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Jul 6, 2023

Installing a Firewall: Hardware, Software, or Both?


The general rule governing firewall installations used to be fairly straightforward. Hardware firewalls were the only option at the enterprise level. For single computers or small networks, a software firewall was sufficient. It is not so simple anymore. There are legitimate reasons for choosing one or the other regardless of what the network looks like. Many organizations utilize both.

Hillstone Networks’ position is that the best solution for your organization depends on its unique needs and circumstances. Your cybersecurity team needs to consider the size and scope of the network. They must consider all the hardware, any remote access capabilities, whether the organization uses a cloud environment, and more. There is no one-size-fits-all firewall solution applicable to every organization.

The Basics of Firewall Protection

Reducing firewall technology to its most basic function and you have a piece of hardware or software that scans all inbound and outbound traffic in search of potential threats. Identified threats are blocked according to the parameters established by administrators. That is really the whole thing in distilled form.

As for the differences between hardware and software firewalls, they start with deployment. A hardware firewall is a physical device deployed between the internet and the first entry point to your network. It provides a layer of protection from external threats by monitoring and analyzing traffic before it enters your network. Best of all, they offer protection for all the devices on the network.

A software firewall is deployed from within the network, usually on a server. Software firewalls can also be installed on individual network devices. Their chief advantage over hardware firewalls is expense. Software firewalls tend to be cheaper, at least in initial outlay.

Administrative Configurations Matter

The most important thing with both types of firewalls is configuration capability. Network administrators can configure the best firewalls down to the very last detail. This allows for both general configurations and customized rules and scripts written to meet an organization’s unique needs.

If a company needs to choose between a highly configurable software firewall and a hardware product with limited configuration capabilities, the former would be the better choice. Where firewall performance is concerned, configuration is everything. The ultimate level of protection that is achieved is largely dependent on an administrator’s ability to configure settings correctly.

Making a Case for Both

As the internet and subsequent threats have evolved, it has made less sense to promote one type of firewall over the other. Both have their advantages and disadvantages. For many organizations, especially those with enterprise-level networks, it is often better to have both types of firewalls than trying to decide between the two.

A good hardware firewall will catch most of the problems on its own. But when traffic gets heavy, hardware solutions cannot always monitor all traffic. Trying to force it creates a bottleneck that slows everything down. On the other hand, reducing the load on the hardware solution, in favor of letting a software firewall pick up the slack, keeps traffic moving without compromising security.

As for the software firewall, it adds extra protection just in case bad traffic gets by the hardware solution. A properly deployed software solution will not slow things down noticeably. You get firewall redundancy along with the best aspects of both types of firewalls.

We Are Here to Help

Hillstone Networks is here to help with firewall solutions. If you need help with choosing and installing the best solutions for your needs, reach out to us. We can assist with all your network security requirements, including firewalls, server protection, edge protection, and more.