More Impressions of the ZyXEL ZyWALL USG-50

I've finally started to work on the network because, while things are heating up at work, I'm mostly on-call for the next week. I have some time on my hands to experiment. My impression of the usg50 is getting better. I'm almost on the verge of getting one for my home network -- it's that interesting. The usg50 will do a lot of what a hacked WRT or a home-built PC-based router will do, but it has more ethernet ports, and a couple USB ports, and a console port. The only weakness is that you can't load up software like bittorrent or freenet or asterisk; you end up needing to build another pc.

The help screens are awesome. The overall UI toolkit they're using is Ext, and Ext has a very good help browser. They've filled it with, pretty much, an entire detailed reference manual. This is in addition to the huge 900+ page reference manual. If you're into multi-megabytes of help, and 900 pages of manuals, this is fantastic.

If you're not into all that reference manual, you should get a simpler router.

The printed manual, which is only provided as a PDF file, because, frankly, printing it would be expensive and wasteful.

The first part is the User Guide, which is largely narrative and explanatory. The second part, which is around 750 pages, is the Technical Reference, which is a blend of technical and explanatory and tutorial. This is market-appropriate, as they are serving the small business customer who is likely to hire a generalist rather than a network specialist.

CLI geeks, like me, tend to look down at web interfaces, but web UIs are good for the small biz netadmin who has a simple network, and a ton of other work to do. I even bought the 3Com switches from HP rather than the HP line, because the web interface was better.

Now, what's nice is how ZyXEL has spent the time and money to write a market-appropriate manual. We'll see if they're as clear and comprehensive as the Cisco manuals :)

Configuration Objects

The USG is based on Linux, which is configured via text files (the files in /etc). One problem with files is that you often need to make changes in multiple locations in the file, and may also need to make changes across files. Sometimes, you can use domain names or device names, but other times, you cannot. Some config files support named variables, and others do not. Zyxel has created a feature called configuration objects that are basically like named variables or macros that span multiple configuration files for multiple services.

This makes configuration of any one service harder, but makes configuration of the entire router (and thus the entire network) a lot easier. Changes that affect multiple services are now made in one place. You can also create multiple configuration objects and swap them in and out - which is a style of administration familiar to Unix sysadmins, who like to be able to back out of changes quickly.