Kerio Control Review

With VPN, any of our guys can log in to the system and effectively be on board; helps with our customers all over the world


What is our primary use case?

Our main customer base is superyachts, and they have the Kerio for traffic rules and bandwidth management of the various networks on board. They can optimize traffic for crew versus owners and guests, the VIPs that might be on board. They also use it for bandwidth sharing. They usually have a mixture of the VSAT satellite internet and 4G internet access. Sometimes they have WiFi, for example if they connect to a WiFi hotspot in a marina, as well as shoreline or fixed DSL. They use it to manipulate the internet traffic, so they can say the crew uses the slower VSAT and the guest gets the fast 4G or shoreline.

They also use it to see what's going on. If the boss complains that the internet's slow, they can quickly see if someone is downloading a load of updates or streaming Netflix and they can block them. They just want to have control, as the product name suggests, over the internet traffic.

In-house, we use the NG300, but because we are a partner, we use various hardware platforms. At the moment it's nearly all the NG series, the 100, 200, and 500. The most common that we use is the NG500. I'm interested in using the next-generation, which is due out in the next couple of months, but I've also used the virtual Kerio platform on a VMware hypervisor.

There's a virtual appliance, but also software installed on a Windows PC. We build our own virtual "guest" on a host, we've done a couple of those, and then attached it to a switch with VLANs, so we've covered all platforms.

We have these Kerios on anything from a 30-meter Sunseeker, with five or six crew members, four guest cabins, and a couple of master cabins, or a master and a VIP. They might have 20 guests so there would be a total of about 30 users and some 50 devices for those users. There is also all the AV equipment. And we've gone right up to a 120-meter superyacht, with 50 to 100 crew and space for about 200 guests. We've also got a couple of ski chalets, and a private island in Ibiza. A few hundred users is its top end, but as far as network-connected endpoints go, it could be in the few thousands of devices.

How has it helped my organization?

The way it improves the way our company functions is through the VPN, because we offer support services. Normally, we would have to rely on TeamViewer to a computer on board, or to get on the phone and tell somebody to take pictures or press buttons, where we can't see what's going on. 

In the last year or two, after setting up the VPN, any of our guys can log straight in to the system and they are effectively on board. That is a big help because our customers are all over the world. They could be in Ibiza one day, but then they're heading to the South of France and then they're going off to Greece or crossing the Atlantic. Sometimes it's difficult to send somebody out to them quickly. They might not want to pay for somebody to come out. It could be two or three days of round-trip travel for a half-hour job. The VPN makes it more efficient. We can jump in and see what's going on. We can mimic our engineer's being on board the vessel via the VPN. That's the biggest benefit. And it's instant. Someone rings me up and I've got a single VPN connection and I can get to their networks.

What is most valuable?

The most common feature is the Traffic Rules, so the users can define which network or which users access which internet interface. But bandwidth management and content filtering are also commonly used.

With the Traffic Rules we define all the different sources, such as various user groups or network interfaces for the crew. And we show them that if they want the guests to access 4G internet, this is how they do it. They're defining who gets what, in the Traffic Rules. 

If they've only got a single connection, and everyone's sharing it, then they would jump into bandwidth management and prioritize the boss, but also allow the crew a little bit of internet, just to get by, for WhatsApp messages and emails. 

Content filtering is to stop malicious content. They don't want people accessing the various categories in the filter. The default is usually pretty good for them, things like BitTorrent, downloads, and sharing, but also the more "adult" parts of the internet.

It gives our customers pretty much everything they need in one product, in terms of security features. It's a firewall, but generally for what they want, it works.

What our customers like about it is that it has a nice interface. It's been around in the yacht sector for a long time. I was introduced to Kerio by the yacht customers. They were saying they want this firewall and I hadn't really heard of it. They're usually comfortable with it because it's a familiar interface.

By default, the firewall stops everything coming in but allows everything going out. For everything we've needed, it's done the job. If we've needed to open something up or block something we've managed to do it.

We also use the VPN quite a lot. We have an NG500 in our data center and we actually create a VPN tunnel between and our data center and each of our current customers who have a Kerio. Technically, it's one-way because they don't talk to each other via VPN. All the customers are separate, but as a support company, we can VPN from our laptops to our data center and from there we can access all our customers' networks. That is handy for us because we can log on to their IT switches or their AV equipment to offer support. We also use it for delivering email for some customers, whereby because they don't always have a guaranteed fixed IP address, we give them one, in a sense. We have a pool of IPs in our data center. All the mail hits their assigned IP address and is sent over the VPN to their email servers on board.

We also have some third-party subcontractors and we can give them access to specific customers. We can give them an account on our firewall and through our own traffic rules we can allow them or deny them access to specific customers and specific parts of that customer's network. Because they're hitting the central point, we don't necessarily want them to access all our customers. The customers themselves don't often have a big, remote-work environment because the crew is either on board or off. But we have seen a small increase in customers wanting to use VPN to access files on board, and during the COVID outbreak some of the ETOs (electronic technical officers) and the technical guys have not actually been able to get to the yacht, physically. So we've set them up with VPN so they can actually continue to do certain work. When we first started using Kerio we never really used VPN. Now, pretty much every Kerio we supply gets on the VPN.

The ease of use of Kerio is very good. Everything's there, once you know where to go or how to find things. One thing we use quite a lot, as well, is the DHCP Server, because we do a lot of work where all our devices need to have static IP addresses. Rather than going around and configuring every box, we do it all through DHCP reservations. It's easier. We've got a record of it. We can manipulate it if we need to change something or change some hardware. It's all easy. Even guys who are not used to using it can pick it up quite quickly.

The learning curve is pretty quick. It helps if someone has a general IT understanding of networking, for certain aspects. What we don't always have on a customer's site is somebody who is familiar with all aspects of the Kerio, such as interfaces, VLANs, and IP subnetting. They don't always understand DHCP, what it is and how it works. They pick it up pretty quickly, but it usually helps if someone has at least some knowledge of IT and networking. Normally, though, we find it's quite a decent balance because they will do what they want to do after a little bit of training. Anything else they'll leave to us or they'll ask us the question, and then we can either do it or go and figure it out and then come back and do it.

What needs improvement?

Sometimes it might not be detailed enough, or it might have more details but the customers just don't know where to look. The issue is usually when it comes to specific packets. Sometimes they find it slightly difficult to see exactly what's going on.

For example, we had a customer who was using the content filter. They tried to block Facebook using the web filter categories, and in combination with that they wanted to always require that a user was authenticated before accessing web pages. What would happen was that even though they had the content filter enabled to block social networking — Facebook may even be a category — it still allowed them to get in through mobile apps. If they went to the website, it would prompt them for login and then it would deny it, but they would get into the app and they weren't even logged in. That might have been an HTTPS issue and the way that the app was talking, rather than an actual website or what page. We always managed to find a way around. They'll come to us with a question and then we'll figure it out and usually they're happy enough with that.

There's also room for improvement in the Traffic Rules. We define networks to use a specific outgoing interface, say VSAT, shore, or marine WiFi, which is okay. But then all we have is a checkbox that says "Use other internet interfaces if this one is unavailable." What we would prefer would be to have a priority list. So if VSAT is unavailable, try to use 4G, etc. We haven't really found a reliable way of doing that in the current release.

Finally, the customers sometimes want to use the VPN link for outbound traffic. But at the moment, it appears that there is an all-or-nothing solution, so either everything uses the VPN and breaks out at the remote site or nothing does. The simple example is for the email system we've put in. We can direct traffic in over the VPN, but we'd also like to send that same email traffic out of their server over the VPN to break out on a specific IP address in our data center. We would like to see a little bit of functionality in prioritizing of internet interfaces.

For how long have I used the solution?

I have been using Kerio Control for about 10 years. 

What do I think about the stability of the solution?

The stability is good. 

There have only been a couple of occasions where we've had high RAM usage of the Kerio, where it may be a more complex network. What we found is that over the course of a week or 10 days, the RAM utilization would slowly increase to a point where it would be 100 percent usage and then you couldn't do anything with the box. You would have to physically power it off. 

We do have cases open for Kerio with GFI and they're looking into it. Apparently there is going to be quite a big software update coming soon, which will change the backend workings. That's hopefully going to make a big difference, but the problem has only happened in one or two cases. Other than that, it's generally pretty solid.

What do I think about the scalability of the solution?

If you've got a hardware appliance, then you are generally limited to its own specifications, in terms of throughput and power. That's what you've got. If you start hitting that, then it's time for a new box, or you need to look for something else.

On the NG500 you can increase the RAM slightly and you can also increase the storage space.

But there is no way of changing processing power. So you have to specify the right box. You can increase physical network interfaces if you want to. You attach a switch to it and scale it that way if you need more physical interfaces. We haven't needed to do that. Or if you wanted to have fibre connections; you would have to attach it to something else. 

It would be nice to see SFP slots in new hardware, which I think is coming in one of the models. 

Overall, you'll hit a point with the box where you can't really scale any higher. But if you've got a virtual appliance, if you want to give it more processing power you can. If you want to give it loads of memory or storage, I would find it quite easy to really scale it up in terms of hardware resources.

How are customer service and technical support?

Technical support is pretty good. They're quick to respond. You get an answer straight away, although it might not be the final answer. 

I have learned a few things from contacting support, things that I probably wouldn't have ever found out just researching online or playing with it myself. 

At the moment, the particular questions we have are a bit more complicated than just, "How do I configure this traffic rule to do this job?" We've got a problem with RAM being utilized and we don't know why, and I had to send them system logs. I've had to do full system resets, complete erase and recovery. It's a bit tricky. It's more development-type work rather than user support. I think they're holding back from really getting involved with that because they are developing the new system. At the moment, our workaround is just to reboot the box every two weeks, which is inconvenient, but if they're going to solve this, then we just have to wait.

How was the initial setup?

The setup is straight out-of-the-box. Take it out of the box, run through the wizard, configure it with the settings that you should already know, and then it works and you get in online. That's the basic setup, because the Traffic Rules, by default, allow everything out and stop everything coming in. That's enough to just get online.

You then go to start defining your networks and your traffic rules. Putting multiple VLANs in there is easy. Even as it gets to be a more complex configuration, it's easy to do.

Sometimes it's time-consuming if it's a large configuration, but that's just what it is. It takes time to click boxes if it's a large network with lots of different scenarios, and to type in all the IP addresses.

But it's easy out-of-the-box for a basic configuration and still fairly easy if you've got that knowledge of the Kerio and networking. Just a little time-consuming. If there were some kind of import or bulk add, that would be nice, but that's on a wish list. It's really not that necessary.

If a customer just wants something out-of-the-box, we plug it in, make it work, and it probably takes a couple of hours, at the most. If it's a bit more complex, it might take a day. It might take longer if you don't know what you're doing.

I've always told customers that there is no fixed configuration. This thing will work and do what you want it to do. As time progresses, it evolves with the changing requirements. So we can give them a solution. They can give us some key config points telling us "Okay, we want this many networks and we want these users, and these particular rules," etc. We configure all that  in a day and test it the next day. After that, it's ongoing. They might decide, "Oh, we actually want to change the bandwidth allocation," or "We've got a new internet interface," or we want to block Facebook at a specific time. It's ongoing.

What was our ROI?

We have definitely seen return on investment with Kerio Control because it would take us a lot longer to fix something in a lot of support calls we get. We might be stuck on the phone for four hours just to try and talk someone through something that we could fix in 20 minutes, because they're not looking in the right place or they don't see something that is relevant. Whereas, we've been able to use the VPN through Kerio, so we can sometimes fix a problem before they've even finished describing it. It has definitely helped us a lot.

Kerio's VPN has easily saved us 50 percent, maybe more, in terms of time spent on support. We're connected in seconds. We can see things quickly. We can be connected to five different customers at once through a single connection.

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

Pricing depends on the requirements. The more powerful boxes, like the NG500, are more expensive on licensing terms, depending on how you license them. At the moment, the NG500 doesn't have an unlimited user option. I believe they took it away, although I might be wrong. 

Figure out how many users you're going to need because there's no point in configuring or licensing it for 200 users "just in case," when you might only need 50. It's obviously going to cost you four times as much. 

There is an option to have GFI Unlimited, which is their all-in-one licensing model, which includes Kerio Control. It works for hardware boxes as well the software virtual appliances. Depending on the number of users, it might be more beneficial to go for GFI Unlimited. It can work out cheaper.

Which other solutions did I evaluate?

The other real experience I've had is with Cisco ASA, Palo Alto, and WatchGuard. 

The Cisco was more complicated and people didn't really like it because it was a more complicated interface or it seemed more complicated for them.

The WatchGuard and, from what I saw, the Palo Alto are good firewalls; some would say better as firewalls than Kerio. But they don't have all the other features and they didn't seem as easy. They may have more specific options you could set in the actual firewall rules; you could drill it down a bit further. But my experience has been pretty limited, so it might have just been that they looked like they did more, but in fact they just looked more complicated and only gave the impression they would do more. But these devices didn't have all the features of Kerio like the users, the groups, domain logins, bandwidth management, and content filters. They were just firewalls.

Generally, our customers are all small to medium, if you were to compare them with a typical business. They're not "enterprise" technically, even though they do run a lot of enterprise hardware, like full Cisco networks, etc. They just don't really have the same configuration. They've got the budget, but they just don't always want to spend it. I think Kerio could work in an enterprise. A lot of the time, it depends on who is running the security and what they prefer and what is approved by any governing bodies.

Kerio seems to have a reputation, for some people, not to be a true firewall. It's just a feeling that people get, but that's biased towards what they prefer to work with.

On the same price point, you can't compare them. If you're looking at a Kerio box that might be £3,000 a box plus a year's license every year, versus our £100,000 security system, you can't really compare them. But for devices and hardware/software in the same price range, I wouldn't knock it back for something else.

What other advice do I have?

Regardless of whether you get a box or virtual, the interface is nearly always the same. There are very few changes between versions. Research what you think you're going to need. Don't just buy the biggest box or the most expensive box because you think it's going to be better.

The biggest lesson I have learned from using this solution is that you don't always have to be onsite to fix something.

The malware and antivirus features are pretty good. We generally have other malware and antivirus protection as well. A lot of the time, things come in via email so we do have services from Symantec, which filters that out beforehand. Very occasionally I have seen a false positive, where it's blocking something that's actually allowed, but then I can usually figure it out and just allow it. When I've seen something has been blocked or someone has reported they're trying to do something and they can't access or download a file, I can quickly see in the logs that something has been blocked because of the antivirus detection. And I've managed to go from there, allow the file.

One feature we haven't used yet is the solution's high availability failover protection. It's something that I've not even tested myself. I was interested in it when it was first announced, but I was reading about it and a few people said that some of the early implementations were a little bit buggy. I have a feeling it's gotten better now. But I've not used it and no one has asked for it either.

Which version of this solution are you currently using?

NG300
**Disclosure: My company has a business relationship with this vendor other than being a customer: Silver Partner with GFI
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