In-Depth

Best of the Best

2005 Redmond Magazine Readers' Choice Survey: Find out how your favorite tool fared as nearly 2,200 readers pick their favorites in more than 40 product categories.

It's your job to keep your organization's systems running reliably, efficiently and as inexpensively as possible. That's always been a tall order, but these days you're also faced with increasingly stringent requirements for regulatory compliance and accountability as the lines between technological, business, political and legal issues continue to blur.

You, the IT professional, have to help your company maintain accurate and accessible financial and transaction records, preserve and secure your customer or patient records and defend your network against a global scourge of determined hackers, pernicious worms, the virus of the week and a veritable tsunami of spam.

You're faced with a relentless array of choices in terms of which software to buy to get the job done. To determine which products are your trusted partners, we asked you to vote for your favorites in more than 40 categories. As with the 2004 presidential election, turnout for this year's reader survey was monumental. Nearly 2,200 of you responded to this year's survey. That's more than twice as many respondents as last year (when you knew the publication as Microsoft Certified Professional Magazine).

The big winner this year was Symantec's Ghost, which garnered 1,285 votes—more than any other product. Ghost took the drive imaging category with 59.5 percent of the vote—a landslide victory. Results in several other categories were the polar opposite of a landslide. For best application management product, NetIQ's 405 votes nudged out Installshield's 402. Application sharing was even closer, with Microsoft Terminal Services edging out Citrix Metaframe by only two votes. For favorite network monitor, Microsoft Operations Manager 2000 squeaked past Cisco Systems' Syslog Analyzer by a single vote—so don't ever think your vote doesn't count.

Symantec's Ghost earned more votes—1,285—than any other product in our survey.
Symantec's Ghost

Now without further ado, here's a look at what you have chosen as your preferred utilities and the tools you rely on most often.

How You Manage to Manage
Network and systems management are the bread and butter of your professional responsibilities. We divided this broad category into several sub-categories of products that help you keep the trains running on time and on the right tracks. You sent us your recommendations for best network management, application management, performance management, network monitoring, bandwidth monitoring and Web usage monitoring products.

For basic, critical tasks like keeping a lid on network operations, you clearly prefer products that are stable, have a lengthy track record and a trusted vendor lineage. Ciscoworks LAN Management Solution and HP's Openview dominated network management—garnering 23.9 and 20.1 percent of the vote, respectively—with SolarWinds trailing behind the big guns. William O'Reilly, IT manager for the Seattle Prostate Institute, appreciates HP Openview's proactive alert nature. "You can set traffic thresholds, and it will send trigger alerts to your pager, e-mail or cell."

Eric Foulds, network administrator for mapmaker Cadastra, says he relies on a pair of low-tech but highly reliable "products" to keep watch over his network: "My head and hands."

Application management was primarily a two-horse race between NetIQ's AppManager Suite and Installshield's Adminstudio, with NetIQ nudging InstallShield out of the top spot by one-tenth of a percent.

The big guns also dominate performance management. HP staked out a clear lead with 21.7 percent of the votes, with IBM and CA holding close at a respectable distance. Many of you also use Microsoft Operations Manager (MOM) for performance monitoring or the default monitoring tools that come standard with Windows.

Network and Systems Management
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For general network monitoring, trusted, established names again dominate the results. MOM 2000 and Cisco Systems Syslog Analyzer are the clear choices with 11 and 10.9 percent, respectively, while HP Openview earned 9.8 percent of the votes. "We are working on a pilot for MOM 2005 right now," says Chris Leonard, IT manager with the University of Iowa. "We like the way MOM integrates with a number of different Windows server products, and are anxious to test its configurability and extensibility."

In these days of regulatory compliance and corporate accountability, knowing what your employees are doing with the Web while at work has become increasingly important. SurfControl WebFilter leads the pack by a wide margin for Web monitoring, with 32.5 percent of the vote. Websense Enterprise was a strong second, still a ways off from the leader but well ahead of any other contenders. Interestingly enough, many readers indicated that their organization doesn't monitor its employees' Web usage.

Network and Systems Management
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When it comes to bandwidth and traffic monitoring, Argent Software's The Argent Guardian, Lightspeed Systems' Total Traffic Control and Network Instruments Observer were in a virtual three-way dead heat, each garnering slightly more than 15 percent of the votes.

Tracking what you have connected to your network and how you're using it is critical in these days of doing more with less. Think Altiris when you think asset management. Altiris Asset Management Suite and Altiris Inventory Solution capped the top two spots. NetCracker Technology Network Inventory Manager came in at a not-too-distant third.

While there were some other solid contenders, Microsoft's Systems Management Server was way out in front for license management. Altiris Compliance Suite had a strong showing as well.

Despite the controversies surrounding Microsoft's Internet Explorer and its security vulnerabilities, when asked about a favorite non-Microsoft browser, one of you responded, "Other browsers exist?" IT consultant Paul Williams said, "None. Microsoft Internet Explorer is the only one you need." Jeff Wegher, a software engineer with Sybase, acknowledged IE's security loopholes, but held fast in his dedication to Redmond's browser, saying, "Microsoft IE is the best, security issues aside." Among those dyed-in-the-wool IE fans, Firefox emerged as the best non-Redmond browser with 41.6 percent of the vote.

Get It Out There
A large part of your job most likely involves installing and deploying software—from office productivity applications to all sorts of specialized utilities. It's pretty easy to do manually for a handful of machines, but if you're staring down a network with upwards of 1,000 seats, you need help—technological help.

The software distribution, software packaging and drive imaging categories give us a glimpse into the products you use to get the software your organization needs out into the hands of your users. Microsoft is out in front when it comes to software distribution. You chose Microsoft Systems Management Server by a margin of about 40 percent over contenders like IBM's Tivoli NetView Distribution Manager and CA's Unicenter TNG.

Survey Methodology

The results of this year's Redmond Readers' Choice Survey truly speak with the voice of our audience. We sent the survey to readers who also subscribe to one or more of our e-newsletters—the theory being that these are the most involved members of the Redmond audience. We received 2,162 valid, completed surveys within the two-week window allotted.

A team of editors and Web experts scoured the results from several angles to look for patterns that would indicate an untoward outside influence or ballot box stuffing. Any suspect survey forms were thrown out. Only after we were satisfied that the list was clean did we determine the winners and preferred products, which are generally the second and third place products in each category. We made exceptions where only two products garnered a significant number of votes and where the third and fourth place products were tied.

—Lafe Low

InstallShield's AdminStudio is the clear winner for software packaging (see "Get It Right the First Time," Redmond, November 2004), although the other honorees garnered a decent amount of support as well. Wise Solutions Wise Package Studio and OnDemand Software's WinInstall both have considerable groups of fans.

While Symantec's Ghost emerged as the clear winner in the drive imaging category, other products that made a decent showing include Acronis TrueImage and PowerQuest's Drive Image Pro (although that company has been acquired by Symantec, so it's now related to Ghost).

Administration

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Begin the Admin
Administration is another bread and butter category. You are all, to one degree or another, directly involved in automation, migration projects, managing your company's Group Policy procedures, troubleshooting, and myriad other tasks that go along with keeping things running smoothly. The products that help you do this are your trusted partners.

Migration
Quest Software Aelita Enterprise Migration Manager was the strong winner among migration tools. Altiris has the next few spots sewn up with Altiris Client Management Suite, Altiris Deployment Solution and Altiris PC Tranplant Pro all earning your votes.

Server Migration
Your loyalties remain relatively unchanged when it comes to server migration. Quest Migration Suite for Active Directory/Exchange emerged as the favorite, with Altiris Deployment Solution, Altiris Client Management Suite and Aelita Enterprise Directory Manager all hovering close behind.

Group Policy Management
NetIQ rules the roost when it comes to group policy management tools. NetIQ Group Policy Administrator and NetIQ Security Administration Suite took the top two spots, followed by Quest Aelita Enterprise Directory Manager. Microsoft's Group Policy Management Console and Novell ZENWorks each collected a respectable number of write-in votes, 33 and 10, respectively. One reader earnestly asks of the Microsoft GPO Management Console, "I am unclear why you would use anything else." Another appreciates both its price and capability: "It's free and it works."

Disk Defragmentation
Who would have thought there would be such passion in determining one's favorite disk defragmentation tool? There was one clear winner, followed by a strong second and a solid third. Raxco Perfectdisk is the best way to go, according to 32.4 percent of survey respondents. Coming in just behind is Executive Software's Diskeeper with 29.1 percent, with Winternals Defrag Manager further back at 21.3 percent.

Raxco's Perfectdisk
Raxco's Perfectdisk was your favorite disk defragmentation and drive monitoring tool. (Click image to view larger version.)

Remote Troubleshooting
You like lots of different tools when it comes to troubleshooting remote systems. Altiris Carbon Copy, NetSupport Manager and Visualware Desktop Perspective emerged as the top three tools while Symantec's PCAnywhere and Microsoft's Remote Desktop each garnered an appreciable number of write-in votes.

Network Automation
You chose strong first and second place automation tools—ScriptLogic Desktop Authority (20.7 percent of the vote) and HP Openview Operations for Windows (17.6 percent). The rest were all relatively equal, but quite distant from the top tier.

Scripting
You'd expect a product named ScriptLogic to be the best at scripting, and most of you certainly think that's the case. ScriptLogic was way ahead as No. 1 with 40.6 percent of the votes, followed by Sapien PrimalScript and iTripoli KIXScripts for Windows (now called Admin Script Editor), with 8 percent and 6.5 percent, respectively. One confident reader, however, says he relies on his own "human ingenuity."

Microsoft's ISA Server 2004
When it comes to a software-based firewall, Microsoft's ISA Server 2004 is out in front.

Patch Management
Microsoft Software Update Services was a surprisingly strong winner for patch management utility, which indicates many of you prefer multi-purpose utilities rather than point solutions. Nevertheless, Shavlik Technologies HFNetChk Pro also earned a lot of your votes, followed by Altiris and Patchlink.

Application Sharing
In the application sharing category, Microsoft Terminal Services and Citrix Metaframe were as close as George W. Bush and John Kerry last election day. All the other application sharing tools picked up about the same percentage of the vote as Ralph Nader.

Application Conflict Testing
This was an interesting result—one solid winner with two head-to-head runners up. InstallShield's AdminStudio is your choice for application conflict testing, with Wise Solutions Wise Package Studio and OnDemand Software WinInstall next in line, but each with legions of loyal users.

Security

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Security—Today's Holy Grail
In this age of hackers, worms, virus attacks, terrorism and computer crime, security gets people talking and gets the benefit of the most budget dollars. Tell your CEO you need a budget increase to integrate your firewall systems, and you might not get through the door. Tell that same CEO that you need provisions to stamp out security loopholes, and you'll walk out with a check.

"Security is an overarching concern in everything we do," says Kevin Keeney, senior systems administrator for the Missouri Army National Guard. Keeney is tasked with securing remote networks, wherever he finds himself deployed. "A unique thing we do is deploy and mobilize part of our network to remote locations. We might set it up in a corn field and deliver voice, video and data while remaining part of the original network."

The firewall is often the first line of any organization's defense. Hardware- and software-based firewalls each have their supporters. Among the hardware-based systems, Cisco PIX Series Firewall dominates the playing field with 41.2 percent of the votes, but several others emerged with strong showings. Symantec VelociRaptor and SonicWall Pro Internet Security Appliance had 8.6 percent and 7.3 percent, respectively. Juniper Networks' Netscreen enjoyed a respectable showing in the write-in votes, even inspiring one reader to write, "Juniper Netscreen—no contest!"

Veritas Software's Backup Exec won top honors in both the Backup System and Disaster Recovery categories.
Microsoft's ISA Server 2004

You are even more passionate—and more divided—about software-based firewalls. The battle for the top spot was close, with the newly released Microsoft ISA Server 2004 (20 percent of the votes) edging out Check Point Software Technologies Firewall 1 and Symantec's Enterprise Firewall, which gathered 18.5 percent and 16.4 percent, respectively. "Although we are wary of security issues," says the University of Iowa's Leonard, "it seems ISA Server 2004 is better off than most. We like the ease of configuration." One reader finds a combination is the best of both worlds. "We use Microsoft's ISA Server 2004 with DMZ-based Check Point Software."

Zone Alarm Pro experienced a groundswell of support in the software-based firewall category, earning 130 votes or nearly 6 percent. There's something to be said for an easy-to-deploy, software-based firewall that doesn't break the bank (it sells for $49.95).

Training and Certification

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Most of you receive an incredible volume of spam, so cutting it down is a huge priority. When it comes to secure messaging products, Microsoft Exchange Server 2003 takes a huge lead. Following that with strong, relatively even showings are SurfControl E-Mail Filter, Trend Micro's Spam Prevention Service and GFI Software GFI MailEssentials.

There was little surprise in your favorite anti-virus utility. Symantec Anti-Virus is the big winner here. Also doing quite well in the votes was McAfee Group Shield and Trend Micro's security suite.

Choices, Choices
You have an incredible number of choices when it comes to the tools you use to get your job done. While price is always an issue, it's rarely at the top of the priority list. "Good products are worth any price," says Bill Oldham, an IT manager with the Environmental Protection Agency.

The accessibility and quality of support and the vendor's reputation and track record are high on all of your priority lists. "Support is the No. 1 factor I consider," says the Missouri Army National Guard's Keeney. "If I can talk to someone who is an expert, we can always get things fixed." Word of mouth also plays a big part in Keeney's IT purchasing decisions. "I pay close attention to what my peers are saying about a product or its company."

Storage and Backup

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The longevity, stability and reputation of the vendor looms large as well. For fundamental, platform and server related functions, Microsoft continues to dominate. Love 'em or hate 'em, you trust their products. "If Microsoft developed it, it's good enough for me," says Oldham. "No matter what Microsoft's competition has to say, they bring very good products to market. My preference is that … we'd be a purely Microsoft environment."

Carlos Gomez, IT manager with Miami Dade College, considers his prospective product purchases with an eye to the future. "The most important aspect is meeting business requirements," he says, "while knowing that it can scale out to meet future demands."

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