Bottom line: A robust NAS for your small business needs when you need more than just the basics.
Excellent monitoring and security
Unsupported routers may be challenging to set up
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Firewalla is a small (1¾ x 1¾ x 1 1/16) internet security appliance that plugs into your network and lets you monitor and manage all of your network traffic. While its size is insubstantial, this little device's capabilities are very substantial, bringing all the power you'd expect from a larger appliance, but without requiring the technical skills needed to manage that type of device, all right in your home or small office environment.
The way Firewalla is designed to work is, mostly, simple: plug it into your network and it will begin to filter the Internet, monitor network traffic, and warn you when something nefarious is happening on your network.
The Price Breakdown
Firewallas are currently available in two flavors, a $110 red and a $179 blue version, with a third gold version set to release a little later this year. (I used the Blue version for this review.)
Reds have a 32-bit quad-core processor, 512 MB of memory, handle network bandwidth of up to 100 megabits per second, and are aimed at small home office and home users.
Blues are aimed at office environments where you need higher network speeds. They sport a gigabyte of RAM, a 64-bit quad-core processor, and can handle network throughput of greater than 500 megabits per second.
Setup Is Easy, but Sometimes It's Not
Firewallas purport to be very simple to set up, which I found to be mostly true. Although, the ease at which you can actually set your Firewalla up is going to depend a great deal on your home's networking hardware. The more complicated the setup, the more likely that you'll run into some issues. I did have some problems, initially, which I'll detail in a moment, but let's talk about your standard setup before I talk about the issues I had.
You begin your Firewalla setup by downloading the Firewalla app (opens in new tab) for iPhone from the App Store or the Android app (opens in new tab) from the Google Play Store. Once the device is downloaded, you plug your Firewalla into your network and let the Firewalla app discover the device. Once discovered, you're asked a few questions about how you want to set the device up and, boom, you're done. Network monitoring is immediate and you can begin managing the many devices on your network, as well as handle the types of traffic you're going to allow and what you aren't. This should be the way it goes for almost anyone who uses a Firewalla device, but my experience, due to the specifics of my network, wasn't exactly that.
My private office network has an Eero mesh network using version 1 of eero's access points. Firewalla has an extensive list of routers that are compatible with the device. As it happens, my version 1 Eero network isn't compatible with Firewalla's Simple Mode setup and, even though I really know my way around networks of all types and kinds, I could not get the Firewalla to work in the manually configured DHCP Mode either. In short, in order to test the device, I ended up creating a private network within my network, which ended up working just fine. So, be sure to double-check that compatibility list before you buy and be prepared to spend some time with tech support if Simple Mode isn't in the cards for you — you should be able to get your Firewalla to work, but it won't be without a little effort.
Network Monitoring and Management
Firewalla begins monitoring your network the moment you set it up. It does its work by looking at packets on the network and managing access to various sites and content as it sees that traffic pass through your network. As the Firewalla detects devices gaining access to your network and resources outside your network, you'll get notifications via the Firewalla app, letting you know which devices are on the network and what they're accessing. Using the app, you can block general traffic, i.e., you can block porn sites and searches or block ads for everyone on your network, or you can select individual devices and block or allow individual traffic for that specific device. When you turn a filter on or off, that change takes effect immediately and filters or blocks the traffic for all or specified devices.
Each of the Firewalla devices also offers a built-in VPN server you can use to connect to resources within your private network when you're away from your home or office. However, the Red only offers client access to the VPN while the Firewalla Blue allows both clients and servers to gain VPN access to your network. Additionally, for macOS devices, you can use the Firewalla app to create a configuration profile so you can set your device up to access your VPN without having to do any manual configuration.
Both the Firewalla Red and Blue devices are small epiphanies. They're super simple to set up (if you have a compatible router) and excellent at monitoring network traffic. While you may have a more challenging experience setting your Firewalla if you aren't using a supported router, for most users the Firewalla will be a simple yet powerful firewall and network monitoring solution for small businesses, homes, and home offices.
Jeff is a writer, actor, Apple Certified Trainer, and IT consultant, born and raised in A-town and now living in NY. You can often catch him behind the scenes and on stage at County Players, Falls Theatre. Up next? He's stage managing *Cat on a Hot Tin Roof* at the aforementioned County Players.
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