ones (NGFW or NGIPS),

What was my experience with deployment of the solution?

There are always issues when implementing key equipment like firewalls, especially if you are converting from an unfamiliar platform, activating SourceFIRE, or doing a general maintenance rule clear-up. If you don’t follow best practice, you can seriously impact network performance or unintentionally shut-down services.

What do I think about the stability of the solution?

In general the ASA has a great software stability reputation, and even though SourceFIRE for ASA is still young, the stability seems to be rather good. Of course you can’t avoid all issues, and you might have to reinstall the SourceFIRE software on the modules. If you're upgrading the ASA from pre code 8.3, you will need to redo the NAT and access rules of the ASA.

What do I think about the scalability of the solution?

License scalability for SourceFIRE is really not good if you have an ASA in HA as you need two licenses of everything, which is really bad as you wont get double SourceFIRE other than that you need to remember to buy your ASA based on the SourceFIRE's throughput and not the inspection throughput.

How are customer service and technical support?

Customer Service:

If you have a service contract with Cisco you can have TAC assistance, software upgrades and next-business-day RMA (or faster) otherwise you are left to yourself or your Cisco partner. Basically without a Cisco service contract, you can't get any help or software from Cisco.

Technical Support:

Should you have a Cisco service contract, you get access to TAC that will provide you technical assistance towards solving your issue. The TAC experience can vary a lot. In general I would rate it as very good, 4/5.

Which solution did I use previously and why did I switch?

Mainly customers switch from other vendor because of VPN features, ease-of-management, and good consultant/partner relationship.

How was the initial setup?

The initial setup is fairly easy and there are wizards for almost all the basic needs, including the initial setup and all types of VPN technologies that the ASA supports.

What about the implementation team?

I am the vendor, and I am an expert with ASA.

What other advice do I have?

Make sure you get the right product/license to do the job you need done. If you are in doubt ask a consultant or a Cisco Partner. I have seen cases where a firewall wasn't the right hardware for the job and you can't just switch off the firewall/inspector for some interfaces or networks.

**Disclosure: My company has a business relationship with this vendor other than being a customer: Cisco Gold Partner
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