Make sure you read the fine print in any vendor's performance claims and watch out for what are commonly called "marketing numbers." Oftentimes, such testing is done in the most performance advantageous configuration possible. Unlike more mature technologies that have adopted loose testing guidelines, the security industry is still the Wild West in terms of performance claims. Take measuring firewall performance for example: to maximize performance, a vendor might test under the following configuration:

• No Network Address Translation (NAT)

• No application inspection

• 1500-byte packets

• UDP rather than TCP flows

When you get the same device into your network and add a typical corporate firewall configuration, the performance will be lower, sometimes much lower. When designing your network, think of the performance numbers advertised by the vendor as the number it was just able to squeak through the box before the chips overheated and the box was set afire and fell out of the rack. The good news is most vendors have more reasonable numbers if you ask for them. Don't always count on security trade rags or independent testers either. Oftentimes, vendors influence the test bed to show their products in the most advantageous light. This is particularly bad in vendor-sponsored performance testing by independent consultants. In these cases, the vendor paying the bill decides the exact test procedures to run and even selects the vendors against which to provide a comparison.

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