Each year, eWEEK Labs looks back at the products we've tested to highlight those that particularly impressed us with their excellence and innovation. This year, we've chosen five such products and services, spanning from the data center to the cloud.
Microsoft Office 365
With the public release of Office 365 in June, Microsoft took a giant step forward toward its presumed goal of being the cloud provider for businesses. Although it will take years for even a bare majority of the productivity suite's user base to migrate to the cloud-based suite, Office 365 promises to take some of the headache out of basic system provisioning and management. The hard part of this transition to the cloud for Microsoft can be described this way: availability, availability and availability.
Although Microsoft's pledged downtime amounts to less than a day over the course of an office worker's year, that's not going to be enough to convince IT leaders to take the plunge. For Office 365 to be successful, Microsoft's cloud services team will have to improve its current track record for availability from "barely tolerable" to "not an issue." Only then, will businesses be willing to stake their fortunes on Office 365.
-P. J. Connolly
Apple's iOS 5
It's been no secret that Apple sees its future as being driven by mobility and ubiquity. The October release of iOS 5 simply puts cloud services, in the form of iCloud, at the front and center of its mobile platform. What remains to be seen is how quickly Apple moves to open up its cloud-based storage features to other parties, or if it will continue to restrict iCloud support to the company's own applications, such as the iWork for iOS suite.
Although opening up the service might put a crimp into the plans of other cloud storage providers such as Dropbox, Apple seems more interested in preserving the seamlessness of the user experience than in expanding the reach of iCloud. Admittedly, it might be the only company that can do such a thing, given the fragmented nature of the Android platform, and the inability of any serious No. 3 player to challenge the mobile duopoly of Android and iOS. Only time will tell if Apple's walled-garden approach to the cloud can compete with the violently open stance that many third parties are taking.
-P. J. Connolly
The Fluke Networks AirCheck handheld WiFi analyzer is a premium tool for front-line techs who go on-site to solve wireless-network problems. The 1.2 version of AirCheck sets the bar for field tools and can immediately identify clients, wireless devices and access points on a network. When combined with site profile information, it was a snap to identify unauthorized and new radio sources in my tests at eWEEK Labs in radio-dense downtown San Francisco.
AirCheck was released April 11 and costs $1,995. AirCheck is strictly for on-the-go pros who need a fast, accurate sniffer that can dissect the wireless environment and spit out relevant problem-solving data in an instant.
The AirCheck tool is part handheld device and part Windows-based software. The physical AirCheck device fits easily in one hand and has the rugged feel of Fluke Network field tools. The 3-inch screen is bright and easy to read, even in direct sunlight. User interaction is through easy-to-use keys below the screen. There is no touch-screen interface.
The AirCheck Manager software captures information gathered by the device, is used to create and manage site profiles, and is the best way to view reports showing wireless-network components and performance.
VMware vSphere 5
VMware vSphere 5 continues to set the pace for data center x86 server virtualization and remains the clear leader for IT managers who need a virtual infrastructure that can handle production workloads while containing operational costs.
Although vSphere 5's release also brought a new license scheme that incited a furor among current users, the technical features make this the go-to solution for data center virtualization. The improvements include significant changes to high availability (HA), VMware's Distributed Resource Scheduler (DRS) and new network-monitoring tools. This is also the first release of vSphere that relies completely on the ESXi hypervisor.
One area that will need some new thinking is the sizing and outfitting of physical hosts. The new configuration maximums allow for the creation of giant virtual machines with up to 1 terabyte of memory and up to 32 virtual CPUs.
vSphere 5 made big changes to HA. Primary and secondary nodes are gone, replaced with a master-slave concept that eliminates planning the location of these nodes. Instead, participating systems elect a master as needed. Also gone is dependency on Domain Name System (DNS) services. A wizard-based interface speeds up HA deployment chores.
Sure, the world may not have been clamoring for yet another social networking site to check, but social networking services remain works in progress, with plenty of privacy, functionality and management wrinkles in need of ironing. There's nothing like strong competition to move a product space forward, which is why the social landscape is a richer place today, thanks to Google+, the Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn rival introduced this year by Web giant Google.
Google+ stands out for its sharing scheme, which supports a spectrum of public, private and group sharing, for its innovative Hangouts video chat capabilities, as well as for its integration with Google's slate of other Web services. What's more, Google+ has moved toward bridging the divide between consumer and corporate social networking services by building Google+ support into its Google Apps product line.
On data portability, Google deserves high marks for its early support for exporting one's data from the service, but the company's grade for its more ambitious aim of enabling federation among competing services remains incomplete.