Large corporations have long understood the value of providing their employees with a secure VPN, or virtual private network, connection so that workers can access documents and e-mail over the Internet even when they're away from the office. But VPNs aren't just for Fortune 500 firms anymore. D-Link's DI-808HV lets small businesses and home offices set up their own virtual private networks for a song--less than $100. The unit lacks Wi-Fi, which you can get with the more expensive
For a router with so many advanced features, the DI-808HV is exceptionally easy to set up. The printed, 12-page quick-installation guide introduces you to the ports and connectors on the unit's rear panel and explains the functions of the status LEDs along the router's front panel. All of the DI-808HV's Ethernet ports are autosensing, which means that they automatically adjust to the type of Ethernet cable that you connect to the unit. This simplifies installation by letting you use standard, straight-through, Ethernet cables regardless of the type of device--for example, a computer or a hub--that you're connecting to the router.
The DI-808HV's illustrated and well-organized guide walks you through the steps of configuring the router for basic use. The first time you log in to the unit's browser-based configuration tool, you're directed to the router's setup wizard, which serves up a series of prompts that help you set the router's password, select your time zone, and configure the router for your Internet connection. Even if you're new to networking, the wizard takes only about five minutes to complete, and once you're finished, you can use the DI-808HV to share an Internet connection and other resources with all of the computers on your network.
The DI-808HV theoretically supports as many as 40 concurrent VPN tunnels, meaning that 40 people could connect to the VPN at one time. The unit supports both PPTP, or Point-to-Point Tunneling protocol, and IPSec, a.k.a. IP Security. Although there is no standard protocol for VPNs, PPTP and IPSec together cover most of the bases, making the DI-808HV broadly interoperable with many VPN client solutions. The DI-808HV also supports VPN pass-through, allowing you to bypass the router's integrated VPN server to connect to a separate corporate VPN server.
An application-sensing feature lets you configure the router to permit specified applications special access through the DI-808HV's firewall. Some applications, such as games and videoconferencing software are blocked by many firewalls, but you can configure the DI-808HV to open a tunnel for such apps, maintaining the integrity of the firewall while allowing the traffic you need for your application to pass through the router.
D-Link outfits the DI-808HV with an eight-port 10/100 Ethernet switch, which (unlike a hub) guarantees dedicated 100Mbps bandwidth on each of the seven LAN, or local-area network, ports. In contrast to a switch like this one, an Ethernet hub typically divides the total 100Mbps among all its ports. The WAN, or wide-area network, connector is also a 10/100 port, which in most cases is used to connect a router to a broadband modem. Ten Mbps is more than fast enough for most broadband connections, which is why many broadband routers include only a cheaper 10Mbps adapter for their WAN port. The 10/100 capability, however, helps future-proof the DI-808HV and leaves you well prepared for the time when broadband speeds outpace old-fashioned 10Mbps Ethernet.
D-Link offers a perfunctory one-year warranty on the DI-808HV, which is understandable given the unit's reasonable price. Still, small businesses considering the DI-808HV as an inexpensive means of offering VPN connections to their employees should weigh the pros and cons of buying consumer-grade gear with short warranties for mission-critical deployments. That said, D-Link does offer toll-free, 24/7 phone support for the DI-808HV, good for the life of the product. If you're comfortable with the idea of taking support into your own hands, D-Link offers excellent support resources on its Web site. The D-Link site also hosts free downloadable firmware upgrades, downloadable electronic manuals, and a well-maintained FAQ section.