Third-Party Windows All-Stars: Redmond's 2012 Editors' Choice Awards
Redmond magazine presents the first Third-Party All-Star Awards. In this special report, we pay tribute to the companies that innovate, take the risks, and invent the solutions that make it easier to deploy and manage core Microsoft technologies. We showcase 21 companies chosen for this honor (listed in alphabetical order, except for Platform Vendor of the Year), which is based on overall technology, business success, product portfolio and contribution to the Microsoft ecosystem, rather than any single product.
VMware: Platform Vendor of the Year
Choosing VMware Inc. as the Third-Party All-Star Platform Vendor of the Year was tough. System infrastructure providers have made huge leaps in their efforts to redefine the datacenter. But VMware, responsible for putting commodity server virtualization on the map, provides the infrastructure for 80 percent of x86-class virtual systems, according to Gartner Inc. And VMware continues to play a key role in setting the agenda for the datacenter and cloud computing.
If you're wondering why a fierce Microsoft rival such as VMware is a Third-Party All-Star -- much less Platform Vendor of the Year -- keep in mind the two companies are also partners. VMware is a member of the Microsoft Server Virtualization Validation Program. (Granted, the partnership is out of deference to customers who run their Microsoft systems and applications on VMware infrastructures.)
VMware, which claims 400,000 customers, delivered the ninth version of its VM infrastructure, vSphere 5.1, which supports larger VMs (64 CPUs and 1TB of vRAM) and improved networking, availability, security and automation. The new VM infrastructure is a key component to the new vCloud Suite 5.1, its first-ever bundle, which includes vCloud Director 5.1, software that creates virtual datacenters enabling vSphere clusters of up to 30,000 VMs; vCloud Networking and Security 5.1, a collection of software-defined networking (SDN) features that allows the provisioning of virtual networks; and vCenter Site Recovery 5.1, providing improved data protection of apps running on the new SDN features.
The company is clearly betting big that virtualizing the entire network fabric is the next logical step in automating the datacenter. VMware has invested $1.26 billion to acquire SDN pioneer Nicira Inc.
New CEO Pat Gelsinger gave his vision for the software- defined datacenter in his keynote address at the company's annual VMworld conference back in August. "All infrastructure is virtualized and delivered as a service," Gelsinger said. "All that infrastructure is delivered as a service and the automation is entirely done by software."
APC Keeps Windows Servers Up and Cool
Virtualization and cloud computing have changed the way servers are deployed in datacenters. After all, by running apps and systems on distributed VMs rather than on physical machines, organizations are using fewer servers these days.
As a result, many datacenter managers are reconfiguring their datacenters to ensure power and cooling are aligned with the placement of consolidated computing hardware. APC, acquired by Schneider Electric in 2007, is a leading supplier of uninterruptible power supplies (UPSes) and cooling systems for datacenters, and has wisely focused on this trend.
For example, through its parent company, Schneider, APC will offer datacenter assessments, review floor plans and come up with recommendations for putting in UPSes and specialized air conditioning systems that apply what it calls "in-row" cooling. When a specific server gets too hot, the cooling system targets that system rather than the entire datacenter.
Organizations that apply these in-row cooling systems can reduce their power costs by 30 percent, says Gordon Lord, director of APC partner programs. "You're not seeing as many people build out new datacenters, but people are getting more productive and more efficient," Lord says.
That's especially the case for infrastructures running Microsoft Windows Server managed by System Center. IT pros can use System Center to access APC StruxureWare, sophisticated software that monitors all aspects of a datacenter's environmental conditions that could impact its physical security, power and temperature. That tight integration allows administrators to ensure power and cooling systems are aligned with the virtual infrastructure.
BDNA Looks to Normalize Data for IT Pros
BDNA Corp. is hoping its recently released Technopedia Community Edition hardware and software catalog will be to IT pros what Apple iTunes is to those who use iPods and iPhones.
Released in June, BDNA Technopedia Community Edition is a catalog of 450,000 hardware and software products from more than 11,000 vendors that covers the gamut of service management and enterprise architecture. BDNA says Technopedia Community Edition hosts 19 million various market data points such as end-of-life support dates, license data, power specifications and various other support information.
Enterprise customers who want real-time updates can subscribe to the paid versions. BDNA says it releases 1,000 daily updates. Moreover, BDNA recently released Technopedia Normalize, which allows IT pros to apply a common and accurate nomenclature for all products that might be in an organization's repositories, such as Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager.
BDNA CEO Constantin Delivanis gives the example of Windows 7, noting companies may have it catalogued as Win7, MS Windows 7 or MS7. Technopedia Normalize applies the correct name -- for instance, Microsoft Windows 7 -- within the various silos. "What Normalize does is very simple. It [examines and repairs] the DLLs and you give it the right name, Microsoft Windows 7," Delivanis says.
Delivanis would like to see Technopedia Community Edition become the de facto industry standard. "We want to create the standard nomenclature in the industry," he says.
BeyondTrust Looks Beyond Privilege Management
BeyondTrust Software Inc. started off 25 years ago as a company called Symark, which provided software for Digital Equipment Corp. VAX/VMS environments. Windows users may recognize the more-recent acquisition of a company called AutoProf, which changed its name to Desktop Standard. BeyondTrust acquired a chunk of that outfit in 2009 -- the Windows chunk -- the same year it changed its name from Symark to BeyondTrust.
Now BeyondTrust calls itself "the global leader in securing the perimeter within to mitigate internal threat and the misuse of privileges." Most of its business revolves around privilege management, with the company claiming that most large companies today use BeyondTrust software.
There's more to BeyondTrust than privilege management. "The thing we're most proud of at BeyondTrust is the work we've done -- and continue to do -- on bringing technologies from multiple security disciplines together into one cohesive platform to solve complex security challenges in a way that a single good feature or element simply cannot," says Marc Maiffret, BeyondTrust CTO.
Centrify Brings Mobile Devices to Active Directory
Centrify Corp. loves Active Directory and Windows as a base to manage heterogeneous machines. And, most recently, it has embraced cloud and mobile devices.
The core of the Centrify business is using Active Directory to manage Linux, Unix and Mac computers. "Our technology spans from mobile devices to mainframes and from on-premises to the cloud, and we span more than 400-plus different operating systems," says co-founder and CEO Tom Kemp.
The Centrify product line handles authentication, role-based authorization, compliance reporting and tracking, data encryption, and system isolation. Centrify has recently begun supporting smartphones and tablets via its cloud-based DirectControl for Mobile. This cloud service can manage, secure and enroll mobile devices without them being attached to the enterprise network. It extends Active Directory to mobile devices, letting IT join them to an Active Directory domain, apply Group Policies, support Active Directory-based mobile authentication and more, according to Kemp.
Centrify has plenty in the works, including "more neat stuff in the mobile and cloud/SaaS [Software as a Service] space," Kemp says. "We've doubled the size of our engineering organization in the last two years, and have been working on some products for more than two years that are about to be released."
Citrix Plays a Key Role in Virtualization
When it comes to the history of virtualization, Citrix Systems Inc. tends to get short shrift. True aficionados know that IBM Corp. pioneered virtualization on its System/360 Model 67 mainframe. However, since VMware launched in the late 1990s, VMware has often been credited with inventing x86-style server and PC virtualization.
But back in 1989, Citrix was already serving desktop applications to dumb clients and PCs. This was based on the IBM OS/2 OS, and marks the year that Citrix and Microsoft began a long-term relationship that's still in force today.
What began as a simple technology -- Independent Computing Architecture, used in products such as WinFrame and later MetaFrame, which delivered access to server-based apps to PC-based clients -- has grown into a full and complete system addressing all aspects of virtual client computing.
Along the way Citrix acquired XenSource, and now maintains a hypervisor critical for Linux and Unix shops in the form of XenServer.
Much of the product set now rolls up into the Citrix Delivery Center, with which the company aims to simplify IT infrastructure through virtualization. Fully implemented, your shop can have one copy of Windows, one copy of the application, one password for each individual, one instance of the data and one image of the workload.
With New Name, Condusiv Broadens Scope
Founded in 1981, Condusiv Technologies Corp. is now more than 30 years old, having started in the old VAX/VMS market. But in some ways the company is still a baby. That's because it reinvented itself in September of last year, changing its name from Diskeeper to Condusiv.
That's when Jerry Baldwin took over as CEO and did a top-to-bottom reshape. In Baldwin's mind, a great company had done things the same way for too long. Instead of focusing 100 percent on one product, Diskeeper, Baldwin widened the company's mission to include hardware longevity and operational efficiency.
With a broader product line, which product is Baldwin most proud of? While he takes pride in all of them, Baldwin gives a nod to the recently released Diskeeper 12. "Diskeeper remains our flagship product," he says. "Diskeeper 12 features a new, fresh, easy-to-use UI redesign that's getting strong customer reviews. Today, Diskeeper remains the primary solution to I/O bottlenecks, and optimizing and maintaining application operation efficiency and equipment longevity throughout the entire IT ecosystem."
Looking ahead, Condusiv aims to expand its optimization story to new areas. "We're myopically focused on optimizing performance," Baldwin says.
Next Step for GFI: The Cloud
Walter Scott, GFI Software president and CEO, is an entrepreneurs' entrepreneur. He was CEO of Imceda, for which Quest paid $61 million.
Later, Scott took Acronis International GmbH from $20 million in revenue to $120 million, where it was when he left. The Maine native later took over GFI, where he engineered the acquisition of Sunbelt Software with its popular Vipre line of security software.
GFI itself, founded in 1992, has two main product lines. The GFI line that existed before the Sunbelt deal still includes networking and security tools such as GFI Network Server Monitor, GFI EndPointSecurity, GFI LanGuard and GFI EventsManager. On the Web and mail security side, there's GFI WebMonitor and GFI MailEssentials (security that includes spam protection). And for archiving, fax and backup there's GFI MailArchiver and GFI FaxMaker.
The Sunbelt line, now under the GFI brand, includes Vipre Antivirus and Vipre Mobile Security. The company also has tools for service providers, OEMs and developers.
The cloud is the next frontier. The company recently debuted GFI Cloud, which includes Vipre for anti-malware and GFI Network Server Monitor Online. This software installs and gets to work in minutes (see this month's product review, "GFI Takes Systems Management to the Cloud as a Service").
Scott has a clear plan for the future, which includes "more and more services on the GFI Cloud platform; consolidation and innovation of our existing on-premises products; the introduction of new technologies and services through internal development; and, where necessary, acquisition."
Kemp's New Load-Balancing Act
Kemp Technologies Inc. has prospered by offering its load-balancing appliances to Microsoft Exchange shops. Kemp is now looking to expand the use of its load-balancing software -- also known as app delivery controllers, or ADCs -- to other key components in the Microsoft stack, as well as expand into infrastructure from Oracle Corp. and VMware.
"We're working on a number of initiatives," says executive vice president and co-founder Peter Melerud. The push to expand is the result of a $16 million investment in the company led by Edison Ventures, joined by Kennet Partners and ORIX Venture Finance. The investment will help Kemp, based in Yaphank, N.Y., compete with rivals F5 Networks Inc., Cisco Systems Inc. and Citrix, among others.
On the product side, Kemp recently added global traffic management and load balancing to its GEO LoadMaster product, which is optimized for various Microsoft workloads, notably Exchange Server.
LinkTek Takes on Data Migration
When LinkTek Corp. launched its first product a decade ago, it tackled a key pain point for webmasters: broken links. The company's debut product, introduced at the now-defunct InternetWorld show in New York, was called LinkFixer Plus, an app that automatically fixed broken links in HTML files.
The Clearwater, Fla.-based company has come a long way in the past 10 years. While it still offers the software to fix broken Web links, the focus these days is on data migration. As enterprises picked up the pace in rolling out upgrades to Microsoft Office, customers experienced the same issues associated with broken Web links: links in files were broken when users shared them with different versions of the suite.
Later releases took it up a notch, helping organizations ensure the portability of Word and Excel macros across Office versions. Today LinkTek covers a variety of apps including AutoCAD, Adobe Acrobat, PageMaker and InDesign.
Driving demand these days is the call for moving all these document types into Microsoft SharePoint or other document-management systems, says Ed Clark, LinkTek president and COO. The other key driver is companies virtualizing their server environments, Clark says.
"When they first make the move, it's very normal for there to be a lot of broken links," Clark says. "Virtualization is just another way that companies will have broken links that we can help them fix, even hundreds or thousands at a time."
The company just rolled out a new version of its suite, now called LinkFixer Advanced.
LogMeIn Eyes Extended Cloud Footprint
Two years after releasing its join.me screen-sharing and collaboration tool, join.me has become the fastest-growing product for LogMeIn Inc.
More than 50 million people use join.me, but most of them use the free version. That's fine by LogMeIn CEO Michael Simon, who says those who use the premium service offset the cost of offering the free version.
LogMeIn, which has roots as a remote PC access service, is now a full-fledged cloud SaaS provider. In addition to screen sharing and conferencing, LogMeIn offers SaaS-based data protection and security, and it's jumping into the file storage service with the launch of Cubby, currently in beta.
Simon is confident that the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) trend will propel demand for his company's services. Though he and all LogMeIn employees use Apple iPads, Simon believes Windows 8 and Windows RT will ultimately extend the use of tablets. "I think there's a tremendous gap in the market when it comes to devices and content creation," Simon says. "Time will tell whether Microsoft has solved it."
Metalogix Rides SharePoint and Cloud Wave
As enterprises look to consolidate their SharePoint stores and utilize the various cloud options for the collaboration platform, Metalogix Software is seeing demand soar. The company is micro-focused on helping organizations manage their Microsoft Exchange and SharePoint environments on-premises and in the cloud. Its tools support the various iterations of SharePoint, including Office 365, and the company stands to benefit from the forthcoming release of SharePoint 2013 and its ability to run instances on Microsoft Windows Azure VM roles.
The company's key business is focused on SharePoint management, migration, storage, archiving and protection. Earlier this year, Metalogix acquired the Syntergy Inc. SharePoint portfolio. The move gave Metalogix a key SharePoint- replication tool, allowing organizations to synchronize their SharePoint content between data farms.
The company has experienced meteoric growth -- 799 percent over the last three years -- landing it on the Inc. 500 annual list of fastest-growing companies. Inc. reported the 11-year-old venture-backed company grew from $2.8 million in revenues in 2008 with just 40 employees to $25.2 million last year and a staff of 135.
Metalogix CEO Steven Murphy says the growth of SharePoint and the numerous emerging options for leveraging the cloud are fueling his company's expansion.
"It's getting to the point where customers are looking for a better way to store, optimize and to generally manage their SharePoint environments to reduce their storage costs and improve the service delivery," Murphy says.
NetApp Boosts the Microsoft Private Cloud Strategy
It's no surprise Microsoft works closely with all of the major storage hardware vendors, but its relationship with NetApp stood out back in June when NetApp was named the Microsoft Private Cloud Partner of the Year. The award wasn't just one of those gratuitous accolades that gave NetApp an excuse to put out a press release. Rather, it underscored the tight integration between Microsoft's 2012 releases of SQL Server, System Center and the recently launched Windows Server with the NetApp Data OnTap storage OS.
Phil Brotherton, vice president, Enterprise Software Ecosystem at NetApp, says the company has placed great emphasis on the integration of Windows Server and System Center with Data OnTap to ensure it's flexible, multi-tenant, and capable of automation and orchestration. The Microsoft award gave NetApp an opportunity to draw attention to the work it has done with Redmond, while also letting it showcase some key private cloud implementations.
Meanwhile, the release this year of SQL Server 2012 and support for Microsoft Server Message Block 2.1 is enabling NetApp to help customers build private clouds, which organizations can use to deploy systems that let them incorporate big data for business intelligence and analytics.Says Brotherton, "Basically it's cranking up performance of the storage tier to support more read-oriented use cases."
NetSupport Jumps on the BYOD Bandwagon
During the economic downturn in 2008, business plateaued for NetSupport Inc. This was unusual for the otherwise-growing company that has sold 12 million licenses of its flagship NetSupport Manager, which is used to manage desktops and notebook PCs. Fortunately, an improved economy and the BYOD movement have NetSupport back on a growth trajectory.
"A lot of our customer base has been asking for mobile support," says Marcus Kingsley, NetSupport CEO. "Up until this point, support for remote devices was something they wanted, but they didn't know how to integrate it and use it. We looked at the limitations mobile devices have and we took a little bit of time to come to market, but now we have something that mirrors as much as it can the Windows version."
For enterprises, NetSupport has a broad range of products, including desktop and device support, security and notification. Now NetSupport plans to ride the mobile wave, thanks to the addition of iOS, Android and Windows 8 support. "BYOD is gaining pace," Kingsley says. "We want to try and add extra functionality within the existing solution set."
NetWrix Micro-Focused on Change Management
NetWrix Corp., now in its sixth year, is almost 100 percent focused on change management and auditing. And in these days of more and more compliance requirements -- not to mention the constant need for security -- tracking changes to your environment is more critical than ever.
The NetWrix line has a Windows leaning, but goes well beyond Microsoft. It can track changes in Exchange Server, Active Directory and Group Policy, Windows Server, SQL Server and SharePoint. It can also handle network gear such as that from Check Point Software Technologies Inc. and Cisco; storage devices from the likes of EMC and NetApp; and virtual infrastructure such as System Center Virtual Machine Manager and VMware.
For those on a tight budget or just looking to evaluate, nearly all NetWrix tools have free versions, and these don't expire. NetWrix prides itself on close customer relations, an approach that also drives product development.
Quest, We Hardly Knew Ye
Quest Software is arguably one of Microsoft's most important software partners. Many IT pros have used its wares for Exchange, Active Directory, data protection, systems management and, more recently, cloud migrations. That alone makes Quest an important member of this list.
But after 15 years as one of the largest third-party tools providers for Microsoft infrastructure, Quest was snapped up by Dell Inc. for $2.4 billion. The deal came after months of uncertainty about whether Quest, which put itself up for sale, would become part of a larger player or be bought out by private equity firms. After a bidding war, Dell came out on top.
Steve Dickson, senior vice president for the Quest Server Management Group, joined the company 14 years ago when it was still in startup mode. In an interview a day before the deal closed, Dickson said he was looking forward to joining Dell. "I think it's going to be a great next step for Quest Software," Dickson said. "It's especially good for the Windows ecosystem. We're already a top partner for Microsoft, as is Dell. I think we'll get a chance to leverage that three-way partnership between Dell, Microsoft and Quest."
SolarWinds Branches Out
SolarWinds is best known for its network management software used by enterprises of all sizes, but a spate of acquisitions and new products has given the company a broader portfolio and scope. The company now offers a range of solutions aimed at extending its footprint in the enterprise to include security, mobile management, help desk, patch management, and systems and applications management, explains Sanjay Castelino, SolarWinds VP and market leader.
Business remains strong for SolarWinds, which continues to see solid sales growth. For its second fiscal quarter, revenues increased some 40 percent year-over-year to $61.5 million, while non-Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) earnings increased 50 percent. The company also ranked 76 on Fortune's annual Fastest-Growing Companies list this year. The SolarWinds stock price has more than doubled during the last 12 months.
SolarWinds services a wide swath of midsize and large enterprises that have anywhere from 50 devices to 100,000 network elements, Castelino says. The company has 75,000 paying customers and many more that use its free tools. "We serve everyone from the small end to the mid-market all the way up to the enterprise and federal government. It's a pretty broad footprint," Castelino says.
Data Protection Is Common Denominator for Diverse Symantec Portfolio
With $6.7 billion in sales for its 2012 fiscal year ended March 30, Symantec Corp. is clearly the biggest of our Third-Party All-Stars. Symantec is in many ways the sum of its acquisitions. And some retain their brand identity, something the company pledged to do when it bought Peter Norton Computing way back in 1990. Altiris, Brightmail, Clearwell, Veritas, PC Tools and VeriSign are just a few of the outfits Symantec has bought. Altiris, Brightmail, Clearwell and Veritas still exist to some extent as independent brands.
So what is this amalgam of acquisitions now all about? Well, a quick count of Symantec products reveals some 144 products in 19 families. The company is focused on certain themes. Peter Norton drives consumer security and utilities, and the overall consumer side is about one-third of company revenues.
UltraBac Maintains Focus on Data Recovery
UltraBac Software is the creation and vision of Morgan Edwards, who in 1982 launched BEI Corp. to make utility software for minis (BEI today remains the parent company of UltraBac). A bit more than 10 years in, the company saw an opportunity with Windows NT and wrote UltraBac Backup and Disaster Recovery Software for Windows NT/2000, and thus UltraBac the company was also born.
UltraBac pioneered several new technologies -- including image-based Windows backup and disaster recovery with bare-metal restore -- and later provided physical-to-virtual, virtual-to-virtual and virtual-to-physical server migrations. Its latest offering is a virtual disk utility that can simultaneously perform image backups and create or update Microsoft or VMware VM files.
So what's next? Edwards says the company will soon release a product called UltraBac Warp, a new backup and disaster recovery technology that provides block-based Continuous Image Protection. Unlike commonly used Continuous Data Protection, UltraBac Warp protects entire partitions by continuously backing up changed blocks on disk as they occur, Edwards says.
Veeam Adds Management and Protection to Virtualization
In 2006 the industry was abound with virtualization startups. Veeam Software was one in the pack, but soon came to represent pure guts and ambition. Six years later, many of those initial startups have been sold or quietly gone out of business. Veeam still stands tall.
Much of that credit goes to serial entrepreneur Ratmir Timashev. Some 14 years ago, Timashev founded Aelita Software, and sold it to Quest Software for $115 million. After his non-compete expired, Ratmir started Veeam along with longtime business partner Andrei Baronov, a classmate and roommate from the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology. Their idea was to build virtual backup and storage tools from scratch rather than retrofitting existing tools aimed at purely physical gear.
So what's so special about Veeam? "Veeam gets virtualization," Timashev says. "From day one, we've built modern data protection and management software that's not only built specifically for virtual environments, but that also takes full advantage of virtualization's potential to provide functionality that just isn't feasible within a physical environment."
To give customers a taste of its wares, Veeam offers freebies. "We give away free versions of all of our products, and they're not just demos," Timashev says. "They're powerful tools in their own right."
Vision Solutions Emphasizes HA
Two years ago, enterprise player Vision Solutions acquired Double-Take, a provider of data protection software for Windows environments. Double-Take products were typically used by small and midsize businesses (SMBs), so the acquisition helped the company move up the food chain into large enterprises, while continuing to offer data protection for SMBs as well.
Vision Solutions is a longtime supplier of data-protection software for IBM Power and iSeries (aka AS/400) environments. At the same time, Vision Solutions was a reseller of the Double-Take namesake software, which provided data protection for the Windows servers running in those same IBM shops, explains CTO Alan Arnold.
"When we acquired them it was very easy to set that roadmap forward and get focused on where we knew the market was headed," Arnold says.
Since the merger, Vision Solutions has accelerated the release cycles of Double-Take software. At the Microsoft TechEd North America conference in Orlando, Fla., in June, Vision Solutions launched Double-Take 6.0 -- which, as Arnold points out, has more than a dozen key new features and is better-suited for environments that require high availability, or HA.