Buyer's Manual for Purchasing the Best Firewall

By Neil Zawacki
Updated: July 13, 2011

Many small businesses that decide to purchase a firewall become overwhelmed by the sheer number of choices that are available. This guide will show how to streamline the purchasing process and find the firewall that’s best for you.

You should start by figuring out your company’s specific needs. You’ll want to take a look at your network infrastructure and see how many interfaces are required for DMZs and subnets. You’ll also need to decide if you want a perimeter firewall that separates and protects the entire local area network or a segmented firewall that only safeguards a specific portion.

The next step is to determine what features you definitely want to have. Some common possibilities include:

Web Caching

This feature can help to reduce excessive bandwidth consumption by storing commonly-used data files on the local network. If your employees are regularly visiting the same web pages, it’s a good function to have.

Spam Filtering

You can use this feature to screen out the constant stream of unsolicited emails that many companies experience. The spam is sent automatically to a special folder that you can access at any time.

URL Screening

This feature allows the firewall to prevent specified URLS from being accessed by people. If you don’t want your employees to visit certain websites, you should consider this feature.

Virus Protection

The firewall will stop your computers from becoming infected if an employee accidentally opens a dangerous email or clicks on a malicious link.

You’ll also have to decide how much you are going to spend on the firewall. If you want a powerful fortress that can keep out the most determined hackers, it’s going to cost a lot more than a firewall that is only set up to stop basic attacks. This decision largely comes down to the size and visibility of your company, as well as the potential damage if the information is stolen or destroyed.

Once you have gathered this information, it’s time to take a look at the different vendors. You’ll generally want a company that’s been around for a few years—it shows they’ve had time to properly fine-tune their firewall. You should also see if they list some of their clients—if a major corporation or government office uses the firewall to protect information, it's probably a good sign.

You should also take a look at product reviews from industry publications and see what they have to say about the firewall offered by the vendor. The tech writers will usually run the firewall through extensive tests to see how well it holds up against outside attacks. Many of them will also provide information on the ease of use and the overall value of the firewall.

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