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    Review of Ramp Networks Webramp 310i Router

    Hi and welcome to the first edition of ModemHelp.Org's monthly product review section. Every month from now on we will test/critique/review a product of interest to you, the modem users. With the world of highspeed internet access right around the corner, we decided to test a product that bridges the gap between the analog modem world and the higher speed access world.

    This month we will be testing Ramp Network's (now part of Nokia) Webramp 310i. This product is quite simply 2 analog Rockwell V.90 modems (no not the evil HCF's), a small router (roughly equivalent to a Cisco 700 series) and a hub all wrapped up together in a small plastic box. What is so special about this? Especially with products like Diamond MultiaMedia's Supra Shotgun Picture technology out there? Well with other products like Shotgun and Netopia's R2121 Dual Analog Router your ISP needs to support it, and if your ISP doesn't support that bonding technology, well you're out of luck and you'll be stuck at regular V.90 speeds because you can't utilize that bonding. The Webramp is a bit different. Like most modem bonding technologies it must use 2 phone lines and 2 separate dial in accounts, nothing new there, but the interesting thing is that the ISP doesn't need to support any particular kind of modem bonding. Ramp Networks uses a proprietary version of bonding that they refer to as COLT. Essentially both modems dial up separately to the ISP, or different ISP's... (very cool option) and COLT takes care of the rest. How does COLT work, essentially when you load say a webpage, there are multiple graphics on the page, one graphic is downloaded via modem 1 while simultaneously a different graphic is being downloaded via modem 2. The drawback to this, might be say, downloading a 3 meg file. The average user would think that with 2 modems doing the downloading it should go twice as fast as your average V.90 modem, unfortunately in cases like this you see COLT's downfall, you would only download at regular V.90, not twice V.90 like you hoped. This is an extreme case, and the majority of traffic over a webramp consists of web surfing (simple small html files with multiple graphics on each) and email which COLT does a wonderful job with.

    I know in this world of highspeed ADSL, Cable Modems, and Broadband alternatives, why would someone want to surf at a lowly 90-100kps when you can get speeds with ADSL and Cable at least 5 times greater. Quite simply analog phone lines are everywhere; every house and business in the country has them. Cable and ADSL access is for the moment limited to where it has been deployed and if you are say a car dealership on the outskirts of town, chances are you won't have access to ADSL or Cable yet or for the near future. For that matter ISDN probably won't be available to you either. This webramp is basically a cheap version of ISDN, almost the same speed for a much cheaper cost. It is an ideal product for a small office with a LAN already set up but no internet connection. For an office of say 4 - 6 people, who are looking to use the internet at work for web browsing and email, the webramp with 2 phone lines is a great option. No need to install a modem in every users PC, get them a phone line, internet accounts, set them all up individually. Just plug the webramp into your LAN's hub and bang, internet access to your network. The webramp is designed so that when any internet traffic is sent to the webramp (ie a ping request, telnet, http request); the modems in the webramp will dial and connect you to the internet. To the average user, on a LAN in a small office, when they click on Internet Explorer or Netscape Navigator and start to load a webpage, the webramp sitting in a back room will dial up and get them connected without them knowing anything what's going on. All they know is that they clicked on the internet and boom, they're surfing.

    Ease of use is one strong feature of the Webramp, but another is the fairly good documentation and installation instructions. I found them easy to use and we were up and running in no time. There is a web interface and a command line interface which makes configuring the Webramp easy. The web-based interface is quite easy to use and everything is setup logically, very well done. The command line interface is really good for network admins and others looking to make quickie changes to the webramps. It's fast and efficient, but not everything is as logical as the web based interface. The help for the command line is adequate most times although there are some odd switches and a few times I had to sit back and look at the help list to figure out what some things do, but a pretty good quickie interface I felt. As to Ramp Network's technical support, I was quite impressed, I sent an email to tech support and got a response within 12 hours which I feel was quite good, and the quality of the support is above average as well. My only beef with this product is with the event logging on the webramp. The logs are vague at best, with no times/dates in the logs it does make it difficult to figure out what is happening when users call up saying, "We've been disconnected". It could be any number of things from little fred unplugging the phone line to nobody using the internet for 20 minutes and it timing out. The other bad thing about the logs, is that when we tested it with CHAP, and purposely had password errors, it didn't show up in the logs as anything more then a disconnect which I was not pleased with. Authentication errors are the most common errors users make and I feel this was a big oversight on Ramp Network's part.

    As to speed and reliability of the Webramp, I never had a problem, connected with great speeds and good throughput every time. Although when dialing long distance to the other side of the continent into a 3Com Total Control HyperArc the webramp timed out before it could negotiate and finish its handshake a few times (but wouldn't most other modems dialing from say Alaska to Florida??). Routing, well adding routing tables is fairly easy, and editing them isn't to bad. We never had a problem with routing (other then my typos) and the Webramp worked admirably in the office even when we tried to stress it out.

    All in all I feel the Webramp 310i is an excellent product for a niche market although with the current almost daily advances in highspeed internet access that niche market will be shrinking a bit more every day.

    Craig Stumpf

    Mark Breakdown:

    Category: Comments:

    Performance: When I first read about the Webramp, I had my doubts about that it would perform up to the level that was advertised by Ramp Networks. I am pleased to say, that my doubts were unfounded and the Webramp preformed admirably through all our tests. I doubted the 2 Rockwell V.90 analog modems would be able to get good speeds and bond properly. We tested the Webramp at many locations including many rural locations outside of major city centers and are pleased to announce that we achieved good to great speeds in all locations with connections only being dropped because of major periods of inactivity on the users behalf (we set the standard 20 minute timeout). When surfing, with both channels bonded using "COLT", the download speeds were almost double, (although if you were ftping a large 20 meg file, it would take the same amount of time as a single V.90 modem). These tests were conducted by dialing into both 3Com Total Control HyperArc and Cisco 5200/5300 servers. All in all better then expected performance was achieved from the Webramp 310i we tested.

    Supportability: Supporting a product, that's my favorite category. It doesn't matter how well it performs, but down the road you will chances are you'll need some support for your product, be it driver upgrades, adding features, or just making use of features you never knew you had. Here Ramp Networks has built a useful Support Website with driver upgrades, troubleshooting FAQ's, white papers and other valuable information. They have done their work on support websites and this is a top-notch easily navigable gem of a support site. In terms of being the tech in the field and troubleshooting problems with the Webramp, well to put it mildly, I don't want to be in your shoes. The Webramp has logs; which I thought would be useful, well I quickly found out I was wrong. For example, I purposely typed in the wrong username and password so I could see what it did in the logs. Well it shows all commands when trying to connect, ie: connected at a certain speed, but when it gets to authenticating it stalls for a minute then hangs up and the only error I saw was, "discarding packet, reason 2". I couldn't believe a product that seemed so well designed would be so lax in the error log category. By far the best way to troubleshoot a webramp problem is bring up a telnet session to it, have it connect and watch it the commands scroll by on the screen.

    Ramp has an excellent Support Site yet the product tested had such poor support built into it. Hopefully its just this line of products that someone failed to put the time in building some built in support tools.

    Ease of Use/Configuration: The Webramp 310i has a very nice web based interface which many people like to use to configure the webramp. It's quite easy, just open a browser and plug in the ip of the webramp, once you give it the username and password, you are free to make whatever changes you wish. The only thing I wish in the web interface, is that sometimes it got annoying because you would make a change on a screen, but you'd do back 1 minute later, and the old values are still there. This is just because this page was cached by the browser and its the only annoyance I found with the web-interface. There is also the standard command line interface, which I prefer. Once you get the hang of it, it can be much quicker to just telnet to the webramp, login to it, issue your one line command, save the config and exit. Very quick and nice. Most admins out there are use to doing this with their Cisco routers already. The only knock against the Webramp here is the sometimes vague help and the switches associated with each command are odd sometimes, (ie testping "-a 198.133.36." why do we need to have the -a there?? it doesn't seem like a useful switch, actually I couldn't find anything about it, other then if you don't have it you won't ping anything). Most admins and other people associated with routers won't have a problem with the command line interface; fairly straightforward just the syntax is a bit wonky in some cases.

    Compatibility: For the Webramp 310i, the Compatibility category is closely associated to the Features category. Many times you will buy a piece of hardware, (router, modem, etc..) and find out it isn't compatible with your ISP or maybe it is, but it takes a 3rd level tech rep or a sysadmin to make their systems compatible. With the Webramp 310i to use the multi channel capabilities, you don't necessarily need your ISP do to anything special for you. COLT is so versatile, (no its not true modem/channel bonding but it does a great job as a work around it), that you can use both modems to dial the same ISP, or 2 different ISP's and require nothing more then the POP number of the ISP, a regular dial in username and password for each ISP. You can even hook up any external modem, even an external ISDN TA and have that bond (using COLT) to the two internal modems giving you even more bandwidth. The only spot where the Webramp loses marks here is with its OS, the commands aren't standard and I wish they had a closer resemblance to say Cisco IOS.

    Features: Most of the Webramp's competitors use MultiLink PPP as the sole way to bond multiple modems/channels. The Webramp's proprietary bonding technology "COLT" is a great feature (Webramp's also have the ability to use MultiLink PPP) because it gives the user more flexibility in choosing ISP's to connect to. The Web Interface which users can use to configure the Webramp is also a good feature; it's an improvement on the command line and menu driven ones its competitors use.

    All in all, The Webramp 310i has a number of features that put it at the top of its class. I give it a 5 out of 5 in the Features category.

    Personal: I truly liked the Webramp 310i and feel it's a great product for a small office that doesn't have highspeed internet access in its area. Yes there are a few annoyances, but all in all it is a well-designed niche product with a few rough edges.

    Overall: 78/100

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