Strengths: Easy to install and administer, imaginative idea, no admin overheads
Weaknesses: The product was expensive for the feature set it offers
Verdict: A very innovative solution to both the SSL VPN and the identity management problem. Would work well with any size enterprise
AEP SmartGate was the most unique solution we tested. This product is a secure authentication proxy that runs at the application level of the OSI model. It is very similar to a typical SSL VPN, but with added authentication components that make the user's authentication tunnel more secure. The solution has a web-based user-provisioning component that is also secured inside an SSL tunnel.
Because the SmartGate allows a single authentication to many different back-end products, it functions like a web-based single sign-on product, even if the documentation refers to this as a federation component. The product also offers increased logging options that are more closely aligned to the identity management space than the SSL VPN space.
AEP SmartGate was very easy to install on the Windows 2003 test environment. The included installation PDF was all that was needed to install and configure the product for general use. The only difficulty we encountered was a slight confusion regarding how to configure the port or ports that the SmartGate application would be using. It only took a few guesses and the product was up and running without a hitch.
Documentation for this product comes in the form of several indexed PDF files. Each operating system has its own PDF file for the configuration and use of the SmartGate. Most of the files were small in size, so scrolling through them was not overly cumbersome.
AEP Networks offers phone support as well as self-directed support through the company's website. The support website was very well done, with a searchable knowledgebase, technical white papers, a FAQ section, as well as on-line training videos. Of all the products we evaluated in this round of tests, the AEP support site was clearly the easiest to use and the most comprehensive.
However, priced at the upper end on a user basis, the AEP SmartGate is expensive for the features it offers.