PePLink Balance 300 review

£595
Price when reviewed

The internet is now such as integral part of business that it makes sense for firms to implement some form of network redundancy. Enterprises do it, and now small businesses can too, as the PePLink range of balancer appliances are designed specifically for this market. On review is the Balance 300, which comes with a triplet of WAN ports, where it performs load balancing across them all.

Installation is a smooth affair, and for testing we opted to use the default routing mode. The optional Drop-In mode causes the appliance to function as a transparent bridge that simply links the LAN ports to the first WAN port. It’s useful for slipping it into a live network with minimum disruption, but it won’t perform any address translation in this mode. For testing, we used a couple of WAN connections to the appliance and placed it in front of our test network on the LAN. It takes only a few minutes to get up and running, as you point a browser at the unit’s default LAN IP address and follow the quick-start wizard. From here, you step through activating selected WAN ports and decide on how addressing will work for each one, plus you have options for DHCP, PPPoE and static addresses.

The web interface is easy enough to get to grips with and, from the advanced menu, you can view and modify all settings easily. A useful feature is that even after saving any modifications, they won’t be applied until you hit the activation button on the homepage. For the WAN ports, you need to decide which ones will perform load balancing and which will act as a backup connection. During load balancing, the appliance applies weightings, and these are derived from the values you enter for the upstream and downstream bandwidth for each link.

A DHCP server is provided for the LAN ports, and the appliance also features an authoritative DNS server and SPI firewall that can be customised with your own rules. If you’re relying on the latter for protection make sure you set up at least one rule, as the firewall defaults to allowing all inbound traffic. Rules make the appliance very versatile, as you can use them to block bandwidth-hungry services such as FTP and apply them to IP addresses or ranges. You can also activate the health-check feature on selected WAN ports and use either ping or DNS lookups to check the status of the link.

Persistent Services is a valuable feature, as it ensures a client accessing secure services such as online banking won’t have their connection terminated because the load balancing caused their IP address to change mid-session. This is easy enough to set up, as you simply create a custom outbound traffic rule for, say, HTTPS, select source and destination IP addresses or networks, and request that a persistent connection is maintained. You can also use custom traffic rules to modify load-balancing behaviour for specific protocols and ports.

We found the Balancer 300 extremely easy to use, although our one complaint would be aimed at the weak reporting facilities: all you get is a bunch of tables showing active sessions and WAN link usage. Other than that, PePLink is offering small businesses a very affordable and well-featured WAN load-balancing appliance.

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