Network World tested hundreds of products in 2013, but here are our top 10 tests of the year. In order to make the list, the product review had to be a comparative test of multiple products in a single category and it had to break new ground or deliver fresh insight into an important product area.
Here's the list:
1. WAN OPTIMIZATION JOEL SNYDER
We invited every major network optimization vendor, and ended up with seven contenders: Blue Coat, Cisco, Citrix, Exinda, Ipanema, Riverbed and Silver Peak.
Our Clear Choice Test winner is Riverbed, which excels at the core WAN optimization functions of compression and de-duplication. If you're looking for innovation, you'll be as impressed, as we were, with Ipanema Technologies ip|engines and Exinda Networks x800-series.
For great performance, we were again impressed with Silver Peak. And if you're running all Cisco at the network edge, Cisco's WAAS is a no-brainer with big benefits at moderate cost.
2. MOBILE DEVICE MANAGEMENT DAVID STROM
We looked at six products: AirWatch, Apperian EASE, BlackBerry Enterprise Server 10 (BES10), Divide, Fixmo, and Good Technology's Good for Enterprise. Each has a somewhat different perspective and different strengths in terms of what it can control best.
AirWatch had the widest phone/tablet/desktop support. But it also requires a collection of different downloaded apps that could be confusing to use. If you're going the secure container route, Fixmo is a strong contender.
BlackBerry should be on your short list if your primary goal is protecting your messaging infrastructure. Good Technology is a mature product that features solid email security, fast device enrollment, extensive security policies and wide device support.
Divide had the most appealing management console and overall simplest setup routine. It features the best overall approach to MDM and is the easiest to operate, but has the most limited device OS version support. Apperian does a great job with setting up a protected app portal, but falls down on some basic MDM issues.
3. MIDRANGE MANAGEMENT TOOLS BARRY NANCE
If your network has between 1,000 and 10,000 devices and computers, you have a midsized network. Your servers, connections and other resources suffer the same problems as larger networks, but your budget for keeping the network healthy is less than what large enterprises enjoy.
We tested six products that provide a management suite for mid-range networks: Paessler PRTG v12.4, Heroix Longitude v8.1, HP Intelligent Management Center (IMC) Standard and Enterprise v5.2, Ipswitch WhatsUp Gold (WUG) v16, SolarWinds Orion Network Performance Monitor (NPM) v10.4 and Server & Application Monitor (SAM) v5.2 and Argent Software Advanced Technology (AT) v3.1, including Argent Commander 2.0 and Argent Reports 2.0.Argent Advanced Technology earns itself the Network World Clear Choice award, edging Heroix Longitude, which came in second. Advanced Technology gave us sophisticated thresholds, a responsive user interface, accurate device discovery, time-saving root cause analysis, helpful corrective actions and meaningful reports.
Click here to see the full test report.
4. HOSTED VDI TOM HENDERSON
We compared hosted virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) products from Microsoft, Citrix, and VMware and came to many conclusions, but the most important one is this: Setting up hosted desktop sessions in a BYOD world is a complex undertaking.
Our Clear Choice Test winner is Citrix's VDI-in-a-Box for its ease of integration, flexibility of both hosted operating systems and variety of clients, and its end-user experience.
VMware's Horizon View 5.2 is also very capable and can scale dramatically, but it's more limited in both hosts (Windows) and clients served. Windows 2012 Server is good, yet requires a buy-in to Microsoft's Windows System Center Configuration Manager, and has less client flexibility.
5. PERSONAL CLOUDS WAYNE RASH
A personal cloud service lets you share photos, music and documents among all your devices easily and quickly.The good news is that these cloud services are normally free for a limited amount of data. Most vendors also offer premium or enterprise versions, which allow you to store more data and to share data, which is useful in a workgroup scenario, for example.
We looked at nine personal cloud services: Apple's iCloud, Bitcasa, Box, Dropbox, Google Drive, Microsoft SkyDrive, MediaFire, SpiderOak and Ubuntu One. While iCloud, SkyDrive and Google Drive are optimized for their respective platforms, all of the cloud services work across multiple operating systems and different browser types.
There was no single cloud service that we considered a winner. All worked as advertised, all had their strengths, as well as peculiarities or annoyances.
6. LINUX-BASED SERVER OPERATING SYSTEMS SUSAN PERSCHKE
The five products we tested -- SUSE Enterprise Server 11 Service Pack 2, Mandriva Business Server 1.0, ClearOS 6 Professional, Red Hat Enterprise Linux 6.4 and Ubuntu 12.04 LTS -- are all enterprise server versions offering commercial support options, either at the OS level or in the form of commercial management tools and support plans.
Our Clear Choice Test winner is Ubuntu, which delivered intuitive, uncluttered management tools, excellent hypervisor support, and transparency (commercial and open source versions are one and the same).
The remaining four contenders fell into two categories with Red Hat and SUSE representing enterprise-level offerings and Mandriva and ClearOS geared more towards small and midsize businesses. In the SMB segment ClearOS edged out Mandriva.
7. TWO-FACTOR AUTHENTICATION DAVID STROM
Relying on a simple user ID and password combination is fraught with peril. One alternative is to use one of the single sign-on solutions we reviewed last year, but there are less expensive options that could also be easier to install.
That's where two-factor authentication services come into play. Years ago, vendors came out with hardware-based two-factor authentication: combining a password with a token that generates a one-time code. But toting around tokens means that they can get taken, and in a large enterprise, hard tokens are a pain to manage, provision and track.
Enter the soft token, which could mean using a smartphone app, SMS text message, or telephony to provide the extra authentication step. We reviewed eight services that support up to five kinds of soft tokens: Celestix's HOTPin, Microsoft's PhoneFactor, RSA's Authentication Manager, SafeNet Authentication Service, SecureAuth's IdP, Symantec Validation and ID Protection Service (VIP), TextPower's TextKey, and Vasco's Identikey Authentication Server.
8. ULTRABOOKS WAYNE RASH
We tested eight ultrabooks, all with touchscreens and all running Windows 8 Professional. They are: the astonishingly thin Acer Aspire S7 and Asus Zenbook UX31A, the flip-screen Dell XPS 12, HP's Envy 400t-12, Lenovo's business oriented ThinkPad Carbon X1 and the flexible Yoga 13, the Samsung ATIV Tab 7 that transforms into a tablet, and the Sony Vaio T-15.
Our favorite, because it was the easiest to type on and the easiest to use overall was the Lenovo ThinkPad Carbon X1. This ultrabook has three ways to control the pointer, had the best keyboard by far, yet it was still thin and light.
If you need your ultrabook to convert to a tablet, then you might like the Samsung ATIV Tab 7, or the Yoga or Dell, which fold or flip to become tablets. Acer and Asus win points for being sexy, thin and stylish, so if you want to impress in the conference room, these might be for you.
9. SOFTWARE-BASED NAS ERIC GEIER
Earlier this year we tested Network Attached Storage (NAS) appliances. Now we're reviewing software-based NAS that you can load onto your own equipment -- whether it's a PC, server, virtual machine, or in the cloud. We looked at FreeNAS, Openfiler, Open-E DSS, NexentaStor, and SoftNAS. All offer some sort of free solution or service, with some being fully open sourced.
Going with a software solution enables you to select and customize the hardware it runs on to best fit your particular application and environment. For a small and simple network you could load the software on a spare consumer-level PC, or for bigger networks purchase a server or run on a virtual machine.
On the other hand, going with an appliance may be better if you aren't comfortable selecting the hardware, installing the software, and then maintaining both. Appliances are generally more plug-and-play, whereas with software solutions you have to spend some time building your own appliance.
10. OPEN SOURCE MANAGEMENT TOOLS SUSAN PERSCHKE
We reviewed four popular open source products - Nagios Core 3.5, NetXMS 1.2.7, OpenNMS 1.10.9 and Zenoss Core 4.2. All four products are mature, have extensive monitoring capabilities similar to their enterprise-grade counterparts, and are currently updated with good community support.
Zenoss is our top pick due primarily to its intuitive and professional-grade admin interface. Also we were able to configure our environment and run reports easily, and when help was needed, we found the user guide to be an excellent resource, a rare find in the open source world.
Nagios is a good choice if a smaller footprint is desired and the infrastructure is limited in number of devices. Although NetXMS has a somewhat cluttered user interface, it boasts a rich toolset that provides a lot of granularity for infrastructure management and gets a plus for attention to mobile. OpenNMS is another powerful net management tool capable of running on most platforms and with the ability to manage a lot of data.
Read more about data center in Network World's Data Center section.