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Not just another network tool

- Written by Dan

Not just another network tool

Mudmap is a pfSense cloud management tool that lets you remotely manage all your devices from one dashboard.

The origin

I have always admired the ease and simplicity of pfSense, having been both a consumer and manager of several in the past. For its cost, the feature set is superior to what you can get with many other competitors, and the support has been great.

Nothing comes without its downside, and it wasn't until I was the sole network engineer responsible for managing a collection of pfSense devices that I learned of its greatest shortcoming; the lack of central management functionality. This really became apparent when I was dealing with a handful at a time and needed to remote in to make changes.

The problem with remote access to individual devices is not that its just monotonous, repetitive, and soul-crushing but that it can push you to make silly mistakes. Repetitive tasks such as making edits to firewall alias lists or rules across many devices can lead to mistakes as your concentration wanes. For a firewall, that really isn't good enough.

Sometimes, as the only network engineer, you are effectively on-call all day and night. When you aren't actually on-call it is okay to not take your laptop away with you, or to generally not have access to it within your mandated timeframe. Though, no business really cares if you're not on-call only that you fix the network issue that's disrupting your network operations, or is preventing other employee's from accessing their infrastructure. I learned this the hard way when I did not have access to a machine with the required key authentication and was unable to fix a network issue for several hours. How I longed for a cloud dashboard.

That is how Mudmap became an idea.

Big corp defaults

Most network engineers are familiar with the big names, maybe even cut their teeth using Cisco IOS before iOS even existed. The big names are known for their offerings, high costs, and ubiquitousness within the networking scene. Most offer a central management platform for their firewall products but that default comes at a higher cost than many businesses can afford to pay.

So it pains me to say that some Managed Service Providers (MSP), and IT service professionals are offering these big name platforms over tools such as pfSense (and OPNSense). Why, because the big names offer something pfSense does not, central management. When you're an IT shop with 50 or 100 clients, and they are asking to keep you on retainer so that network issues can be diagnosed and fixed under contract, it does make sense to use a product with this functionality. But, some clients will not pay the premiums for this, often neglecting a proper firewall all together. This state of affairs can have dire consequences for some of these businesses. Using Mudmap can give you the ability to provide a great product at lower price whilst keeping the management burden of each device low.

What is central management

Within the Mudmap context, it means to manage all pfSense devices which are registered within the application from one location. Mudmap can be your firewall's single source of truth as it provides near real-time updates as well as on-demand configuration changes. At a glance, you are able to see the status of each device or get detailed information about a particular firewall without leaving your browser.

Once registered, devices can be managed within the application. This negates the need for those repetitive and monotonous connections made to each device individually. It also allows you to access devices from machines other than those which have the requisite keys, passwords and, or VPN configurations. Whilst Mudmap uses strong protections inside the application, it removes the need for administrators to have these for each device just to view or make changes.

The user interface is also easy to use, and its layout familiar as it models the current pfSense interface. Details, images and videos are coming soon showcasing how it looks and feels.

How is it achieved

Mudmap makes heavy use of application programmable interfaces (API) and secure shell (SSH). It uses an agent-based approach through the installation of a BSD package onto the base device. This grants access to the same functionality that a user has when accessing the graphical user interface. The agent, transport layer, and service accounts are all created to provide a robust and layered approach to the device's security posture. Mudmap does not lower the overall security of your device - there are no trade-offs to be made. Mudmap integrates with pfSense's own authentication mechanisms and adds extra layers to provide a piece of mind to the users.

How is this helping me save money or time

If you are a busy professional responsible for securing the network of your own, your customers or thinking of doing so and, you would like to use pfSense then Mudmap is for you.

Out of the box, Mudmap lets you:

  • Manage multiple devices through an easy-to-use interface,
  • Get near real-time updates for all devices,
  • Negate the need for individual connections to each device,
  • Remotely start, stop and restart services on any of your firewalls,
  • At a glance get the health status of any device,
  • Remotely backup the device configuration of one, or all devices.

All of that, for the low price of a pfSense firewall, and a small subscription fee. You don't need an expensive firewall with a worse user experience simply because it has this - now pfSense does too!

Contact and updates

The launch will be announced across all the channels available including Twitter, Indie Hackers, and via the newsletter. Please subscribe to that, so you get the latest updates and announcements - or reach out to me via my email if you would rather remain confidential or want to ask specific questions.

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