Best of the Tests 2010

We tested more than 100 products in 2009 in a wide variety of categories, but 15 of those products stood head and shoulders above the rest and earn our Best of the Tests Award. Here are the categories and winners:

We tested more than 100 products in 2009 in a wide variety of categories, but 15 of those products stood head and shoulders above the rest and earn our Best of the Tests Award.

Windows Server 2008 R2

We tested a raft of operating systems in 2009, including SUSE Linux, Ubuntu and Apple Snow Leopard. But the operating system that stood out was Microsoft's Windows Server 2008 R2. This product delivers advancements in speed, security and management .

Windows Server 2008 R2 boasts new server administrative roles for better security, an improved Server Manager program, revamped Internet Information Server (IIS) Web management functionality, better Active Directory controls, and redesigned Windows Terminal Services. Also, Windows Server 2008 is also significantly faster than Windows Server 2003.

And while Windows Server 2008 R2 certainly stands on its own, the fact that it's integrated so nicely with Windows 7 is an additional bonus for IT execs.

Related stories:

Review of Windows Server 2008 R2

Five things we love/hate about Windows Server 2008 R2 and Windows 7

BlackBerry Enterprise Server 5.0

There's no keeping end users from their BlackBerries, but there is a way for IT to manage those devices -- Research in Motion's BlackBerry Enterprise Server 5.0 . We found BES to be an easy-to-use, Web-based tool that provides centralized administration, high availability and the ability to set rules and policies on a granular level.

With BlackBerry Enterprise Server, an administrator can publish and push updates and applications to one user or groups of users. The administrator can also identify unauthorized applications and prevent users from downloading, using or updating prohibited programs or applications. When a BlackBerry device is activated, the new security policy supersedes any previously installed programs or policies. Can your iPhone do that?

BladeCenter Server HS22

Two eight-core Intel 5570 Nehalem processors, two 10Gigabit Ethernet NICs, 50GB SSD drives, 150GB 15k hard drives and 48GB of RAM. Not to mention energy efficiency and strong management features. And all for around $10,000. What's not to like?

In our tests , the Nehalem-based blade delivered a 10x increase in performance when compared to Intel's Core-based Xeon processor. In terms of total overall power consumption, the Nehalem processors consumed 17% more power than the Xeon-based system, which is a pretty good bargain when you're gaining a 10x boost in performance.

Bottom line: The combination of Nehalem processors, 10G Ethernet, and lots of RAM make the HS22 a great choice for data center virtualization.

McAfee's Web Gateway

McAfee's Web Gateway bested the competition in every one of our performance tests . We attacked each vendor's product with 100 malware instances. Web Gateway turned aside 99. We fed each gateway 1,000 e-mails – 500 phish and 500 non-phish. Web Gateway came in first with a 90% success rate. And in our latency tests, Web Gateway exhibited the lowest latency – 28 ms.

Web Gateway sports an easy-to-use, intuitive browser-based interface that's especially responsive. Reports are quick and informative, and the Web Gateway dashboard is completely customizable. And the McAfee Web Gateway installation was the slickest. A USB memory stick containing a configuration program accompanies the device. Insert the memory stick in a Windows machine, run the program, save your configuration, move the memory stick to the Web Gateway before boot time and – voila! – the Web Gateway uses the IP address and other configuration data you've specified.

This is the second time around for McAfee's Web Gateway. The product was a Best of the Tests winner back in 2006 as well

Interscan Web Security

Trend Micro's combination of Interscan Web Security Virtual Appliance 5.0 and Interscan Messaging Security Virtual Appliance 7.0 is our runnerup. The Trend Micro software delivered a 96% success rate in blocking malware and an 84% success rate in blocking phishes.

Trend Micro's tool gave us consolidated threat reporting and corporate policy management across our network. We easily varied security policies by network segment, company division and company department, at our option. We particularly liked Trend Micro's unified view of network security across an entire enterprise.

Also, you install the software on your own computers, thus giving you fine control over the speed and capacity of your gateway. Installation is a snap.

VMware vSphere

VMware created the market for x86 server virtualization in 2001 and has been the leader ever since, although Microsoft's Hyper-V and Citrix XenServer are strong competitors. In 2009, VMware raised the bar with the introduction of vSphere, a cloud-focused product that is faster than its predecessor, ESX 3.51, easier to manage, and designed for provisioning fleets of virtual machine farms.

The basic components of what VMware calls the vSphere 'cloud operating system' are an improved hypervisor and VMware's VirtualCenter management application, along with options like vMotion (live VM inter-server migration), vSphere Zones (network security aggregation), distributed resource allocation, and even a distributed network switch.

These improvements allow vSphere 4.0 to manage and automate provisioning of internally-controlled VM farms and infrastructure with hosting platforms located outside an organizations traditional computing 'perimeter'.

Parallels Desktop

Want to run Windows on your Mac? Check out Parallels Desktop for the Mac. In our testing , Parallels was strong in features and usability, and its 64-bit guest virtual machine support provides flexibility for developers. We could run Mac OS X Leopard client or server as a guest.

We were able to import VMware or Virtual Box files (guest VM snapshots, or rapidly mountable VM guest operating systems) easily. Parallels Transporter let us convert other formats of VMs into the Parallels format.

Windows XP (this test took place before Windows 7 was released) installed easily for us, with no interaction except for entering the username and product key. Parallels has preformatted settings for XP. Another useful Parallels feature was the ability to mount a Windows VM guest's NTFS file system into the Apple MacOS 10.5 Finder application. We could access all the files directly like an external hard disk. We could easily drag and drop files and folders between Mac and XP VMs. It's even possible to have the Apple Spotlight application index the VM Windows guest drive, a feature that wasn't available in the other hypervisor products we tested.

Pano Logic's Pano Cube

Pano Logic's Pano Cube is a very small 'designer'-looking cube containing three USB jacks, VGA and audio/mic jacks. It has no CPU or memory/storage inside, permitting it to be used strictly as a KVM+ access device.

The Pano Manager provisions desktops through ESX/vCenter and also enables policy controls about what IO can go through the Pano Cube. It's possible to restrict printers, and so on for any particular session. The Pano Gateway in turn, sets up connection brokerage relationships for VPN and proxy access from branch to 'home'.

Pano Device setup was very simple. Pano Manager allows for persistent and non-persistent VMs to be used. VMs can be organized into collections, which can host a number of VMs in which the Pano Cubes connect as a single logical unit. The Cube Clients, we found, are extremely fast. They logon in just seconds, and were able to reproduce multimedia very well — even when we loaded the hosted VMware server down (a local host with 8GB of RAM) with all 10 Cubes sent to us.

The Pano Manager and Cube require VMware, but it's a decent investment. And Pano Cube's simplicity is bliss.

SharePoint Server 2010

Our policy is to not test beta versions of products. There are lots of reasons for this policy, but mostly it comes down to the notion that we're trying to give our readers good information to help them make buying decisions. And that means we test the actual product that a customer would buy. But there's an exception to every policy – and it's SharePoint Server 2010 , which we tested in beta, and which came out on top in this year's software category. Interest in this product was so high that we felt we had to write a review as soon as we could get our hands on the product. And we weren't disappointed.

We tested beta versions of SharePoint Server, and two related apps, Visual Studio and Office 2010 , in a virtualized environment and found that SharePoint Server 2010 is faster and more intuitive than the previous version. SharePoint 2010 allows IT departments to run applications such as enterprise search, content management, collaboration and business intelligence on a single platform.

Together with improved Internet site capabilities, SharePoint 2010 means companies can avoid the licensing and training costs associated with separate apps. SharePoint 2010 also offers improved developer and administration capabilities, which will likely speed application creation while easing server management.

SharePoint 2010 is expected to ship early this year.

Exchange 2010

Yes, 2009 was quite a year for Microsoft, with major releases of Windows, Windows Server and Exchange, Microsoft's e-mail platform. So, is Exchange 2010 an overgrown, bloated hog of an undocumented application, requiring enormous resources and costing a fortune? Or has Microsoft finally gotten it right, building the speed and reliability we need into a mailbox server that goes beyond simple e-mail and raises the bar for collaboration tools? The answer to both questions is "yes." It all depends on how you use it.

The core of Exchange is finally where we want it: reliable, fast and resource-stingy. Exchange 2010 is also heavily Web-focused, supporting the inevitable march towards a clientless e-mail, calendar, and address book experience.

Of course, Exchange 2010 also has the expected bloat. Obscure inter-server communications pathways, connections to VoIP PBXs, obscure digital rights management, and an edge server that is best described as "not entirely useless," all are part of the Exchange experience, too.

Still, Exchange is here to stay and if 2010 is the direction we're going, then the good far outweighs the bad. Two steps forward and one step back still adds up to one step forward!

Zimbra

Want the benefits of Exchange, without actually running Exchange? We tested six alternatives, most of which closed in pretty well on the essence of what a collaboration server should be. We preferred Zimbra for its broad cross-platform support and powerful mail server.

Sure, inside, it's a complicated maze of interlocking scripts held together by strings of commands that only a few select people truly understand. But when it works, which it did very well in our testing, Zimbra does what you want on the platform of your choice, and the price is slightly less than Microsoft Exchange. Plus, VMware seems to believe in it, since it announced it is buying Zimbra from Yahoo.

Compellent Storage Center 4.0

The best of our SAN systems test was the Compellent Storage Center 4.0. The product offers a compelling mix of high performance, great ease of use and wide feature set, at a price that isn't over the top. It has all the features you'd expect in a SAN system, such as synchronous and asynchronous replication, snapshots, and thin provisioning, as well as some features that other systems don't have – particularly the data progression feature, which automatically migrates the most-used data on the system to the fastest storage. This feature makes the best use of the fastest storage on the system, whether 15k drives or SSDs, with little or no effort on the part of the administrator. Mature, easy to use and operating at the block level, it is much more usable than the recently released and widely publicized LUN-level automated storage tiering from one of the big names in SAN technology.

The biggest differentiator for Compellent may be its ease of use. While most SAN systems offer similar functionalities, a system that can set up remote replication over the Internet to another SAN in six mouse clicks is noteworthy. Add to that a good value and high performance, with support for SSDs, 8Gbps Fibre Channel and 10Gbps iSCSI and you have a winner.

AirPcap Ex

Our extensive WLAN testing in 2009 resulted in several products that received a perfect score of 5.0. But the best of the best is the AirPcap Ex tool from CACE Technologies. This comprehensive yet simple packet-capture tool is perfect for those all-too-common situations faced by practitioners and operations professionals alike when it's necessary to dig into the dialog between client and access point to really understand why performance is so unexpected, why security is now so tight that no one can in fact connect, or why erratic client behavior is just that.

It's based on the very popular WireShark tool, and integration is seamless. It's available at a bargain price, and developer tools are available.

ASR 1000

With enterprises looking to consolidate data centers and devices, Cisco's new ASR 1000 series router offers a compelling message: Do more with less.

In our exclusive test, the ASR not only moved traffic at 20Gbps but also did so while running QoS, security and monitoring functions on 120 million flows from hundreds of concurrent routing sessions.

The ASR also proved a capable performer when handling multicast and IPSec VPN traffic. And with a 40-core processor, the ASR has enough headroom to run firewalls, load balancers and other services without requiring additional hardware.

That's not to say the ASR isn't still a work in progress. Its data-plane capacity still needs to grow, and Cisco hasn't yet rolled out all the services that ASRs eventually will support. But this is a strong effort, well worth considering for the many enterprises looking to replace tiers of aging Cisco 7200 routers with a single more powerful system.

3Com

3Com says it has an alternative for network managers considering high-end switches from Cisco and others. And our exclusive test of this core switch backs up 3Com's claim. The chassis-based, 288-port device delivered line-rate throughput in all performance tests, supported more Open Shortest Path First (OSPF) routing sessions than we've ever set up and consumed remarkably little power all the while.

While the device doesn't have all the features of some competitors (for example, the switch doesn't yet support hitless upgrades), its strong performance and low power consumption make it a viable option for large and midsize organizations in the market for core and aggregation switches.