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Multitech MPR200 Proxy Server

© December 1998 Tony Lawrence

Let me first state that I have considerable bias toward Multitech. They make good products, they know their stuff, and their support is excellent.

Let me further state that I even think this MPR200 Proxy Server is a decent enough product. It works, it's easy to set up, and it has a fair amount of flexibility. If I had been looking at it a few years ago, I'd give it a rave review. Heck, I'll still give it a good review, but I honestly cannot see why anyone would buy this right now.

Paul Kraska, Marketing Manager at Multitech, has responded to this review. His comments can be found at the bottom of this page.

The MPR200 is basically three 56K modems and a LAN port controlled by a Proxy Server. The three modems can be brought up individually based on load (connections or hosts) or (with support from the ISP) can be bonded together to provide one virtual high speed link.

But with both the cable and phone companies scrambling to give us either broadband or ADSL connections, even three bonded 56K lines is going to be pretty paltry very soon. I suspect Multitech knows that; they've reduced the price of this unit and have recently (this article was written in December 1998) announced a similar product that unbundles the modems and is advertised as a "serial port proxy server", capable of working with both analog and ISDN modems. I expect they will eventually repackage this as a LAN proxy product designed for ADSL or cable modems.

In the meantime, for those who can't wait for ADSL and need access now, this may fill a niche. The product looks like a modem, about the same size as the older MT1432 series Multitechs, except with more lights in the front, and more connections in the back.

Installing it is as simple as connecting it to your LAN (10baseT or Thinnet), plugging in one to three phone lines, and connecting (temporarily) the included serial cable to a PC com port. You could even get away with just configuring this directly from a dumb terminal, but the included PC software makes it much more pleasant. The documentation says that this can also be done through a web interface, but I didn't see that.

The software installs under Windows. There was minor glitch when we did this; I forgot to power on the unit, so the software couldn't finish cleanly. However, even that wasn't the end of the world, because it seemed fairly obvious that the "roucon.exe" program was very likely to be "Router Configuration:, and indeed it was.

When you do first power this on, it takes a few minutes for the "Fail" light to go off and be ready for access. Once that light is off, "roucon.exe" brings up a nice interface for configuration.

The first thing to do is set the IP address. This, of course, must be an address on the LAN that it is connected to (see /Unixart/net101.html if that is not obvious).

Any changes made using the configuration program must be downloaded to the router before they will take effect. If you try to exit without saving, you will be warned. Although it won't matter for the initial configuration, you should also note that downloading a new configuration causes all modems to hang up and reinitialize. For most access such as browsing, that doesn't affect any existing users other than causing everything to hang for a few minutes, but I would expect it to kill ftp sessions, etc.

A separate program (psetup.exe) is used to configure for LAN rather than serial access. Once you've done this, and changed it to use IP, you can remove the PC serial port cable. The gui will now work through your LAN, and you can even telnet to the router for a command line driven interface.

The next step is to configure what WAN ports (phone connections) will be used. Each port of the three can be enabled or disabled. With ISP support, multiple lines can be boned together, or they can simply be set to be broght up on the basis of load: either based on the number of active connections or the number of hosts who have connected. You specify if the ISP will be assigning you an IP address or if it is already known, if you will be using DHCP, a default gateway, and the addresses of DNS servers.

Then, in the "Internet" section, you configure each port with a phone number, User Name, Password (the user name and password necessary to get a PPP session from your ISP), the type of Authentication (PAP or CHAP- and if you don't know, tell it PAP orCHAP), and how long the users can be idle before the line is dropped.

That's it. There's more that you can do, but this is sufficient to get started, and if your LAN users are now configured to point at this router's IP address, they immediately have access to the rest of the world. The Proxy Server uses NAT (Network Address Translation- see /Unixart/network.html ), so your internal addresses can be anything at all- the outside world never sees them.

You can monitor the modem connections through a log file. This doesn't show as much detail as I would like, especially when you consider that it is a necessity for there to be no modem speakers. During the setup of this system, we had a phone line that required a different dial prefix than the other lines. All we could tell from the gui was that the connection wasn't being made. To find out why, we had to connect the line to a normal modem and attempt dialing. However, in most situations that's easily done, so I can't fault it very much. Still, I do wish I could have turned on a more verbose log mode. Additionally, we had the bad luck to have picked a day when the ISP was having phone troubles. We got a lot of busy signals, and for several hours the connections were very slow and very bad. That's very frustrating when setting up new equipment: you begin to think that you have missed something, or that the equipment is defective. Fortunately, we finally got a good line, and things started working reliably.

There is more. Although we didn't configure it for this customer, the Proxy Server is also a RAS server: you can provide dial-in access to your internal network. There is also fair control over access: you can turn services off, you can apply filters to services, you can block access to certain sites or ip addresses, or block certain internal addresses (even by MAC address) from certain services. I didn't get the opportunity to play with this extensively, but it certainly looked flexible enough.

The Proxy Server comes with a two year warranty, is flash rom upgradeable, and has lifetime tech support.


Multitech's response:

I read your review, and it is correct. I must say it is a good review, and we do appreciate your support of Multi-Tech. I do, however disagree with your doubts regarding modem communications. I agree that the phone companies and cable companies are tripping over each other trying to get high speed services to users. I saw one statistic that says there will be 2 million ADSL lines installed by the year 2000. That's a very small number. The modem industry will sell 45 to 50 million V.90 modems in 1998 alone.

We believe that ADSL and Cable will be the PC connectivity technologies of the future. We in fact have a version of the ProxyServer that is designed to connect to cable and ADSL modems right now. And we will be introducing wide band PC connectivity products as our distribution channels require them.

What is important to keep in focus is that, for the first time in the PC's history, we all know how we will be communicating sometime in the future (i.e. 2 or three years from now). That is very good for both users and for us communications equipment vendors. But we must address the needs of users right now, and, we believe, the modem will still be the only communication option for the majority of PC users for some time. That is why we are still investing in V.90 modem technology.

We have an even more interesting "power user" modem product just coming out. It's a four V.90 modem concentrator that connects to a USB port. It's business applications is to make adding RAS capability to a an NT server an easy one step process, but I'm finding more and more individual users a who want to connect several modems to a single PC for wider pipes. Can you image running a GPL on-line gaming environment with two or more modems and not having to worry about serial port interrupts causing frame rate degradation, clock crashes or even disconnects?

Paul Kraska

Product Marketing Manager

Multi-tech Systems, Inc.

Got something to add? Send me email.

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