Star Power: Redmond Readers' Choice Awards 2007

You voted for our annual Best of the Best and the results are in: Find out which products you've chosen as the cream of the crop.

Life certainly is not getting any easier for those of you battling down in the IT trenches. You have to get all the pieces working smoothly together, as well as keep the trains running on time, protect your systems from outside threats and from within your own network, be ready to produce a year's worth of e-mail archives on demand, and do so on a budget that has most likely been cut or -- if you're lucky -- stayed the same since last year.

The Readers' Choice Awards highlight the tools you use to get all that done. Your voice has been fairly consistent from year to year. Many of the same solutions that have won in previous years fill out this year's roster of honorees. In short, it seems like you've found what works and you're sticking with it. That sentiment was frequently echoed with comments like Neal Zimmerman's thoughts on Microsoft Operations Manager: "It's a familiar product with a long history."

Once again, there were many close races between third-party tools in the bread-and-butter categories like network management, application management, performance management and general network monitoring. Microsoft still dominates many of these categories, but it's comforting to see several solid alternatives still remain.

The virtual server and virtual PC categories weren't as close as they've been in previous years. No longer running neck and neck or trading the lead with Microsoft, VMware took both categories by a healthy margin.

The one single product that earned the greatest number of votes this year was Mozilla's Firefox browser. Looks like from here on in Microsoft's Internet Explorer 7 will have its work cut out for it if it plans to continue its domination of the browser wars.

Ghost, which won the largest number of individual votes the last two years, was the second highest vote-earner this year. It's still far and away the favorite tool for disk imaging, though, especially with the release of the Ghost Solution Suite 2.0.

Overall, Symantec is the preferred alternative in most of the security, storage and backup categories. The company won in Drive Imaging, Anti-Virus Tool, Backup, Storage Management and Disaster Recovery. It placed in Compliance Tools, Group Policy Manager, Firewall (both hardware- and software-based), Intrusion Prevention System and Secure Messaging Tool. You can bet Redmond is keeping a careful eye on Cupertino.

So without further ado, let's take a look at the winners of this year's Readers' Choice Awards.

Network and Systems Management
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Management Muscle
Once again, Microsoft's management tools earned sweeping victories in the fundamental management and monitoring categories. The company took top honors in not one, but two categories for Best Network Management Product. Microsoft Systems Management Server collected 16 percent of the votes and Microsoft Operations Manager (known as "MOM," and soon to be renamed System Center Operations Manager) earned 15.4 percent.

Financial dynamics aside, ease of integration is the key issue most often cited for using Microsoft's system management tools. "[MOM] is highly extensible for application, server and network management," says independent consultant Luke Edson.

"MOM 2005 has been a great asset," says Christopher Owens, IT manager at the Southeast Missouri Community Treatment Center. "Being a single IT guy for 22 servers, it's certainly helped me narrow down problems and take care of them before they get bigger. I plan on installing System Center Operations Manager as soon as possible."

As you might expect, many organizations on Software Assurance or some other license arrangement find it most cost-effective to run an all-Microsoft shop. That being the case, we established the ISV Winner award (see "Survey Methodology") to level the playing field as best we can and recognize the most viable alternatives for network monitoring and management.

HP OpenView still has many fans for being a flexible system. OpenView garnered 8.8 percent of the vote to take the ISV Winner award for Best Network Management Product. "It maps all applications to specific hardware and provides a true picture of what is impacted from an incident," says John DelRey of the Bank of New York.

Installation and Deployment

Cliff Brown of Micro Area Networks prefers OpenView for its scalability, relatively small footprint, openness to existing networks and ease of operation. "I was able to navigate OpenView within a few minutes due to its front-end layout," he says. Rounding out the category is Cisco Systems LAN Management Suite, earning 8.1 percent of the votes, and the Altiris Management Suite, taking 7.3 percent.

Microsoft also dominated Best Application Management Product, with MOM taking 26.8 percent of the votes. "It provides solid information. It's a familiar product with a long history," says Neal Zimmerman, an independent trainer who runs NJZ Training Services.

The ISV Winner is LANDesk with 8.5 percent. Stephen Kulyk of UPS Freight appreciates LANDesk's ease of use and bandwidth throttling during deployment. Novell's ZENworks placed with 6.4 percent and ScriptLogic's Desktop Authority MSI Studio finished third, garnering 4.7 percent of the votes.

The Best Performance Management Product is MOM, with 27.2 percent. HP's OpenView also emerged as the ISV Winner in this category with 8.2 percent of the votes. SolarWinds' Orion Network Performance Monitor earned 8.0 percent and NetIQ's AppManager captured 6.8 percent.

Continuing its reign, MOM remains the Best General Network Monitoring Tool, with a 16.8 percent tally. This category's ISV Winner is Cisco Systems, with its Syslog Analyzer earning 8.5 percent of the votes.

"Cisco does networking better than anyone," says Billy Collins of Aaron Nickel Homes. Independent consultant Joe Reddix appreciates Syslog Analyzer's richness of features. Also in this category is HP's OpenView Operations for Windows, gathering 8.1 percent of the vote, with IBM's Tivoli NetView grabbing 5.3 percent.

Come Together
Interoperability continues to be a big issue. Getting Windows to play nice and cohabitate with Linux and Unix isn't always easy, but there are several strong tools that are helping ease that pain.

The MKS Toolkit wins here with a commanding 19 percent of the votes. This one is Cliff Brown's favorite solution. "One word: Unix. Make that four words: architectural support for Windows." Centrify's DirectControl earned 7.9 percent of the votes and Centeris' Likewise was right behind with 7.8 percent.

The race for Best Bandwidth/Traffic Monitoring Product was fairly close. Lightspeed Systems Total Traffic Control won with 14.1 percent of the vote. Network Instruments Observer was a step behind with a 12.2 percent share and Argent Guardian earned 11.7 percent.

Web usage monitoring is another critical, yet contentious, issue. Some companies monitor their employees' browsing habits and some do not. The Best Web Usage Monitor this year is Websense Enterprise with a strong 25.1 percent of the votes. "It's the best engine for discovering Web page content and blocking accordingly," says Benjamin Crill of Core BTS.

SurfControl Web Filter earned 16.7 percent and has a solid core of fans. "It generates accurate and timely reports that can be used for traffic management as well as disciplinary activities related to employee use violations, among others," says independent consultant Chris Apgar.

The full Websense Security Suite also placed in this category with 6.0 percent. Some readers simply question the overall value of Web monitoring. "None of these products are great. They all have issues," says Prescott Small, IT manager at a manufacturing firm. "Websense just has the fewest problems."

Survey Methodology

The Readers' Choice awards are a clear and accurate view of our readers' opinions. We sent this survey out to readers who signed up to receive one of the many e-mail newsletters we produce. As always, our readers let us have it. After examining hundreds upon hundreds of survey forms, we present the results here.

Redmond magazine is indeed the independent voice of the Microsoft community, but we're also focused on the extensive vendor community that expands on what Microsoft already does. Microsoft won many of the fundamental management categories like Network Management and Network Monitoring, so we've established an additional award level for those product categories to recognize the leading independent software vendors. We did this not so much to level the playing field, but to acknowledge that there are two playing fields in some cases. The ISV Winner award recognizes the leading vendors in those categories.

Once the results were in, our editors went through the list looking for any unusual patterns that would indicate stuffing the ballot box. Once we were satisfied that the list was clean, we posted the Winners, ISV Winners and Preferred Products. --L.L.

Watching budget dollars means knowing where every piece of equipment is located. That's easier said than done, especially when dealing with multiple locations and platforms. The Altiris Asset Management Suite is the favored Asset Management/ Resource Inventory Product with 20 percent of the votes. Novell Asset Manager came in with 9.3 percent, and Altiris Inventory Solution earned 6.5 percent of the votes. Readers like how it doesn't bog you down while it's working. "[Inventory Solution] does a good job of taking the inventory without taking too many available resources," says Phil Murphy of BrassCraft-Thomasville.

The Best License Management Product is another Microsoft-dominated category, with Microsoft Systems Management Server gathering a whopping 39.2 percent of the votes. The Altiris Compliance Suite is the ISV winner with 11.4 percent. Altiris Provisioning Suite is next with 4.4 percent, followed by iInventory with 3.9 percent

NetIQ's Security Compliance Suite continues to be the preferred set of compliance tools, an increasingly important part of any company's infrastructure. NetIQ won with 14.5 percent. Symantec's BindView collected 9.9 percent and Shavlik NetChk Compliance took 8.8 percent.

The virtual races have taken an interesting turn. VMware this year edged ahead in what has historically been a neck and neck race with Microsoft. This year's Best Virtual Server Product is VMware GSX Server with 42.8 percent. Microsoft's Virtual PC followed with 32.6 percent. VMware's ESX Server is also in there with 6.4 percent.

"[ESX Server] is still the leading product and with good reason," says Brent Eads, a consultant with Employee Technology Solutions Inc. "It works extremely well."

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The Best Virtual PC Product is VMware Workstation by a hefty margin, bringing in 45 percent of the votes. Microsoft Virtual PC pulled in 34.1 percent, with SWsoft's Virtuozzo earning 1 percent.

Microsoft, however, still has its loyal legions on the virtual front. "Virtual PC is a good all-around product," says BrassCraft-Thomasville's Murphy. "I didn't like VMware Workstation for the fact that you have to buy it, plus it appeared to be a bit more complicated to configure and use."

The Best Non-Microsoft Browser is also the product that earned the single highest number of votes: Firefox collected a commanding 69.2 percent.

"Firefox has less problems and less security risks than IE," says Gamal Herbon of InterComputer. "It's easier to use, has better features and doesn't try to take over the world." Netscape Navigator earned 6.0 percent.

SQL users have a clear favorite when it comes to tools to help them get the most out of SQL Server. The Best SQL Tool is Sql Power Tools with 24.7 percent. Quest Spotlight on SQL took 8.9 percent, and Red Gate Software 7.1 percent.

Installation and Administration
The act of getting your systems ready for a new rollout or upgrade is going to be front of mind this year with so many organizations getting ready for Vista. It's just a matter of whether you plan to do it now or later. These tools will help ease the transition, software distribution, software packaging and drive imaging -- all essential tasks for deploying or upgrading your systems.

Drive Imaging
Once again, Symantec's Ghost Suite leads this category by a huge margin. It wins this year with 55 percent of the votes. "It puts me in control and allows me to install unsupervised," says Bruce Norris, IT manager for a government agency. "It also has low bandwidth usage." Acronis True Image showed it still has a solid base, grabbing 14.3 percent. Altiris Migration Suite earned a 5.1 percent vote.

Server Migration
Altiris Deployment Solution is also well suited for server migration, winning this category with 14.8 percent of the votes. Quest Software Migration Suite for AD/Exchange was a hair behind with 14.5 percent. The Altiris Client Management Suite also placed with a 6.5 percent vote.

Group Policy Manager
Obviously, Microsoft is going to be the best at managing Group Policy, but there are several solid alternatives. Microsoft wins here with a sweeping 41.6 percent. Leading as the ISV Winner is ScriptLogic with Active Administrator, earning an 8.8 percent vote. NetIQ's Group Policy Administrator got 5.8 percent and Symantec's BindView brought in 3.5 percent.

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Disk Defragmentation and Drive Monitoring
Diskeeper wins this category again this year with a 29.6 percent vote. "It does the job and each version gets better," says Barry Cohen of the Edison Group. Within viewing distance is Winternals Defrag Manager with 21.8 percent, with Raxco PerfectDisk finishing a more distant third with 5.8 percent. There figures to be much more room for both Diskeeper and Raxco in next year's competition, as Winternals was sold to Microsoft late last year.

Remote Troubleshooting
This category was a fairly close race. Altiris Carbon Copy wins with an 11.1 percent share of the vote. NetSupport Manager was second with 9.2 percent and Netopia Timbuktu brought in 8.1 percent.

Network Automation and Batch Processing
ScriptLogic Desktop Authority is the clear winner here, bringing in 20.5 percent of the vote. Readers like the "one-stop shopping" aspect of a comprehensive tool like Desktop Authority. "It pretty much does everything from one console, and it's very easy to use," says Russ Johnson of the Family Health Center of Battle Creek, Mich. HP OpenView Operations for Windows crossed the line second with 12.4 percent, and MKS Toolkit for Enterprise Developers was third with 5.6 percent.

Scripters are an intensely loyal lot. Once they've found a tool that works, they're not likely to change. Sapien maintains its lead this year with PrimalScript gathering a 16.4 percent vote. "It's fantastic for debugging scripts," says Rajni Mistry of Titanium Solutions Ltd. "It gives you total control." iTripoli Admin Script Editor is close behind with 10.4 percent of the votes, and XLnow OnScript brought in 7.5 percent.

Patch Management
For something as critical as patch management, Microsoft Software Update Services is proving tough to beat, winning a 42.5 percent share. Shavlik Technologies is the ISV winner with its HFNetChkPro earning 7.4 percent. Altiris Patch Management Solution brought in 5.8 percent and PatchLink Update earned 3.2 percent.

Safe and Secure
Terrorists, spam, viruses, worms, spyware and malicious employees: they all know more ways to kill you than you know ways to die, and these threats seem to multiply every day. You need a solid security infrastructure to keep today's threats at bay -- in both the physical and virtual worlds.

Storage and Backup
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Firewall: Hardware-based
The Cisco Systems PIX series has proved it can consistently evolve and continues to win in this market. It wins here with a 38.8 percent vote. Ease of use, ease of integration and its position as the de facto industry standard were all frequently cited as reasons for choosing Cisco. "Cisco has been in the game a long time and knows what to do when protection is needed," says Bud Moore of the Tracer Corp. SonicWALL's TZ and Pro series firewalls brought in a 10 percent vote, while Symantec's Velociraptor earned 7.7 percent.

Firewall: Software-based
Microsoft's ISA Server is the clear winner with 22.2 percent of the votes. After ISA Server's dominance as a software firewall, Check Point and Symantec are in a fairly close matchup, earning 15.8 and 14.5 percent, respectively. Check Point, emerging as the ISV Winner, wins points for being easy to remotely manage, says Ralph Hoefelmeyer. McAfee Personal Firewall Plus brought in 8.3 percent.

Intrusion Detection System
Cisco Systems' Cisco Secure IDS is a decisive winner with 20.9 percent of the votes. Open source alternative Snort brought in a 13.1 percent vote. BlackICE Pro, from Network ICE, earned 6.8 percent.

Intrusion Prevention System
Cisco Systems also takes the IPS category with its Cisco Security Agent bringing in a 15.4 percent vote. Network Associates IntruShield is up next with 7.3 percent. The next spot is a tie between Symantec ManHunt and Internet Security Systems, each earning a 5.1 percent vote.

Smart Card/Biometric/Two-factor Authentication System
RSA ran away with the votes for Best Smart Card Authentication System with its SecureID earning 35.3 percent. It helps that they've been around for such a long time and have refined the product and developed a solid reputation. "They're a trusted vendor and it's a workable product that limits false positives and false negatives," says independent consultant Chris Apgar. DigitalPersona brought in 3.5 percent and the next place was a 3.2 percent tie between ActivCard Trinity and Griffin Technologies SecuriKey Pro.

Secure Messaging Tool or Service (Spam and Content Filtering)
Microsoft Exchange Server takes this category with a 17.6 percent vote. The ISV Winner is Symantec with a 7.8 percent vote. Microsoft Antigen (now Forefront) earned 4.7 percent and Barracuda Networks' Spam Firewall brought in 3.8 percent

Training and Certification

Symantec also took a commanding lead in the anti-virus category, thanks to its Anti-Virus tool, which earned 33.8 percent of the vote. "It catches virtually all viruses in real-time and requires very little maintenance," says Dan Roach, IT manager with Dunn Engineering Associates. McAfee's GroupShield took 14.9 percent and Trend Micro 11.4 percent.

McAfee takes top honors here with 15.1 percent of the votes, with Trend Micro Anti-Spyware trailing closely behind with a 12.1 share. Webroot places again with a 9.7 percent vote.

To Store and To Protect
Storage and backup are two other areas in which Symantec is particularly strong. The Cupertino-based company won or placed repeatedly in the three key categories of backup, storage management and disaster recovery.

Backup System
Symantec/Veritas Backup Exec cleaned up in this category with 28.2 percent of the vote. The company also took the next spot with Symantec/ Veritas NetBackup earning 11.8 percent. The final spot was a tie between CA BrightStor Enterprise Backup and Acronis True Image, each earning 5.8 percent.

Disaster Recovery Product
Symantec/Veritas took the top two spots here with Backup Exec in first with a 15.4 percent of the vote and NetBackup with 9.3 percent. Winternals Recovery Manager got 6.7 percent.


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