Each year, thousands of IT products are released, and each claims to offer enterprises something bigger, better or, our favorite, unique. eWEEK Labs' tests often show that these claims are overblown, as many of the products are just the same old technology dressed up in the newest buzzwords. But that makes the following 10 products—selected by eWEEK Labs analysts based on their tests—stand out all the more. Whether they arrived on a wave of hype or made their presence known "simply" by being good at what they do or by breaking new ground, these are our picks for the top products of 2007. (Products are listed alphabetically by vendor.)
Amazon.com Elastic Compute Cloud
Among the most innovative of the products and services to arise from the open-source Xen hypervisor project is Amazon.com's Elastic Compute Cloud service, through which companies or individuals rent compute time on Amazon.com's data centers for running Xen virtual machines.
The service, which is known as EC2 and entered an open beta period in October, makes it very easy for a company to spawn one or more servers for testing or production purposes in just a few minutes. Companies can then just as easily discard the servers back into the cloud.
The idea of computing power as a utility is not new, but by enabling users to consume these resources in the form of arbitrary operating system instances—rather than that of application workloads, as Sun Microsystems' Grid service does—EC2 offers companies a familiar point of entry, as well as a model for allowing on-premises hosted services to spill over into the cloud during spikes in demand or during disaster recovery scenarios.
Apple iWork '08
Earlier this year, Apple unveiled iWork '08—a full-fledged office productivity suite—and reinvigorated the market.
In a year when OpenDocument Format converters didn't substantially improve the state of Microsoft Office-ODF compatibility and OpenOffice.org made only incremental progress, iWork '08 was a welcome and pleasant surprise, complete with distinctive new features that demonstrated that following Office is not the only way forward.
The suite's first-ever spreadsheet application got our vote with its intelligent tables feature, which allows for multiple formats on a single spreadsheet. And its Charts spreadsheet app and Keynote presentation app score high for providing robust yet easy-to-use features.
Finally, where the Pages app was essentially just a page-layout application in previous Apple productivity suites, it's now a full-fledged word processing application with a separate mode for layout.
DiVitas Mobile Convergence
In 2007, the promised convergence of cellular and Wi-Fi networks finally became a reality. At the forefront of the movement was DiVitas, with its Mobile to Mobile Convergence platform. Able to seamlessly hand off calls between the cellular network and corporate, home or public Wi-Fi connections, DiVitas' solution allows enterprises to extend workplace presence anywhere in the world while simultaneously promising a significant decrease in costs stemming from mobile phone use.
DiVitas' two-tier solution consists of the Mobile Convergence Appliance, which sits on the corporate network, and the Mobile Convergence Client, which can be installed on any of a handful of Windows Mobile- and Symbian-based dual-mode handsets.
The Mobile Convergence Appliance offers its own PBX functionality or can be configured to work with existing legacy PBXes, extending the user's extension, presence information and in-house call features to mobile phones. The appliance also extends NAT (Network Address Translation) traversal and signaling security to Internet-connected devices.
The Mobile Convergence Client component, meanwhile, sits on the dual-mode phone, both presenting the platform's features to the user and scanning the various available networks to determine and compare relative signal strengths before handing off calls without disruption.
Fluke Networks OptiView Series III Integrated Network Analyzer
Troubleshooting network problems in the field requires portable smarts, the right physical connections and enough battery power to last several hours. Fluke Networks' OptiView Series III INA (Integrated Network Analyzer) offers all this in a relatively affordable ($22,995) shoulder-sling form.
Among the new features in the OptiView Series III INA are a free string search that triggers packet captures of intermittent problems; 480MB of RAM for the capture buffer, up from 64MB in the OptiView Series II INA; 10/100/1,000 copper and integrated SFP (small-form-factor pluggable) optical interfaces; an optional 802.11a/b/g wireless interface; and a removable hard drive, for better security. Fluke also has improved standard protocol analyzer features in the OptiView Series III INA.
The OptiView Series III INA comes from a long line of durable, well-engineered network and data communications test and measurement tools. My tests of the product show that it provides good performance and a plethora of diagnostics, despite the fact that it still uses Microsoft's Windows XP instead of an optimized and hardened operating system.
Google Apps Premier Edition
Every IT organization is charged with doing two basic things:
1. Keeping the lights on, by maintaining and securing basic services such as e-mail, calendaring and productivity applications.
2. Blazing new technological trails by planning, piloting and deploying new services to shore up the company's bottom line.
For many organizations, the time and resources required to keep baseline services online and secure means that new initiatives must take a back seat. Enter Google's Google Apps Premier Edition, through which companies can outsource much of the maintenance of core e-mail, calendar and productivity services to Google for $50 per employee per year.
And when new functionality becomes available, as it did when Google added presentation capabilities to the productivity portion of its Apps offering and when the search giant enabled IMAP support for its messaging service, IT departments needn't touch every client to undertake the upgrades.
Hewlett-Packard broke new ground when it introduced the c3000 blade server. For the first time, small and midsize enterprises could afford a blade server that could consolidate their data centers into a single box. Even better, the new blade server was designed to operate in an office environment; it could be used by people without specific product training; and it supported a variety of features, including a SAN (storage area network), Fibre Channel, Gigabit Ethernet switching and a blade-mounted tape server.
Coupled with its office-friendly nature, the c3000, affectionately known as "Shorty," uses remarkably little energy—less than a portable hair dryer, according to the company. While HP developed some blades specifically for the c3000, the server can use blades designed for other c-Series blade servers as well, giving it a high degree of flexibility. Adding to the mix is the ability of the c3000 to attach itself to an existing data center or SAN (or both) to seamlessly become part of the IT infrastructure.
One Laptop Per Child XO
When MIT's Nicholas Negroponte first stated his intention to build an inexpensive laptop for children in the developing world, nearly all the attention focused on his planned price point of $100. But now that Negroponte and the One Laptop Per Child program have finally launched the XO laptop, the price (which ended up at about $200) is actually the least amazing thing about this new system.
The XO may be inexpensive, and it may look like a basic kid's toy, but it is anything but cheap or basic. In fact, the XO has in many ways revolutionized laptop design.
The laptop features a ground-breaking new display technology that can be viewed in direct sunlight. The XO also includes powerful integrated mesh wireless capabilities that make it possible for each XO to serve as a networking router for any other XO, making it possible to share a single Internet connection across an entire village.
And all of the XO's fearures have been designed to work while using the least amount of power possible, making the XO one of the most efficient computing systems ever built. This efficiency also has made it possible to power the XO with a number of alternative power sources, including pull cords.
Oracle Database 11g
Oracle's Database 11g is the cornerstone of the vendor's dynamically allocated computing grids and should garner the attention of database managers with its improved management, recovery and table compression capabilities. Database 11g, released in August, also takes much of the guesswork out of advanced database tuning.
The database world is a slow-changing place, and its cautious denizens are even slower to implement new versions of tried-and-tested products. Database 11g takes this into account but still pushes database functionality to come more in line with fast-changing business needs.
Three years in the making, Database 11g has a slew of new and improved features that focus on automatically improving the performance of the database, queries, memory and storage usage.
eWEEK Labs tested Database 11g Enterprise Edition for Linux x86 32-bit systems. The 64-bit Linux edition, which is the version most likely to be used by Oracle's enterprise customers in a production environment, is expected soon.
RIM BlackBerry 8820
In a year that saw lots of innovation and excitement in the wireless handset industry, Research In Motion's BlackBerry 8820 was simply the best enterprise-grade smart phone eWEEK Labs tested.
RIM's first smart phone to include Wi-Fi connectivity, the BlackBerry 8820 hit all the right notes. The device supports all the important enterprise and personal security standards, includes Wi-Fi diagnostic and survey tools, and adds certificate management capabilities that are not commonly found on most commercially available mobile phones.
RIM also has shown a willingness to explore dual-mode functionality, as its partnership with T-Mobile USA's HotSpot@Home for the Blackberry Curve 8320 adds the VOIP (voice over IP) experience to consumers and small businesses. However, RIM still needs to step up to the plate and forge a relationship with a company that can help build out similar compatibilities with corporate, SIP (Session Initiation Protocol)-enabled voice platforms.
RIM devices are already known for their e-mail prowess, and the 8820 does not disappoint. The BlackBerry Enterprise Server and BlackBerry Internet Service combine to deliver exceptional e-mail control to business and consumer users alike. The 8820 also adds new functionality, such as an integrated GPS receiver that, along with the built-in Telenav software, provides excellent door-to-door directions and opens the door for other business-class services that leverage GPS functionality.
With the hotSpot@Home, T-Mobile has accomplished something that sounds simple but requires a complex switching infrastructure: It allows Wi-Fi-capable cell phones to use Wi-Fi communications channels for phone calls.
Unlike Wi-Fi phone systems that let users only download music files or check e-mail using Wi-Fi, the T-Mobile solution enables users to roam seamlessly between a GSM cellular connection and a Wi-Fi connection. This means you can use your cell phone in buildings where cell signals are spotty or in areas where there is no coverage at all.
T-Mobile has introduced a couple of Hotspot@Home phones, as well as a compatible BlackBerry Curve. Also available is a Wi-Fi router that is designed to improve battery life and voice quality for phones that use it. However, the beauty of the T-Mobile solution is that it will work with any Wi-Fi access point, anywhere in the world.