SonicWall NSA Review

I like that you can run a packet capture from within the product. Absolutely has the best bang for the buck.

What is most valuable?

I like that you can run a packet capture from within SonicWall and configure it to automatically upload the packet captures to an FTP server. This is useful when trying to troubleshoot an intermittent issue. It can capture for as long as you have disk space on the FTP server.

How has it helped my organization?

We are more aware of security issues since SonicWall can be configured to send e-mail alerts. Server-side Outlook rules and Exchange transport rules (more informational subject lines) can be helpful in sorting and making sense of the many alerts it can generate. We have also configured it to send logs to a syslog server. They also offer SonicWall Analyzer which can reportedly be very helpful when viewing logs but I have no experience with it.

What needs improvement?

I am not sure if SonicWall has finally addressed this issue but a major area for improvement would be being able to export the settings file in a non-binary readable and editable format. It is not possible to export, make changes and then upload a revised configuration. Since the settings file is binary and non-readable, it seems to always be suspect when any strange issues arise with the appliance. I have had their techical support many times through the years question whether our settings file was corrupt. Of course it would be very easy to know if it was possible to look at it but it’s binary.

Another issue we had was with SonicWall auto-creating firewall rules for VPN tunnels until I learned to disable that feature and not allow it. SonicWall will not let an admin delete an auto-created object. I personally believe an admin should be able to delete anything. We had cases where a VPN tunnel was deleted first and auto-created objects for the tunnel would get abandoned. Other objects can also get abandoned. A time or two I was able to delete abandoned objects by recreating what created them in the first place and then deleting things in the right manner to cause the auto-deletion of the objects. If that doesn’t work, you will need to restore from a backup settings file or live with the abandoned object(s). We made it a policy to always backup the settings before any change and again after the change with the file names of the settings files reflecting what was changed. It also helps to send an e-mail to the team or record in a ticket details on any changes made, e.g. screen shots of all changes. If the settings file becomes corrupt you will need to load a previous settings file. It will be helpful to have a previous version along with a record of all changes made since that settings file was saved. This is another example of how helpful it would be to be able to view the settings file, make changes and delete objects if needed and then reload it. It would be so much easier and faster.

For how long have I used the solution?

I have used SonicWall products for about eleven years, these models for about eight years. They are near EOL.

What do I think about the stability of the solution?

Years ago, we would often have problems after firmware upgrades. Once after a firmware upgrade all firewall rules were still present except for HTTP and HTTPS which of course meant our web servers were dead until all the rules were recreated. We began to experience spontaneous reboots after another firmware upgrade. In recent years, they now issue early release firmware, often many versions of it, until they release a new general release. We never upgrade to early release and chose to only use general release after it’s been released for three months (true for all vendor firmware and software) and after we have searched for horror stories on the Internet. You can also open a tech support case and specifically ask the tech if the firmware is still considered a good and stable release. They will usually tell you honestly whether it is or not. We have had technical support tell us early release is tested and just as good as general release firmware while other technical support has told us it is not fully QA-tested and might cause problems. Using only general release firmware, our SonicWall has been rock solid and very stable for many years even when they were newer and had more frequent firmware releases.

What do I think about the scalability of the solution?

We never tried to scale it.

How are customer service and technical support?

SonicWall technical support is quite good. As with all contact with any technical support, I always document the issue, who I spoke to and their response. This can prove to be very valuable if trying to demonstrate a longstanding issue. It helps to have in hand previous dates, case numbers, names of previous tech support with notes on what they said and details on the previous attempts to fix things. For the most part, SonicWall technical support can quickly identify and resolve most issues.

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

We had a SonicWall 5060 PRO and upgraded to the SonicWall NSA 4500s. They are near EOL and another upgrade will soon be required.

How was the initial setup?

I built them from scratch since our settings file in the 5060 PRO was suspected to have corruption. I documented all of the settings in the previous firewall and manually created all of the address objects, service objects, firewall and NAT rules to duplicate what was in the SonicWall 5060 PRO. I previously built the 5060 PRO so I knew it was configured correctly.

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

SonicWall absolutely has the best bang for the buck hands down. Other firewalls are two to three times as expensive both in initial cost and recurring maintenance cost. SonicWall does not require duplicate licenses if you have an HA-pair in Active/Passive mode since only one unit will be active at any given time, which is a big savings in cost compared to other vendors. If you buy a security bundle you get even greater savings. SonicWall does, however, license user VPN access unlike most other vendors.

Which other solutions did I evaluate?

It’s been so long ago I can’t remember.

What other advice do I have?

At the time of this post SonicWall is now owned by private equity firm Francisco Partners and Elliott Management. I would research those firms and form an opinion as to the possible future of SonicWall and then decide accordingly. If you have already made your purchase, utilize tech support often if needed. They have been invaluable to me through the years and have always helped me in getting answers to any questions. They have always been there to assist me in setting up something new and unfamiliar when needed.

**Disclosure: I am a real user, and this review is based on my own experience and opinions.
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