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Cisco and Sonicwall VPN's with VPN Tracker 6

I really don't like Cisco. No, not because there is anything wrong with their stuff; it's just that they are often over kill and far too expensive. Too many customers get over sold and tied into expensive support contracts that they do not need.

With that little rant out of the way, I have to live in the real world. Some of my customers will choose Cisco and - who knows - it might even be the right choice for them. Yes, of course, if it is a firewall I'd much rather they chose the Kerio Control Firewall that I sell, but reality often isn't quite as I'd like it.

I have had to access Cisco VPN's at those customers. In the past, I have grudgingly either fired up Windows in VMWare or dragged out an old Windows laptop that I keep buried in a bag in another room. Either way, it's annoying and sometimes, when it is just a prospective customer where my interest level is not all that high, I've just bagged it and told them I could not access their network, please go find someone else.

Well, the number of customers needing me to use Cisco VPN's finally got large enough that I had to cave in. Fortunately. one of them pointed me at VPN Tracker 6 from Equinox.

VPN Tracker 6 is not a Cisco product and is not Cisco specific. It is a general purpose VPN app that is aware of the oddities and general needs of a great number of pieces of hardware and software that exist in the real world. It can handle simple Windows XP PPTP VPN's and Linux FreeS/WAN, Fortinet, CheckPoint, Sonicwall and just about everything else you could think of. There are more than 300 VPN gateways defined.

Equinox makes three versions of VPN Tracker. I chose "Personal" because I never need more than one VPN open at once. The "Professional" edition lets you have multiple VPN's running and "Player" provides the ability to run disk images created by Professional for easy deployment to users.

So, although I hate spending money for something I should be able to do directly from my Mac without any extra software, I bought it.

Well, no, I tried the demo first. The demo version will give you a three minute connection, which is long enought for testing and in some rare cases, might be all I need anyway. Yeah, I did think about that, but I ended up buying it later anyway.

While trying to test the demo, I immediately ran into the reality of customers and their VPN setups.

If I ask what their VPN is, the answer is "Sonicwall". Do they know WHICH piece of Sonicwall equipment? Maybe. Do they know the specifics? No.

Choosing the VPN with VPN Tracker 6

Of course VPN Tracker wants to know this stuff, but you needn't panic yet, because it may not matter: for many simple VPN's, almost anything would work. Those are the ones I could have configured directly from my Mac, though, so that didn't make me as happy as you might think, because the reason I needed to buy this was for connections I could not get the Mac to make by itself.

Creating the VPN with VPN Tracker 6

Debugging help

It's almost a given that you will have insufficient information from the customer. Even if you get by the obvious "which model" parts, other problems are likely to arise. I certainly found that to be true. However, the software does try to pinpoint exactly where it ran into trouble and does make intelligent suggestions about what you need to do or know to fix it. That's very helpful, and a welcome difference from most software that just fails with some cryptic error number.

Creating the VPN with VPN Tracker 6

Location aware, startup actions

VPN Tracker can work with the Mac's Location preferences to automatically create connections based on where you are. I have no need of that, as all my VPN work is ad hoc.

It also can perform specific startup and shutdown tasks like mounting disks or checking mail. Again, I have no need for that, but other users might.

VPN Tracker is of course pointless if you need to connect to one VPN and they either have a Mac client or you can make the connection using standard Mac methods. When that isn't true, it is well worth the price.

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