HotBrick, Not Hot Enough, Yet

I recently installed a great little firewall appliance. Or rather, I tried to. HotBrick ( is a relative newcomer to the space, but their devices are appealing. I tried the VPN 600/2 (the smaller of the two devices). It features 2 WAN ports (offering load-balancing and redundancy), an incredibly configurable firewall, router, switch, DHCP server, VPN server, and more. And all for a street price of about $400.
The device itself is compact, feels solid, and was a breeze to install. By default, the firewall is wide open (to make initial configuration easier). It comes with wizards to help you lock down your network, and the software allows for sophisticated control when needed. The embedded software visually maps the network, making configuration (even setting up virtual networks and a DMZ) logical and intuitive. High scores for features.
All management is Web based, the UI of which is rather blah (it looks dated, and feels really awkward). The management application is also terribly sluggish, and while I doubt that this impacts actual device performance, it just feels wrong, especially for a device with a 150Mhz CPU and 16Mb RAM. Low scores for the UI.
But my problem is that the device would not connect to my local provider, ending up in a retry loop. And so I called support (once I found the number, it is not in the package or docs, I had to go online to get it, no easy task when you have no router because you are trying to install a new one). Apparently I need a firmware update. Ok, sounds simple enough, right? Wrong, this is where the lack of any understanding of usability become blatantly obvious. To apply the firmware I had to link a WAN and a LAN port with a crossover cable, modify a registry entry on a Windows machine so as to force the NIC to communicate with the device, and then reboot the device three times in succession exactly as a series of lights changed color. Oh, and I had to do this multiple times until the firmware update software on the PC connected to the device, and then several more times until the update applied. 90 minutes to apply a firmware update is unacceptable. Have these guys never head of HTML file upload? Or even good old telnet? Failing grade on usability.
But, at least I now had a working device. Not! The firmware update did not help. Four more calls to support (twice with promises that a senior engineer would call back, no one has called yet), an online support request (which, a week later, has still not been answered), and clicking on the “online help” icon three times (each time to be put in queue, and then told that no one is available). Failing grade for support.
Apparently others have had the same problem, and another firmware update is on the way, I was told to call back Friday (this was last Wednesday). Ok, progress. I called back Friday, 8 days after first installing the device, only to be told that it’ll be at least a month until the new firmware was released, and that no one could state that this would indeed solve the problem.
In all fairness, there are happy HotBrick users out there. If you have a T1 then you should have no problems. DSL users also seem to be using the device successfully. But if you use cable (or plan on using cable as your backup, after all, part of the appeal of the device is the 2 WAN ports) then all bets are off.
Bottom line, this one has potential, but is not ready for prime time. I am assuming that the problems are growing pains, the company is new (my support ticket number was a mere three digits, starting with a 1), and I hope that they get their act together soon. Until then, this one has to get a thumbs down. For now, avoid HotBrick.

6 responses to “HotBrick, Not Hot Enough, Yet”

  1. Pete Freitag Avatar
    Pete Freitag

    Thanks for posting ben, I was just looking at these. I think I’m just going to go with a linux based firewall/vpn. Smoothwall is pretty easy to setup, just download the iso, boot and setup.

  2. JHill Avatar

    We’ve had great luck with SnapGear’s devices…

  3. David Mineer Avatar
    David Mineer

    Last Week I ordered a RV016 from Linksys (10/100 16-Port VPN Router) This has 2 wan, ports, but also another 5 optional wan ports so you could theoretically have 7 load sharing wan connections. Have not received it yet but (suppose to be here Thursday) if it works as planned I will be stoked! The price was $408. They have an 8 port model with only 2 Wan ports and 8 ports total for around $250 or something like that. Anyone had any luck with these products. Our main interest is Load Balancing. 1.5Meg DSL lines are only $28.00 a month to add so that is some pretty good bandwidth if you can share them all.

  4. Ben Forta Avatar
    Ben Forta

    David, I looked at that one, but was concerned about the level of control over firewall functionality. Let me know what you think of it once you get it installed.

  5. Mike Givens Avatar
    Mike Givens

    I’m using a Sonicwall security appliance that has been great (on both a DSL and Cable connection) as well as easy to setup. Pricing is in line with other devices mentioned here.

  6. Roland Collins Avatar
    Roland Collins

    We use the new small business stuff from Checkpoint, and it’s really impressive. The UI is great, and you get pretty much all of the features that would be present in their full Checkpoint NG line.
    Definitely worth the look, and you can’t beat the Checkpoint brand when it comes to firewalls.

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