eWEEK Labs Names the 2009 Enterprise IT Products of the Year

Each year at this time, eWEEK Labs names the products that stood out in our testing in the 12 months past. We shy away from naming the "best" products of the year because best is so relative. Instead, we focus on the products that, among other things, raise the technology bar in their category; innovate in some significant way; better align IT with business needs; and, in general, make day-to-day life easier for IT professionals. To be eligible, a product had to be tested by eWEEK Labs, and available, this year. Herewith is our list for 2009. (And click on the links in each item for the Labs' original reviews of the products.)

AWS Toolkit for Eclipse

Amazon was defining the "cloud" before the term even existed, and it built its Amazon Web Services as a natural spinoff of its own infrastructure.

During the past several years, Amazon has continued to refine its services, but programming for AWS hasn't been easy-until the release of AWS Toolkit for Eclipse, that is.

Although AWS Toolkit is technically an Eclipse plug-in, it's much more than that. It's an entire development toolkit that greatly simplifies the creation of applications and the deployment of servers on the AWS cloud. Using AWS Toolkit, developers can create applications, test them locally and deploy them to the cloud-all from within Eclipse.

The toolkit currently supports Java and the Tomcat server running on AWS, although Amazon officials have said that they have plans to add other languages and server platforms. The toolkit leverages the Eclipse Data Tools project, allowing developers to design AWS SimpleDB data graphically.

But the toolkit goes beyond just coding and into management. In Amazon Web Services, you manage your servers within the EC2 infrastructure. The AWS Toolkit for Eclipse includes several panes and windows that let you perform such management from within Eclipse. And, to top it all off, AWS Toolkit for
Eclipse is fully open source, meaning it's available for free and is open for contribution at sourceforge.net.

-Jeff Cogswell


Surprising. Innovative. Unexpectedly good.

In recent years, these words haven't typically been used to describe products from Microsoft. So, many people were surprised when Microsoft in June unleashed Bing, a new Web search engine that wasn't just a minor cosmetic change to the existing MSN search. Rather, Bing was an intriguing competitor to Google, with an attractive and interactive search interface that stood in stark contrast to Google's old-school Web look.

It seems like many people on the Web have noticed. In just a few months, the new Bing search engine has gained 10 percent of the search market. This is still well short of Google's share, but it is impressive given the short time Bing has been in existence.

And even if Bing never surpasses Google in market share, everyone benefits from increased competition in Web search. Let's face it: In recent years, Google has been paying more attention to browsers, operating systems and hosted apps than it has to its bread-and-butter search. If the competition that Bing brings forces all search engine vendors to offer more and more effective ways to search the Web, then everyone wins.

-Jim Rapoza

BlackBerry Enterprise Server 5.0

Last May, Research In Motion made a significant and welcome update to its BlackBerry Enterprise Server. Version 5.0 introduced a number of enhancements to RIM's flagship mobile management solution, delivering improved manageability and reliability commensurate with the ever-increasing importance of mobility and compliance in the enterprise.

While some organizations may be moving to a "bring your own mobile device" model centered on ActiveSync, most others beholden to regulatory- or performance-based strictures need to assure levels of data and device security, policy control, and performance not possible in a more permissive mobile environment. Within that realm of control and delivery assurance, BlackBerry remains king, and, to the companies that need that assurance, BES 5.0 delivers much-sought-after gains.

For example, because the product now offers Web-based administration via the new BlackBerry Administration Service, admins can manage BES 5.0 for Exchange from any PC with a browser (as long as that browser is Internet Explorer). This allows admins to take advantage of other new features-including improved status reporting over devices, as well as policy and application delivery-without being tied to one workstation.

BES 5.0's role-based administration, meanwhile, allows more effective delegation of administration tasks among IT workers, providing admins with access and visibility to users, groups and policies depending on their function and role.

BES 5.0 also natively delivers built-in high availability for the first time. Mobile administrators can pool an active server and a backup, using the same license for the pair, to add resiliency to the BlackBerry management infrastructure. Administrators also can leverage the cluster to maintain uptime during the upgrade cycle or to share the load of certain BES components between the pair.

-Andrew Garcia

Cisco Unified Computing System

With its Unified Computing System, Cisco made a game-changing data center play-marrying compute, storage and, of course, network resources. Cisco UCS, as I stated in my exclusive October review, combines high-end hardware with integrated management software to create a data center computing platform capable of hosting high-value applications.

Using two other Products of the Year-Intel's Xeon 5500 series processors and VMware's vSphere 4-Cisco has created a platform that showed some Version 1.0 flaws but that, overall, demonstrated a UCS installation can grow in size without a corresponding increase in management staff or policy complexity.

There is plenty of secret sauce throughout much of the hardware that makes up Cisco UCS. During my tests, I found the biggest dose in the mezzanine card that makes the connection between the UCS blade server and the UCS server chassis. Based on technology Cisco gained when it acquired Nuova, the card is able to multiplex LAN, SAN and management traffic, thereby reducing cabling and management complexity.

From the creation and management of resource pools to the centralized control of change management throughout its high-performance hardware and software components, Cisco UCS exudes excellence based on Cisco's vast experience in the data center.

-Cameron Sturdevant

Firefox 3.5

In the past, Mozilla's Firefox Web browser was the standard bearer for users looking for an alternative to Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser. Firefox stood for quality, openness and strong standards support.

But, during the last couple of years, Firefox has faced new challenges. Emerging competitors, including Google Chrome and Apple Safari, could also lay claim to being innovative, open and, most importantly, a viable alternative to Internet Explorer. Even Microsoft itself released a version of IE that in many ways compared favorably to Firefox.

Firefox was starting to look relatively old and was being perceived as a slow and unstable Web browser. So, in some ways, Version 3.5 of the Mozilla browser was one of the most important releases since the very first Firefox. Firefox still isn't the fastest browser out there, but with Version 3.5 Mozilla has gone a long way toward improving the speed and stability of the browser. Standards support has also been boosted, including enhanced support for HTML 5.

Significantly, Firefox 3.5 offers one of the first and best browser implementations of offline support and desktop integration. These are key features that point toward the future of the Web, where Web-based applications can also offer many of the benefits of desktop apps.

-Jim Rapoza

-Nehalem' Family of Processors

I reviewed many servers this year based on the Intel Xeon 5500 processor family, otherwise known as Nehalem.

In fairness, AMD server processors have had a memory architecture similar to the one the energy-saving, virtual-machine-enhancing, front-side-bus-dumping, hyperthread-reintroducing Nehalem processors support. Even so, the Intel microarchitecture and CPU hardware were at the heart of some of the most important announcements of 2009-including VMware's vSphere 4 and Cisco's Unified Computing System.

In my original analysis of the Nehalem release, I noted that the processor family's integrated memory controller, additional memory channel and other performance-enhancing improvements would enable Xeon 5500-series-equipped systems to consolidate even more virtual machines onto fewer physical systems. I also noted that, as implementation of the Xeon 5500 series CPU family spreads, IT managers should take another look at applications that did not perform well when run on VMs hosted on previous-generation Intel-based servers.

In addition, Nehalem processors use a significant update dubbed VT-d (Virtualization Technology for Directed I/O) that connects dedicated DMA (direct memory access)-capable I/O resources for virtual machines. One of the big challenges of virtualization has been handling I/O, and VT-d allows the direct assignment of a VM to a physical device. VT-d is designed to reduce the performance overhead incurred as the hypervisor moderates state among the guest VMs.

IT managers will need to be mindful that new hardware components-including NICs and memory configurations-aimed at improving VM performance will also drive up the initial hardware price of Xeon 5500-based systems. But the wide-scale adoption of the Intel Xeon 5500 series (by server makers Dell, HP, Lenovo and Apple, among others), combined with the significant capability changes made to the processor, marked an IT milestone in 2009.

-Cameron Sturdevant

Palm WebOS

From the way it integrates all like communications into a single interface, to the way it seamlessly moves from local search to Web search, to its intuitive gesture-based user controls, Palm WebOS is a joy to use.

Although it's currently available only on the Palm Pre and Pixi-neither of which is the OS' definitive hardware platform-and although I have my doubts as to whether third-party developers will create enough action on the platform to make it successful long-term, Palm WebOS is a thoughtful and
well-designed mobile platform.

-Andrew Garcia

SUSE Studio 1.0

One of the most compelling things about Linux as a platform is its elasticity. It's possible to take a general-purpose Linux-based operating system and strip it down to just enough components to carry out the task at hand, making the open-source amalgamation a popular choice for customization-heavy scenarios such as embedded devices and high-performance computing.

As virtualization and cloud computing have grown in popularity, the potential audience for stripped-down, reconfigurable systems has grown as well, leading general-purpose OS vendors to offer more modular versions of their wares.

The most impressive of these efforts I've seen so far is Novell's SUSE Studio 1.0, a Web-based service for building custom Linux appliances based on Novell's SUSE Enterprise and openSUSE distributions. SUSE Studio boasts a slick interface that manages to accept a lot of complex input while remaining very responsive.

The service is well-integrated with Novell's existing Linux software framework: It's easy to grab software packages from the official repositories for SUSE and openSUSE, and it's easy to locate and integrate packages built with Novell's openSUSE Build Service, which both broadens the available software and provides an easy route to building your own packages.

SUSE Studio also makes great use of the excellent package dependency-checking and -resolving capabilities that have long been a part of SUSE distributions. This helps a great deal when combining components from disparate sources.

SUSE Studio impressed me with its "test drive" feature, which enabled me to
try out an appliance remotely before downloading it-a real timesaver. Also,
I could record any changes made during these test drives and apply them to my appliance project. Finally, the service offered me the options of exporting my projects in a handful of different formats, including those for VMware and Xen virtualization hosts.

-Jason Brooks

vSphere 4

VMware is the standard setter in virtual IT compute infrastructure, and the company pressed this advantage when it re-minted and significantly expanded its flagship product, VMware Infrastructure, as vSphere 4.

As I said in my review of vSphere in June, "The VMware marketing team has been working overtime to promote vSphere 4 as the first cloud operating system. IT managers can safely set aside this breathless chatter and focus on the fact that vSphere will allow IT departments to place application workloads on the most cost-effective compute resource." This could be in a cloud environment or in a private data center. The cool thing is that the choice is possible, and that IT managers who use vSphere are in a position to make changes to workload placement in the future.

vSphere's impact can also be seen in the role it plays in two of eWEEK Labs' other Products of the Year. At the March release of the Intel Xeon 5500 "Nehalem" processor family, virtualization-specifically, VMware's then-beta vSphere 4-was at the center of demonstrations of the processor family's vastly improved capacity and power efficiency demonstrations. And when networking giant Cisco announced its entry into the compute side of the data center with its Unified Computing System, VMware's vSphere was again at the center of the conversation.

Coming out of the abstraction "clouds" that abound around virtualization, VMware made a specific enhancement that I still think is groundbreaking in the field: In vSphere 4, it is possible to integrate a third-party virtual network switch. (The Cisco Nexus 1000v was the first such switch to be supported.) This advance makes it possible for IT organizations to immediately utilize the networking expertise of their Cisco networking engineers. Now, instead of having system admins architecting complex network implementations, experienced engineers can be put on the job.

This is an example of how virtualization technology should rapidly evolve to preserve the cost-savings that have been realized from server consolidation projects. Other virtualization vendors either are struggling to catch up to the pace being set by VMware or lack the wide-scale installed base to match the well-deserved leadership position that VMware maintained in 2009.

-Cameron Sturdevant