Zyxel Nebula Control Center 2019 review: Takes all the pain out of networking

Cloud network management doesn’t get much easier or more affordable

Editor's Choice
Price
£494
  • Excellent value; Informative web portal; Extensive device support; Swift zero-touch provisioning; Multi-site support
  • NCC site dashboard layouts can’t be customised

Cloud-managed networks are the way forward for many SMEs as they allow them to view and control geographically distributed network devices from a single pane of glass. No more costly and time consuming site visits; support staff can deploy, configure and troubleshoot them all from the comfort of their own desk.

Zyxel's Nebula Control Center (NCC) supports any Nebula-enabled device, which currently includes a choice selection of Zyxel's business-class wireless APs, NSG firewalls and network switches. In fact, Zyxel goes one step beyond: all its new NebulaFlex Pro wireless APs can be swapped easily between standalone, cloud and on-premises controller management.

Since our last review of Nebula two years ago, Zyxel has added a number of valuable features which include a new scheduling service to streamline firmware updates and facilities to backup and restore device settings. Templates can be used to push base switch configurations out to multiple sites, the security service analysis report provides at-a-glance views of your security posture while the improved Nebula mobile app offers more detailed information about organisations and sites.

In our review of the NCC platform, we tested it using Zyxel's new Unified Pro WAC6303D-S Wave 2 AP and Network Security Gateway (NSG) 200 firewall. The AP supports NebulaFlex Pro and its triple management modes while the NSG200 is designed to be managed purely by NCC.

Zyxel Nebula Control Center 2019 review: NCC licenses and pricing

Zyxel keeps costs low, because all Nebula-enabled devices include a one-year NCC license, after which you pay an annual subscription. NCC itself simplifies things further - its shared points-based credit system uses 'co-termination' to balance the points out across devices so all licenses expire on the same date.

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The NSG appliances also include a one-year subscription to the Nebula security pack which enables IDP, application patrol, content filtering and antivirus scanning services. Subsequent security pack licenses for the NSG200 cost around 625 for a further two year subscription.

The basic Nebula service is free and has logging restricted to 7 days with features such as email alerting and configuration backup disabled. The full-strength Professional Pack version has yearly or perpetual licenses and the price for the WAC6303D-S includes a 3-year Professional Pack license.

Zyxel Nebula Control Center 2019 review: Portal and configuration

The NCC web portal is well designed and our first job was to create a top-level organisation for our business, adding sites below it for each office. The site dashboards provide plenty of information about their wireless APs, gateways, switches, clients and traffic throughput - although we'd like to see facilities for customising its layout and background, possibly with an option to add a company logo.

It's worth setting up your site wireless networks, switch configurations and NSG security profiles first, as these will be automatically pushed to devices when they are deployed. For wireless networks, you can have up to eight SSIDs per site, each with authentication schemes including WPA2, RADIUS and Nebula cloud authentication

You can apply upload and download rate limits to each SSID, enable L2 isolation to stop clients seeing each other and add a walled garden. Captive portals can be enabled and NCC supports authentication using Nebula, Facebook and RADIUS.

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For the NSG200, we could create port groups and custom firewall rules, apply web content filtering, add more captive portals with custom logos and AUPs and configure site-to-site and client VPNs. Switch options are equally good. You can apply IP address filtering, add PoE schedules to specific ports to shut down powered devices outside working hours, prioritise traffic with QoS profiles and create voice VLANs.

Zyxel Nebula Control Center 2019 review: Zero-touch provisioning

You have two options for registering devices. You can manually add their MAC addresses and serial numbers in the portal, or scan in the QR code on their box using the NCC mobile app. We scanned the box code for the NSG200 but the AP didn't have one on its box so we accessed its standalone web console and scanned the code in from the monitor screen using our iPad.

Both devices popped up in the portal around 10 seconds after scanning and took a further 6-7 minutes before they appeared online and fully provisioned with our pre-configured settings. SMEs with multiple offices will love this as they can add devices to a site and send them to their final destination where they just need to be connected and powered up.

Zyxel Nebula Control Center 2019 review: WAC6303D-S and NSG200 features

The WAC6303D-S delivers dual-band 2.4GHz and 5GHz operations teamed up with 3x3 MU-MIMO technology. This well-built ceiling mounted AP provides standard and PoE+ Gigabit LAN ports - for the best performance, don't use an older PoE source as this limits the radios to one transmit stream each.

The AP is a fair performer with real world file copies over a 5GHz 11ac connection on a Windows 10 Pro desktop averaging 52MB/sec at close range, dropping to 48MB/sec at 10 metres. Coverage is good as the SweetSpots app on our iPad only registered a loss of signal after we got 44 metres down the main building corridor and with five other offices in the way.

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The NSG200 is powerful enough for small offices with a raw 1,250Mbits/sec firewall throughput, dropping to 300Mbits/sec with all UTM services enabled. Its two Gigabit WAN and five Gigabit LAN ports can be configured remotely from the NCC portal where the LAN ports can be placed in two groups each with their IP address and DHCP settings.

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Gateway AV and IDP can be enabled or disabled from the portal while the application patrol service manages workplace access to over 3,000 apps, including Facebook and Twitter. The content filtering service can block or allow access to any of the 64 categories on offer and during testing, we found it worked well with very few sites slipping through its net.

Zyxel Nebula Control Center 2019 review: Verdict

Zyxel's NCC impressed us. Its smart cloud portal and fast zero-touch provisioning take all the pain out of network management. It provides excellent remote device configuration and monitoring services, is an affordable choice for SMEs and the latest NSG200 gateway and WAC6303D-S wireless AP perform very well. For businesses looking to deploy cloud-managed networking, this is an ideal solution.

Verdict

Perfectly priced for SMEs, Zyxel’s Nebula is a slick cloud network management solution and its latest wireless APs and security gateways deliver plenty of business-class features

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