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Best of the tests

Cool, fast, practical and more, the 13 products that earned the 2002 Best of the Tests Award exemplify excellence.

Network World bestows its Best of the Tests Award distinction upon products and services that have outperformed similar offerings during our rigorous hands-on testing from Nov. 1, 2001, to Oct. 31, 2002.

We divided the more than 230 tested products and services from 170-plus companies into 13 categories based on market focus. Best of the Tests categories are: enterprise servers; enterprise switching/routers; ISP services; multimedia networking wares; network management software; network management hardware; remote-office networking; security infrastructure; security tools; voice over IP; wireless; Cool Tools hardware; and Cool Tools software. The latter two designate products tested as part of our weekly Cools Tools column, a glimpse at high-tech network gizmos and software that can help end-user productivity.

To determine the winner in the first 11 categories, we looked to reviewers' product scores. The highest-scoring products took the prize — with five points representing a perfect score. In cases in which reviewers awarded multiple products the same top score, Network World editors picked the product that outperformed or outfeatured the others in the test.  In the case of Cool Tools, for which no scoring system exists, columnist Keith Shaw selected the products he felt significantly would affect end users or the market for the better.

In a hurry? Download a quick-scan list of the products named in the 2002 Best Issue.

PDF Version (1M)    HTML Version

Cool Tools Software

Visual Communicator Plus from Serious Magic changes the face of personal broadcasting and makes it easier for users to create their own television broadcasts with little more than a Web camera and a decent PC desktop. With a little imagination, businesses can create broadcasts for communications in cases when spending money on professional video services isn't feasible.
Best of the Tests Award winner: Visual Communicator Plus
Company: Serious Magic
Date reviewed: July 22, 2002 
Reviewer's comment: "The software was addictive. We kept coming up with new ideas and ways to use it." — Keith Shaw

Cool Tools Hardware

One of the first forays into the world of 3G wireless, the Sierra Wireless AirCard 555, a PC card that runs on Verizon Wireless' new Code Division Multiple Access 1xRTT network,  blew us away. The two — card and network — working in tandem delivered what was  promised: the joy of a high-speed wireless connection.
Best of the Tests Award winner: Sierra Wireless AirCard 555
Company: Sierra Wireless
Date reviewed: March 18, 2002 
Reviewer's comment: "Remember how you felt when you graduated from dial-up to broadband for Internet access from home? The pure joy of cruising the Internet, watching streaming video and downloading e-mail at speeds that made it feel like you were using your office's T-1 line? Now you can get a similar feeling in the world of wireless." — Keith Shaw

Enterprise servers

IBM picks up the win in this category because it was thinking outside the box when it built its new xSeries x440 server. This server has eight processors sitting in a 4U (7 inches) rack-mountable chassis that can be linked with a sister box to create a 16-processor server. This ability to scale processors outside the chassis is a novel approach to increasing server horse power that yielded outstanding performance numbers in our tests.

Best of the Tests Award winner: IBM xSeries x440
Company: IBM
Date reviewed: Oct. 7, 2002  Score: 4.7
Reviewer's comment: "The x440 is an impressive package of computing performance, scalability, availability and manageability. It should work well in large corporate environments where performance and future protection is important. If you are considering server consolidation, this could be the server for you. IBM has taken server scalability and processor density to a new level with the ability to run eight processors in a 4U (7 inches) rack-mountable chassis and then connect two chassis together to create a 16-processor server." — John Bass, Centennial Networking Labs

Enterprise switch/routers

Cisco's Catalyst 3550-24, which ships with 24-port Fast Ethernet and two-port Gigabit Ethernet capacity, tops our list of switches tested this year because of its near-perfect performance in our tests. The box produced wire-speed throughput even while handling access control lists we intentionally applied to try to slow it down. Basic Layer 3 performance was picture-perfect with wire-speed throughput throughout our suite of tests and only a 120-microsec latency measurement with 64-byte packets.

Best of the Tests Award winner: Catalyst 3550-24
Company: Cisco
Date reviewed: March 25, 2002 Score: 4.4
Reviewer's comment: "Cisco designed its new midrange Catalyst 3550-24 switch to connect access devices to the core of large and midsize enterprise networks, and from what we found with our performance testing, it is well equipped for the task." — John Bass, Centennial Networking Labs

ISP dial-up services

With many dial-up ISPs going under in the past year, it is good to see the continued excellence of AT&T's WorldNet service in our performance rankings. While the scores weren't as powerful as last year (some ISPs are catching AT&T), the service still ranks as the best in terms of speedy connections (quick times to log on and high initial connect speeds), and low call-failure rates (fewer busy signals).

Best of the Tests Award winner: AT&T WorldNet service
Company: AT&T
Date reviewed: Monthly online
Reviewer's comment: "Despite turmoil in the ISP market, AT&T WorldNet still outshines others in terms of performance in the national ISP space." — Keith Shaw

Multimedia networking

We awarded Vividon's Streaming Delivery Accelerator and its corresponding management software top honors in this category for its high performance and — by virtue of a Web-based management system — high manageability and functionality. And considering its size and resources, we also give kudos to Vividon for exhibiting outstanding pre- and post-sales services in customer facilities.

Best of the Tests Award winner: Streaming Delivery Accelerator 
Company: Vividon
Date reviewed: Dec. 10, 2001 Score: 4.5
Reviewer's comment: "If you've been banging your head looking for a streaming media investment, the Vividon solution is a steal." — Christine Perey, Perey Research & Consulting

Network management hardware

A crucial tool in your "little black bag" to have when your network gets sick should be a handheld network analyzer. These devices can reveal cable faults, detect chattering network adapters, identify switch malfunctions and diagnose the nature of a router malady. Our winner, Fluke Networks' NetTool, offers essential cabling and network health tests for an excellent price and value.

Best of the Tests Award winner: NetTool
Company: Fluke Networks
Date reviewed: July 1, 2002 Score: 4.8
Reviewer's comment: "Fluke's NetTool accurately pinpointed cabling and network faults with aplomb, and without a fancy color display or extra bells and whistles." — Barry Nance, independent consultant

Network management software

In our recent test of network management systems/frameworks, we found that four products we tested were mature, well-crafted and thoughtfully designed products. But with its wealth of features, useful reports and consistent user interface, Hewlett-Packard's OpenView edged out the others in our tests. While frameworks have gotten a bad rap, we've found that the vendors have improved their products significantly and might be worth another look.

Best of the Tests Award winner: HP OpenView
Company: Hewlett-Packard
Date reviewed: Oct. 21, 2002 Score: 4.8
Reviewer's comment: "OpenView excels at managing diverse devices through a consistent interface, monitoring network resources and reporting network activities. OpenView scales well, runs on several different platforms and makes network administration a much easier job." — Barry Nance, independent consultant

Remote-office networking gear

The GigaFast EZ500-S touts an innovative, fanless (hence noiseless) design, good price, performance and ease of use. While it only has one a single gigabit port, that makes it a good choice for small offices/home offices that need a boost but don't want to pay a ton for pure gigabit throughput. This product really gives this very focused target market what it needs.

Best of the Tests Award winner: GigaFast EZ500-S (PDF)
Company: GigaFast
Date reviewed: Feb. 11, 2002 Score: 4.8
Reviewer's comment: "We assumed there wasn't anything new to report in the world of 10/100M-bit/sec switches. However, GigaFast EZ500-S proved us wrong." — Mike Avery, contributing Network World reviews editor

Security infrastructure

Our recent review of remote access VPN offerings shows that Cisco clearly built the VPN 3000 series Concentrator and the Cisco VPN 3002 hardware client with an enterprise deployment in mind, giving it the edge over competitor Check Point Software to win this category. The VPN product combination affords network professionals excellent client-management features, strong policy setting and policy maintenance tools, a built-in client-side firewall and solid reporting. 

Best of the Tests Award winner: Cisco VPN 3000 Series Concentrator and Cisco VPN 3002 Hardware Client
Company: Cisco
Date reviewed: Oct. 28, 2002 Score: 4.7
Reviewer's comment: "Cisco clearly considered the issues of enterprise remote access and built excellent products that are easy to use, deploy and update, but are not arbitrarily limiting in terms of policy, platform or features." — Joel Snyder, Opus One

Security tools

EEye Digital Security's network vulnerability scanning tool, Retina, bests this category because of its speed and accuracy in pinpointing security holes in an enterprise network and for its intuitive management interface and its ability to fix some vulnerabilities when they are pinpointed.

Best of the Tests Award winner: Retina 4.7
Company: eEye Digital Security
Date reviewed: Feb. 4, 2002 Score: 4.3
Reviewer's comment: "Retina is lightning fast, scanning our 12-system test network in less than 5 minutes." — Mandy Andress, ArcSec


Alcatel e-ND's 4980 IP-based soft phone was clearly a cut above the other products tested in this category. This product supports more than 90% of the traditional corporate telephone features, and it topped the ticket in terms of installation, ease of use and configuration.

Best of the Tests Award winner: e-ND 4980 (PDF)
Company: Alcatel
Date reviewed: Feb. 25, 2002 Score: 4.65
Reviewer's comment: "In the features realm, this product supports 37 of the 41 features we deemed necessary for use in a corporate setting." — Miercom


In a year that has seen 802.11b take off in corporations under intense security pressure, we are happy to honor the Bluesocket WG-1000 wireless gateway in this category. We found it successfully protects your wireless resources.

Best of the Tests Award winner: WG-1000 wireless gateway (PDF)
Company: Bluesocket
Date reviewed: April 8, 2002 Score: 4.1
Reviewer's comment: "The WG-1000 is an agnostic way to contain and manage wireless LAN users while leveraging internal authentication mechanisms and VPN elements provided." — Tom Henderson, ExtremeLabs

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