WatchGuard Firebox Review

Setup, and setting up the routing — normally very complicated processes — are intuitive


What is our primary use case?

It's our main firewall. We have over 120 hosts that flow through it.

How has it helped my organization?

The biggest way that it has advanced us is that when we started adding additional locations, it became surprisingly easy to do that, to create branch-office VPNs. When I was first tasked with that, I was overwhelmed with it. I thought, "This is going to be really difficult." But it was really simple. I've never actually done this, but they have the ability to program a box and ship it out there. It'll identify it by its number and just do the setup automatically. I've never been brave enough to just let it go automatically, but when I do get it in my office and set it up for the branch office, it's just a matter of just plugging in the right numbers. It works and it's very stable. That enables us to do some incredible things.

WatchGuard has been mostly cost-effective compared to other firewall systems that are out there, given the power that it has and the ease. I complain about the usability, but things such as how to set them up and how to set up the routing up are, at least, intuitive. So that's been invaluable. It's one of the reasons why I haven't moved away from them or been tempted to move away from them. These setups are very complicated and WatchGuard makes it very easy.

It does simplify my job in the sense that it's easy to set up a VPN. Setting up a branch-office VPN is rather simple, but when I have remote users, such as myself or remote salespeople who are operating out of their homes, I can use whatever solutions are out there; the software that makes it easy for them to connect. That avoids my having to go out and buy really expensive solutions like TeamViewer or LogMeIn. They are always clunky, always hard to navigate around in. With WatchGuard, remote users can pop in straight through the VPN and then RDP into their remote desktops. And everything works very smoothly and rather quickly. Anytime you VPN it's not super-fast, but it has been rather efficient and is a huge advantage. It makes my job a lot easier because I don't have to try to troubleshoot somebody else's TeamViewer account.

WatchGuard has saved me time versus having to manually help people with their remote connections. It saves me about ten to 15 hours a month of work, not having to do all that.

What is most valuable?

The basic firewall features, or just the routing, are the most valuable because that's how we configure our network. 

The second valuable feature would be the branch office. We have five offices throughout the United States, and it coordinates the connections of those offices. 

And the filtering features are okay.

It layers security in the sense that it does isolate different networks. I have in-house web hosting and that's more of a DMZ-type thing sitting out in the open, so that it has to be isolated from our network. It has Gateway antivirus, which is important. It has Gateway spam protection, but I've never actually seen it do anything. That could be because our regular spam filters grab it before it gets a chance to. It's not a direct user-security thing. Another level of security is that I do keep our guest WiFi network separate from our main WiFi network. Even though WatchGuard doesn't manage our WiFi, it does play the traffic-cop between those two networks and keeps them separate. It's more IP-based routing security than anything else.

What needs improvement?

We have several branch offices. Those things run, you forget about them. My biggest gripe was when I went to update some of my devices, to try to make some speed improvements, not only did I get hit with, "You need to renew your LiveSecurity," but there was this reinstatement fee that they threw in on top of it. That really angered me, to the point that I canceled the entire order. I actually almost replaced some of those devices and I'm looking to replace them because of that type of thing. It's fair to pay for services like filtering, etc., but I don't feel it's fair to pay for updates to a product because they're patching and fixing and updating their product because of bugs. If I want to pay for the next version of something that gives me additional features, that's fair. But to have to pay a reinstatement fee and that sort of thing, I find it to be a very poor and unethical practice. We'd never do that to our customers. The reason I haven't thrown a huge fit is because everybody does it. SonicWall will do it; Cisco. All those guys do that kind of thing. 

I really don't like that, particularly because you're talking about a device that you paid $300 for, and the reinstatement fees are another $200-plus. I can just buy a brand-new device for that, get a faster unit, and get another year of stuff. Maybe that's what they're trying to encourage me to do. But there are firewall devices out there that I can buy that will do a lot of the stuff that I need to do in the remote offices, without having to purchase a yearly or three-year plan. I keep our main system up to date, but for the small edge units, it's just an unneeded expense. That's my biggest negative and biggest gripe about WatchGuard.

In terms of the reporting and management features — and this isn't necessarily a WatchGuard issue, this seems to be more of an industry-wide issue — you get reports, but a lot of times you don't know what you're looking at. You're so overwhelmed with the data. You're getting a lot of stuff that doesn't matter, so it takes time to parse through it, to actually get what you want to know. If it gives me a threat assessment such as, "You received an attack from North Korea," I don't know what that means. I know that an IP address from North Korea hit our server, and they tried a certain attack. Is that something I should take seriously or not? I don't know.

But that seems to be true with a lot of the solutions out there. They tend to report everything, and there's not a lot of control over getting rid of the noise. I've had it report threat attacks from devices within my network, from my own PC, in fact. So it's misinterpreting some things, obviously. Reporting is not something I rely very heavily on because of that. I look at it but I don't know what I'm looking at. Instead, I have a monitor that displays various things about my network, and I will have the main screen up just to see things like which host in the network is the busiest. I tend to use the main dashboard to get real-time information.


For how long have I used the solution?

I've been using this solution for over 15 years.

What do I think about the stability of the solution?

The solution is very stable. I don't think I've ever had one crash in 15 years.

I did have one fail, but that was just a hardware failure. That was one of the very first, early units. That was years and years ago. I've never had one fail since then.

What do I think about the scalability of the solution?

It's not very scalable. You get what you get. You buy for your application but if you grow, if you were to double your network bandwidth or the like, you would have to upgrade the product. That's because the hardware can't handle that. 

You could say it is scalable if want to add additional networks and that sort of thing. It makes that fairly simple. But you do need to buy the appliance that's applicable to your network.

It's used at all of our locations and it traffic-cops our entire network. But we're not adding any new networks. As we buy companies, which we've been doing, I usually pull their firewalls out and put these in, because that's what I'm familiar with, if I can't interface their existing firewalls with it.

How are customer service and technical support?

Their tech support, the few times I've used them, have been excellent. Their staff has been very knowledgeable. I've had several instances where, when fixing a problem, they've made suggestions about other things not related to that problem, as they inspected the setup.

They have a very good system for logging in securely and seeing configurations without being able to check it. That's been very helpful. I've always given an "A+" to their tech support.

If you previously used a different solution, which one did you use and why did you switch?

It was so long ago, but I used some PC-based proxies at the time. So there was something before this solution, but my first, actual, dedicated appliance was WatchGuard.

It might be that we purchased this back in the late '90s, because our previous solutions were back during the dial-up age. It wasn't until we started getting always-on internet in the late '90s or early 2000s that we looked at a firewall. Someone suggested WatchGuard.

How was the initial setup?

The initial setup is straightforward. Network setup is complex because setting up networks is complex. I will give them props for making a very complex task a little easier. I don't know a way you could make it any easier than they do. I have done some network setups in other firewalls that I thought were way more complicated and more convoluted. We've set up a branch office with some SonicWall devices and my setup screen was a whole lot easier than theirs.

The deployment itself takes an hour, if that. I've done upgrades, but I haven't done a straight, flat-out deployment in a long time. But usually, when I deploy a branch office or upgrade the main unit, it's usually up and running within ten to 15 minutes in most cases. If I get something wrong, then it might go to an hour or so, but usually they're very straightforward. If it's a branch-office deployment, it's just a matter of plugging it in. It takes five to ten minutes. The configuration might take another ten to 15 minutes. The one thing that's difficult when you're setting one up is that you have to isolate a computer that you can connect directly to. They have things that make that easier, but I've never tried it.

Our implementation strategy, back then, was to bring branch offices online.

The process of deploying the product to distributed locations usually means that I bring the device in-house and preconfigure and test it before I send it out to a remote location. I'm usually onsite at remote locations to install it. So my process is to order the product, configure it locally, get it correct, and then install it onsite.

In terms of using it, there are maybe ten users and they use a VPN client. They directly interface with it. It's primarily me who manages it. I'm the only user who actually sets the configurations up in it.

What about the implementation team?

I purchased it from a retailer at CDW and did the deployment myself.

What was our ROI?

Being able to control network traffic and being able to monitor employee activity on the network are things you can't quantify, but there's definitely a cost that you could attach to each. If we have users that we find are spending too much time on social networks, we can address those issues, replace the employee if they don't comply, or help them with their productivity, etc. 

A firewall is a necessary evil. You've got to have one. It's one of the less expensive but powerful models. I've always been very impressed with that. There's a definite return on investment in terms of that the branch-office option. I didn't have to pay anything extra for that. It was just built-in. Those can get upwards of thousands of dollars with other solutions. One solution I saw was $15 a month per user. It would be astronomical if we tried to go that route.

I don't have a number, but the return on investment is good.

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

I buy a three-year renewal on the main device, which is usually around $3,000 to $4,000. They usually upgrade the device when I do it. You get a big discount when you do three years.

If I were to renew my other devices — we haven't renewed them — it would probably be around a couple of thousand dollars for the little edge devices.

In addition to the standard licensing fees, we pay for the filtering software. There's a web blocker, Gateway antivirus, intrusion prevention. Those sorts of things are extra. They call it LiveSecurity. I do the LiveSecurity update and that includes a lot of those features. It's a type of a-la-carte scenario. You pick what you want, and that then includes maintenance and support.

Which other solutions did I evaluate?

I can't remember what we looked at, at that time. I have looked at more recent solutions like Untangled, SonicWall, and the like, just to see what else is out there.

What other advice do I have?

Make sure you buy the device that fits your environment. Don't try to do too much with too little. You can buy one of the edge devices, and you could technically run a large network on it, but it's not going to work as smoothly. Your firewall is your primary point of security from outside intrusion so you want to do it right. Be very meticulous about your configuration.

Straight-up, walking-to-the-console usability of the solution is not very user-friendly. It's not very intuitive. However, compared to other firewalls, it's very user-friendly. So it's more user-friendly than most, but it's just not something anybody could walk up to and use. If I had to walk someone through it remotely, it wouldn't be very easy for them to do.

Each upgrade of the device, and I've had about five of them — five main devices — has allowed an increase in bandwidth and performance. They tend to work fairly consistently, but as speeds have gotten faster, you've got to upgrade the device to keep up with it. They seem to be doing an adequate job at that.

I have used the solution's Cloud Visibility feature. I wasn't really blown away. I thought, "Okay, that's neat." I haven't really dug into it deeply. I don't really think about it in the context of detecting and reacting to threats or other issues in our network. I like to be aware of threats, but threats in networking terms are always not practical. For a company like ours, we know there are going to be internet probes out there, and they're going to hit our network. The WatchGuard identifies them and locks them down. There's nothing I can do about it. It's more along the lines of, "For your information, there was an attempted attacked last night."

What I'd rather have is internal threat assessment. I want to know: "This machine started doing something last night it wasn't supposed to do. It was sending out emails at two in the morning. It shouldn't be doing that." Since it's sitting here watching the network, I'm more concerned with internal threats, and people doing things they shouldn't be doing, than I'm worried about the external threats. 

I probably should be equally concerned about them but I've never found a really good solution on that. I have some customized things that I've done that try to send me alerts if certain behavior patterns are detected. I'm scanning through the logs, and if certain keywords pop up, then I'm alerted. That's been somewhat helpful, but most of the time I get more false positives than I get actual.

We have web filtering, so I'm looking to see if anyone is going to pornographic or hacker or peer-to-peer sites. I get alerts from that and it logs those. But most of the time, I'll get hundreds of alerts on sites for a user, and I'll go over and find that the user was looking for fonts and one of the ads happened to be on a server that caused a trigger. It was a complete false positive but I don't know how to filter all that out. So the alert becomes useless. That may be an industry problem.

I would rate WatchGuard at eight out ten. There is a need for improvements in the reporting. There needs to be more granular, built-in filtering in the reporting, so that you can drill it down to exactly the information you want. The second thing would be the cost-plan of renewals. They can have a security plan and they can have a renewal plan. But if you lapse and they charge a penalty on top of that, to me that's really unacceptable. I should be able to let a product lapse if I want to. It may not be a priority. It might be something I have in someone's home and then there's just a new feature I need to add. As I'm going down the road I should just be able to buy that when I want. To put in reinstatement fees is a big negative to me. Granted, they all do it, but they all shouldn't do it.

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.
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