Cisco ASA Firewall Review

Great support and extremely stable with an excellent command-line interface

What is our primary use case?

We primarily use it for our clients. We have one or more at each client site - or multiple locations if they have multiple locations.

Typically our clients are up to about 500 users. Most of them are smaller than that, but they go as large as 500. They're using the solution for the full next-gen firewall stacks - intrusion protection, URL filtering, advanced malware protection, or so-called AMP. Those are the three subscription services that Cisco sells. All of our clients have those subscription services enabled at their main location. Typically, they're just protecting users that are behind the firewall. We also use it for site-to-site VPN, and we use it for client-to-site VPN.

How has it helped my organization?

In terms of our clients, security is one of those things that, ideally, nobody notices. It improves the functioning in the sense that you don't get hacked. However, from a noticeable, management point of view, the URL filtering is a pretty significant enhancement. People are able to block access to various websites by category. It isn't revolutionary. Lots of products do this. However, it's a nice sort of add-on to a firewall product.

At the end of the day, the solution offers good productivity enhancement to a company.

What is most valuable?

Cisco's support is great. 

For experienced users, they are pretty much able do anything they want in the interface with few restrictions.

The command-line interface is really useful for us. We script basic installations and modifications through the command-line, which is considered sort of old school, and yet it allows us to fully document the changes that we're making due to the fact that we can save the exact script that was applied and say, "Here are the changes that we made." 

We can have less experienced people do initial takes on an install. They can edit a template, and we can have a more experienced person review the template, and then apply it, and we don't have to worry about whether anyone inexperienced went into certain corners of the interface and made changes or whatever.

Everything is all documented in the file or in the command line script that gets uploaded to the device. It gives us great visibility.

What needs improvement?

I would say that in inexperienced hands, the interface can be kind of overwhelming. There are just a lot of options. It's too much if you don't know what you are looking for or trying to do.  

The GUI still uses Java, which feels out of date today. That said, it's an excellent GUI.

The biggest downside is that Cisco has multiple firewall lines. The ASA line which is what we sell, and we sell most of the latest versions of it, are kind of two families. One is a little older, one's a little newer. We mostly sell the newer family. Cisco is kind of de-emphasizing this particular line of products in their firewall stable. That's unfortunate. 

They have the ASA line, Meraki, which is a company they bought some years ago where all the management is sort of cloud interface that they provide rather than a kind of interface that you manage right on the box. They also bought Snort and they integrated the Snort intrusion detection into the ASA boxes. In the last couple of years, they've come out with a sort-of replacement to Snort, a line of firewalls that don't use IOS.

It's always been that the intrusion prevention and the based firewalling features had separate interfaces within IOS. They've eliminated IOS in this new product line and built it from the ground up. We haven't started using that product yet. They have higher performance numbers on that line, and that's clearly the future for them, but it hasn't reached feature parity yet with the ASA. 

The main downside is that it feels a little bit like a dead end at this point. One needs to decide to move to one of these other Cisco lines or a non-Cisco line, at some point. We haven't done the research or made the plunge yet.

What I would like to see is a more inexpensive logging solution. They should offer either the ability to maintain longer-term logs right on the firewall or an inexpensive server-based logging solution. Cisco has logging solutions, however, they're very high end.

For how long have I used the solution?

We've been using the solution for 20 or more years. It's been well over two decades at this point.

What do I think about the stability of the solution?

The solution is solid. It's a big advantage of choosing Cisco. There are no worries about stability at all.

What do I think about the scalability of the solution?

The scalability of the solution is good. Within our customer base, it is absolutely scalable. You can go very large with it. However, if you really want the highest speeds, you have to move off of the IOS ASA line and onto the newer stuff.

Typically our clients cap out at 500 employees.

How are customer service and technical support?

Technical support is excellent. They are extremely knowledgeable and responsive. It'd rate the ten out of ten. We're quite satisfied with the level of support Cisco provides.

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

We did use Juniper's NetScreen product on and off for a while. We stopped using it about ten years ago now.

We had previous experience with the Cisco gear, so we were comfortable with it, and Juniper bought the NetScreen product and sunsetted it. You had to move into a different firewall product that was based on their equivalent of IOS, something called Juno OS, and we didn't like those products. Therefore, when they sunsetted the Juniper products, we looked around and settled on Cisco.

How was the initial setup?

Due to the fact that we're experienced with it and we've scripted the command line, it's extremely simple for us. That said, I think it's complex for somebody that doesn't know the IOS platform.

What other advice do I have?

We're Cisco resellers.

We're always on the latest version. I don't actually keep track of the version numbers myself, however, part of what the service that we provide for our clients is updating their firewalls to the latest version.

We use multiple deployment models. We use both on-premises and cloud versions. They are also all different sizes, according to the requirements of the company.

I'd advise other companies considering Cisco to be sure to factor in the cost of the ongoing security subscriptions and the ongoing SmartNet into the purchase price. Those things, over the years, represent more than the cost of the firewall itself - significantly more. However, I'd advise others to get the security subscriptions due to the fact that it really dramatically increases the security of the solution overall.

On a scale from one to ten, I'd rate them at an eight. We love the product, however, we feel like it's not Cisco's future direction, which is the only reason I would downgrade its score. To bring it up to a 10, they'd have to make it their main product line again, which they aren't going to do.

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