At the end of each year, eWEEK Labs analysts look back on the products they have reviewed and pick the ones that stand out for their innovation and ability to meet the ever-changing-and increasingly challenging-needs of the enterprise. Combined, the products on this year’s list form the foundation of the next-gen enterprise.
Going back to the late 1990s, people have been talking about the Web as an operating system. Many believe that it was because of these ideas that Microsoft decided to aggressively go after Netscape.
To help further this vision, many people at this time began working on rich Internet applications, or RIAs. These included everything from Macromedia Flash to Java to Curl to ActiveX to some technologies that no longer exist. These products made it possible to build more interactive and GUI-like interfaces for Web applications, though in most cases the apps stayed tied to the browser.
What have become the next generation of RIAs are Web applications that can run independently of a browser-applications that run like those on a desktop but that still use Web services and interfaces for data and interactivity.
The product that comes closest right now to the true vision of this next-generation Web application is Adobe AIR. Descended from Flash, AIR makes it possible to build powerful and interactive applications that have all of the benefits of both Web and desktop apps (such as offline capabilities, in the latter case).
Agito RoamAnywhere Solution
With mobile phones becoming the preferred mode of voice communication for many employees, mobile phone costs are skyrocketing for many companies.
FMC (fixed mobile convergence) solutions solve this problem, allowing end users to seamlessly leverage Wi-Fi for voice over IP communications while using their corporate PBX profile on the road.
With its new emphasis on enterprise-grade redundancy and security-as well as integration into Cisco’s Motion to aid in roaming decisions among networks-Agito’s RoamAnywhere Solution builds upon its already outstanding fingerprint location deterministics, line-side PBX integration and solid client-side software. All of this provides an outstanding solution to help extend companies’ existing infrastructure to the mobile work force.
Catalyst, Firefox 3, iPhone
Cisco Catalyst 4900M
Cisco Systems’ newly minted Catalyst 4900M can help network engineers navigate the transition to 10G by offering a mixture of fixed and swappable, card-based ports.
As servers become more densely consolidated, and as the data sets that back-end applications are called on to process continue to swell, IT organizations must seek out strategies for transitioning their direct-to-server connectivity from 1GB to 10GB Ethernet.
The 4900M is a 2U (3.5-inch) form factor data center switch that’s designed to sit atop a rack of servers, aggregate their traffic and uplink to an end-of-row switch such as a Catalyst 6500. The “M” in 4900M stands for modular, with the intention that 1G modules will be replaced with 10G modules as data center server network connections increase in bandwidth.
This year may have been the most exciting ever when it comes to Web browsers. Several significant Web browsers were released-from the latest versions of Opera and Safari to the surprise entry of the intriguing Chrome browser from Google-and even Microsoft made significant strides with the beta release of Internet Explorer 8.
But, with the release of Firefox 3, Mozilla cemented its place at the top of the Web browser pile.
The latest release of Firefox hit all of the standard browser notes, with improved security, usability and customization options. However, some of the biggest improvements were under the covers, especially in offline capabilities and the browser’s ability to integrate with and take advantage of next-generation Web technologies.
These improvements haven’t gone unnoticed, with Firefox recently topping 20 percent in browser market share. Best of all, we now have something much better than a browser war-we have a vibrant and active browser market, with a lot of choices. And given some of the interesting features we expect to see in forthcoming browsers, Firefox will have to work hard to maintain its position in 2009.
iPhone 2.0 + the AppStore
Forget the new 3G-enabled iPhone hardware (hampered by AT&T’s spotty 3G coverage); Apple truly hit the mark with the iPhone 2.0 software that came preloaded on the new devices and was available as a free upgrade for first-generation units.
The new software made the iPhone palatable for enterprise consumption-adding improved Wi-Fi security, a Cisco VPN client and support for Microsoft Exchange e-mail environments-even though the enterprise management tools for the iPhone are still lacking.
However, the most significant improvement came with the introduction of the AppStore, along with the iPhone’s new support for third-party applications. The iPhone suddenly became much more than a phone and music player-it’s now a gaming platform, a productivity tool, a powerful vehicle for search and a general lifestyle enhancer for whatever a given user’s interests may be.
And with an increasing stable of enterprise applications on the way (look out for a Citrix client next year), an industry-leading mobile browser for Web-based solutions and a wide base of adoption, the iPhone is quickly becoming enterprise-capable.
iSimCity, Nokia E71
Network performance test maker IXIA launched its iSimCity lab in Silicon Valley in February. In Phase 1, iSimCity focused on classic switch and router testing. In subsequent phases, iSimCity is expected to host data center performance benchmarks, including VOIP gateways, video servers, firewalls and e-mail.
The test center is expected to host city-scale demonstrations of high-performance triple-play testing. Using 1G and 10G hardware, engineers will use IxLoad software to measure application performance.
During the times that I’ve used the center, it’s been minimally provisioned, as IXIA kept only the equipment needed for specific tests on hand. When iSimCity is fully outfitted, it will house all the IXIA chassis, applications, interfaces, infrastructure components and professional expertise needed to run city-scale service emulations.
Nokia really knocked it out of the park with the E71, packing just about everything a user-or a third-party mobile software developer-could want from a smartphone. Despite its relatively small screen and lack of a touch-screen interface, the E71 was the best overall device eWEEK Labs tested this year.
The smartphone offers revamped support for Microsoft Exchange e-mail via the new Mail for Exchange application. However, the E71 also aims to blend in capabilities to solve next-generation problems.
For example, with its dual Home Screen modes, users can switch the customizations of the device to fit both their personal and work needs. In addition, because the E71 offers the right mix of Wi-Fi performance, codecs, sound performance and open APIs, the device has become the de facto standard for FMC vendors.
Ubuntu 8.04, VMware VI3, Windows Server 2008
The dizzyingly diverse world of Linux-based operating systems is, for the most part, divided into two separate camps: those of conservative, stable and pay-per-machine “enterprise” distributions, and those of up-to-date, short-lived, free-of-charge “enthusiast” options.
Ubuntu 8.04-specifically in its desktop iteration-has earned a spot on our list of top products of 2008 by bridging the enterprise-vs.-enthusiast divide with a freely available Linux-based OS and a support term of three years, compared with about 18 months for Red Hat’s and Novell’s enthusiast distributions.
While “free” is an attractive quality in its own right, what’s most appealing about Ubuntu is the broad and active community that has rallied around Ubuntu and its unified enterprise/enthusiast release structure. Ubuntu 8.04 features most of the same software components as other distributions, but Ubuntu’s popularity results in more ready-to-install software packages, more troubleshooting answers out on the Web and, increasingly, more OEM preload availability than other desktop Linux options.
VMware’s Virtual Infrastructure 3 offers enterprises an impressive, mature framework for making virtualization promises a reality.
The foundation of VI3 is VMware’s ESX Server. The platform supports a wide variety of guest OSes, including Windows, Solaris and Linux. The suite uses VMware’s VirtualCenter management server to control systems. Companies looking to consolidate single-application servers, squeeze more out of underutilized hardware, extend the availability of their networked services and get a surer handle on the machines in their data centers would do well to evaluate VI3, which can deliver compelling results in any of these scenarios.
VMware’s product line is the clear leader among x86- and x86-64-based server virtualization products, and VI3 is the firm’s flagship product. I do recommend keeping an eye on the emerging Xen-based offerings from Virtual Iron and XenSource, as well as on the Xen-based functionality that’s built into Novell’s SUSE Linux Enterprise Server and Red Hat’s Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5.
Windows Server 2008
At a time when Vista missteps had many questioning Microsoft’s product development mojo, the release of Windows Server 2008 demonstrated that the company is capable of putting out a lean and well-performing operating system with features in sync with customer needs.
In recognition of the growing importance of “just enough OS” system configurations, such as in virtual machine deployments, Windows Server 2008 introduced a stripped-down Server Core configuration for hosting certain Windows Server roles.
What’s more, Windows Server 2008 featured a much more modular and securable Web server in IIS (Internet Information Services) 7.0, marked the debut of Microsoft’s own hypervisor technology in Hyper-V, and introduced a slate of manageability enhancements for both command-line and GUI adherents.