In-Depth

The Best of the Best: Redmond's 2006 Readers' Choice Awards

Find out how your favorite tools fared in more than 40 categories.

Every day, you deal with spyware, hackers, integration issues, patch management, regulatory compliance and passwords. You're monitoring Web access, monitoring performance and all the while monitoring your budget. The stakes are high and mistakes are costly, both in terms of dollars and job security. Sitting in the IT hot seat these days is a delicate balancing act: You're part techie, part diplomat, part detective, part business manager and part magician.

You need to have absolute trust in the tools you're using. You're the one on the front lines, so we turn to you to help us determine the best of the best in dozens of product categories. What are the tools you use every day to keep your networks running smoothly? What is helping you keep hackers, spammers and spyware at bay? How do you keep an eye on all your systems to make sure there's no trouble? There are a lot of choices, and making the best choice is critical.

Here's a detailed look at how the best of the best stacked up in every category. These are the tools and utilities you use every day to keep your systems running.

Back to Basics
Network management, application management, network monitoring -- these are the basics, the absolutely essential categories. The leaders in these categories read like a Who's Who of the technology industry -- trusted vendors with a long, healthy track record of proven technologies.

For best network management product, Microsoft Systems Management Server and Microsoft Operations Manager took the top two spots with 23.5 percent and 16.7 percent of the votes, respectively. HP Openview was the ISV winner with 13.8 percent of the votes. Close behind HP was Cisco's LAN Management Solution, at 12.5 percent. Solar Winds Network Management Software also fared well, with 6.8 percent of the ballot.

Microsoft also took the best application management product with Microsoft Operations Manager, grabbing 41.7 percent of the vote. The ISV winner and Preferred Product honors are all grouped quite closely. NetIQ's AppManager Suite took ISV winner by tallying 10.5 percent. LANDesk was close behind as a Preferred Product with 10 percent. Novell ZenWorks came in at 9.8 percent.

Performance management was another close race with more familiar names. Microsoft Operation's Manager again took this category, with 36.4 percent of the vote. NetIQ's AppManager Suite also led as ISV winner with 9.2 percent. SolarWinds' Orion Network Performance Monitor was right behind them with 9.1 percent. IBM's Tivoli Monitoring for Transaction Performance garnered 7.5 percent, rounding out the leaders.

The general network monitoring tool category was huge, with more than 20 individual products earning your votes. Microsoft Operations Manager -- the Swiss Army knife of software -- again took top honors, but by a smaller margin than the previous two categories, with 20.7 percent of the votes.

Network and Systems Management (Click image to view larger version.)

One reader likes what Microsoft Operations Manager (MOM) can do, but recognizes that it's not an out-of-the-box answer. "MOM is truly an awesome solution if you have the time to set it up and customize it to your needs," he says.

The other winners for general network monitoring are familiar names -- Cisco Systems' Syslog Analyzer with 12.9 percent, HP OpenView Operations for Windows with 12.7 percent and IBM Tivoli NetView with 5.2 percent. Only one or two percentage points separated the next several products.

As more organizations introduce open source to their networks, whether running server farms or Web services or on the desktop, they need to help those systems play well with Windows. The MKS Toolkit for Developers is an interoperability favorite with 49.1 percent of the votes. Centrify DirectControl and Centeris Likewise are gaining strength with 20.1 percent and 16.7 percent of the votes, respectively.

Whether or not you watch your employee's Web usage, you still have to watch bandwidth. The best bandwidth/traffic monitoring product was a very close race, with less than a percentage point separating the leaders. Network Instruments' Observer was the top vote-getter with 22.7 percent, edging out Lightspeed Systems Total Traffic Control at 21.9 percent, and Argent Guardian with 21.3 percent.

Among our readers whose companies monitor employees' surfing habits, two clear choices emerged. Websense Enterprise won best Web usage monitor with 34.9 percent of the votes, while SurfControl Web Filter garnered 30.7 percent. SmartFilter earned a spot on the leaderboard with 6.8 percent.

Compliance and Asset Management
In this era of Sarbanes-Oxley, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and outside auditing, asset management has never been more important. Altiris is the runaway winner in this category. Its Asset Management Suite took the award for best asset management/ resource inventory product with 29.9 percent of the vote. Some singled out Altiris Inventory Solution with 16 percent. Numara's (formerly Intuit) Track-It earned 11.1 percent.

Track-It is gaining traction particularly well in smaller organizations. "We have a department secretary who records everything in Track-It," says one reader from a small state government agency.

Microsoft showed its strength again in the license management category, earning top honors with Microsoft Systems Management Server taking a whopping 61.3 percent of the vote. Altiris was also strong, locking up the next two spots with its Altiris Compliance Suite at 14 percent, and Altiris Server Provisioning Suite at 7.5 percent. iInventory rounded out the leaders with 5.3 percent.

Compliance is another critical category that continues to gain importance. For best compliance tools, 22.4 percent chose the NetIQ Security Compliance Suite (Security Manager and Vulnerability Manager) as the winner. Symantec/Bindview came in next with 17 percent. Shavlik's NetChk Compliance tallied 15.8 percent.

The battle for best virtual server was a clash of two titans -- VMware and Microsoft. VMware's GSX Server won with 47.5 percent of the vote. Microsoft's Virtual Server 2005 came in right behind that with 45.8 percent.

Those same two titans clashed again for best virtual PC product. VMware took a wider lead with its VMware Workstation Edition earning 58.7 percent. Microsoft Connectix Virtual PC for Windows followed with 36.1 percent of the votes.

There was really only one titan rolling over the rest in the battle for best non-Microsoft browser. Firefox dominated with 74.3 percent of the votes, which earned the highest number of votes for a single product. Mozilla tied with Netscape Navigator in second place, with 7.6 percent.

When it comes to SQL tools, you clearly trust the source. Microsoft wins the SQL tool category with 60.7 percent. SQL Power Tools is the ISV winner with 13.7 percent of the votes. Rounding out the leaders is Quest Software's Spotlight on SQL Server with 9.4 percent and Embarcadero Technology's ER Studio with 2.4 percent.

Survey Methodology

The Redmond Readers’ Choice survey truly represents the opinions and attitudes of our readers. The products selected here are the ones that drive their networks and keep their business running. The survey form this year was approximately 30 percent longer than last year’s form. We added new categories and went through the list product by product to ensure that it was as comprehensive and accurate as possible.

This year’s survey was once again pushed out to readers who have signed up to receive one of our numerous e-mail newsletters. And once again, our readers proved to be a responsive and opinionated group (which we deeply appreciate). Even with the significantly longer survey, we still received nearly 2,000 completed surveys at the end of the two-week survey period.

Like it or not, it’s a Microsoft world. Redmond magazine is all about Microsoft technologies, but also the lively vendor community that supports and integrates and improves what comes out of Microsoft. We noticed Microsoft clearly winning many of the heavy duty management categories like network management, network monitoring and application management. After many spirited discussions, we opted to adjust the structure of the winning categories this year.

We established an additional award level for those product categories to recognize the leading independent software vendors who earned the most votes. For example, Microsoft won the network management category and is duly honored as the winner. To recognize the other leading vendors in that category, we established the ISV winner. We did this not so much to level the playing field, but to acknowledge that in some cases, there are really two playing fields.

After all the results were gathered and organized, a team of editors went through the list looking for any suspicious patterns to ensure there were no outside attempts to influence the results. Once we were satisfied that the list was an honest and accurate reflection of our readers’ opinions, we examined the results and listed the winners, ISV winners and preferred products for each category. -- L.L.

Day-to-Day Tools
Your administration tools represent another "have to have" category. These are the tools you use every day to keep the lights on. You gave us your top picks for migration, server migration, Group Policy manager, disk defragmentation and drive monitoring, remote troubleshooting, network automation and batch processing, scripting, patch management, application sharing and application conflict testing tools.

Administration
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Migration
Quest wins with its Enterprise Migration Manager earning 18.2 percent. Altiris took both preferred product spots with its Deployment Solution earning 10.4 percent and its Client Management Suite bringing in 7.4 percent.

Server Migration
Quest also won as the best server migration product with its Migration Suite for Active Directory/Exchange, earning 18.8 percent. As it did in the general migration category, Altiris Deployment Solution came in second and Client Management Suite third, with 15 percent and 7 percent of the votes, respectively.

Group Policy Manager
Microsoft's free Group Policy Management Console dominated the competition with 50.3 percent of the vote. ScriptLogic was the ISV winner with 8.5 percent, and NetIQ rounded out the top three, with its Group Policy Administrator earning 7.5 percent.

Disk Defragmentation and Drive Monitoring
Diskeeper Corp.'s Diskeeper was the clear choice here, with 37.9 percent of voters giving it top marks. Next came Winternals Defrag Manager with 24.4 percent, and Raxco PerfectDisk with 6.2 percent.

Installation and Deployment

Remote Troubleshooting
Altiris Carbon Copy won the blue ribbon, with 15.3 percent of the votes. Close behind were Netopia's Timbuktu with 13.9 percent and NetSupport Manager at 12.8 percent.

Network Automation
You liked ScriptLogic's Desktop Authority best, giving it 31.2 percent of your votes. HP Openview Operations for Windows was next with 24.3 percent, and the MKS Toolkit for Enterprise Developers rounded out the top vote-getters at 10.6 percent.

Scripting
Sapien's PrimalScript won the hearts of scripters, with 26.4 percent of the tally, while iTripoli AdminSciptEditor was close behind at 22.9 percent. XLNow OnScript showed well with 13.9 percent.

Patch Management
You obviously like Microsoft's efforts here, as its Windows Server Update Services massacred the competition with 55.8 percent of the ballot. Shavlik Technologies' HFNetChkPro was the ISV winner with 9.6 percent. Altiris Patch Management Solution came in with 7.3 percent and PatchLink Update was next with 5.7 percent of the votes.

Application Sharing
Another clash of two titans: Citrix Metaframe edged out Microsoft Terminal Services, 49.8 percent to 47.1 percent. No other entries were even close.

Application Conflict Testing
Macrovision's FLEXnet AdminStudio was the big dog here, gobbling up 48 percent of the votes. Also showing well were OnDemand Software's WinInstall, at 20.9 percent and Altiris Package Studio with 17.5 percent.

Building Blocks
Installing and deploying new software is another fundamental category, requiring trusted tools that perform predictably and consistently. Here's what you're using in your arsenal:

Software Distribution
This was another Microsoft-dominated category, with Systems Management Server leaving everyone in its dust with 62.4 percent of the votes. IBM's Tivoli Netview Distribution Manager was the ISV winner with 8.2 percent, while CA UniCenter snatched 5.2 percent.

Software Packaging
Macrovision FLEXnet AdminStudio torched the field with 61.3 percent. The top two runners-up were Altiris Package Studio with 16.9 percent and OnDemand Software's WinInstall with 14.6 percent.

Drive Imaging
Symantec Ghost, last year's single winner for most votes (and this year's close second), handily won its category again with 67.7 percent. Acronis True Image garnered 10.7 percent and Altiris Migration Suite earned 5.9 percent of the ballot.

Security
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Lockdown
Security is another essential aspect of any technology plan. The question these days isn't so much whether or what to deploy, but how much and covering which entry points. Experts agree a mix of technologies is best. Here's a look at what you're using to lock your network down:

Firewall -- Hardware-based
Cisco Systems PIX series, as it has for years, is the hands-down winner, tallying 55.1 percent of the vote. Sonicwall Pro and TZ series and Symantec's VelociRaptor won 12.5 percent and 8.8 percent, respectively.

Firewall -- Software-based
In a competitive race, Microsoft ISA Server 2004 finished first with 30.8 percent. Check Point Software Technologies was the ISV winner with its Firewall-1, earning 22.5 percent of the vote. Symantec Enterprise Firewall was the only other significant vote-gatherer, with 18.9 percent.

Security Auditing
GFI LANguard Security Event Log Monitor took top honors in a closely contested category, with 15.9 percent of the vote. Tripwire for Servers took 11.4 percent of the vote and CA eTrust Access Control got 10.8 percent.

Intrusion Detection
The Cisco Secure Intrusion Detection System was the top choice here, with 33.1 percent of the vote. Popular open source contender Snort came in second with a 17.9 percent vote, while Network ICE's BlackICE Pro cracked double-digits with 10.1 percent.

Intrusion Prevention
Cisco continues its run with Okena StormWatch, used by 28.6 percent of respondents. McAfee's Intrushield grabbed 10.1 percent and Internet Security Systems 8.9 percent.

Smart Card/Biometric/Two-factor Authentication
You chose RSA SecureID by a mile over the other contenders, with a 58.6 percent vote. ActivCard Trinity and Griffin Technologies Securikey Professional Edition each snagged 5.3 percent of the vote.

Secure Messaging
Microsoft Exchange Server 2003 was the platform of choice for secure messaging, taking home a 31.1 percent vote. Grabbing 8 percent of the vote, Barracuda Networks' Spam Firewall was the ISV winner, while Symantec/Norton Internet Security 2006 made the top three with 6.6 percent.

Anti-Virus
Symantec AntiVirus dominated here, as the choice of 40.4 percent of readers. McAfee GroupShield was next at 18 percent and Trend Micro's InterScan Enterprise Suite earned 14.6 percent.

Anti-Spyware
McAfee AntiSpyware won this growing category, earning 17.9 percent. Trend Micro Anti-Spyware grabbed 16 percent of the vote, while Webroot came in third with 11.6 percent.

Storage and Backup
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Safekeeping
As disaster recovery and compliance become bigger issues every year, having your data in a safe and secure location is a strategic must. Storage and backup systems may not be the most exciting category, but they're a critical component of any IT infrastructure.

Backup System
Symantec/Veritas wiped out the competition, taking the top two slots. BackupExec dominated with 40 percent, and NetBackup was second, with 13 percent. CA BrightStor brought in 8.2 percent of the votes.

Storage Management
Readers also went with Symantec/ Veritas here, with Storage Central preferred by 24.3 percent. EMC's ControlCenter SRM garnered 19.1 percent and Symantec/Veritas Volume Manager was the choice of 10.7 percent.

Disaster Recovery
The Symantec/Veritas duo continued its stranglehold, with Backup Exec earning 24.6 percent and NetBackup managing 14.4 percent. Winternals Recovery Manager chipped in with 8.5 percent.

Clustering and Failover
Clearly, it's easier to use a Microsoft solution for something as closely tied to the OS as clustering. You chose Microsoft Windows Server Clustering Services by a huge margin, with 60.2 percent of the vote. The ISV winner was Symantec/ Veritas Cluster Server with 16.5 percent. No other products could garner double-digit support.

Load Balancing
The same argument can be made for an operation like load balancing, and the results reflect that similarity. Microsoft Windows Server Network Load Balancing is the most popular with 57 percent of the vote. F5 Networks' 3-DNS Controller took top honors among ISVs, with 11.3 percent. Mercury LoadRunner earned 7.7 percent.

Training and Certification
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Most Reliable Server Platform
Taking the crown again, like last year, was Dell with 41.7 percent. HP finished a close second with 38.2 percent and IBM came in with 14.9 percent.

Know Your Stuff?
Training and preparing for certification is still an essential part of career growth. Here's where you prefer to get help:

Exam Preparation Product or Service
Transcender won by a healthy margin with 33.7 percent. Microsoft Press came in at 21.2 percent, with Cisco Press next at 7.8 percent.

Online, Disk-Based or Instructor-Led Training
Microsoft Press took the top spot with 27.5 percent of the vote. The ISV winner was Global Knowledge, with 14.1 percent. MeasureUp and SkillSoft earned 8.7 percent and 8.1 percent, respectively.

Windows Certification-Based Boot Camp
Global Knowledge overwhelms the others as your choice for intense training, with 48.5 percent of the ballot. Next up was The Training Camp at 16.6 percent and GlobalNet Training, third at 15.1 percent.

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