Best of the tests

These nine award winners stand out among 260 products tested and 42 finalists for outstanding performance and unbeatable value.

Last year's crop of network products tested by the Network World Lab Alliance isn't likely to get noted in the Farmers' Almanac, but it certainly was a bumper one.

In all, we tested more than 260 products from more than 200 vendors. Forty-two stood out as top performers during rigorous, hands-on testing - in some cases lasting weeks or months - in one or more of our 13 Network World Lab Alliance partner facilities or in the lab run by Keith Shaw, senior editor of product testing.

Nine stood out as the cream of the crop, earning our highest recommendation for enterprise deployment among the 42 finalists. Each garnered a Best of the Tests Award in this, our sixth annual presentation.

From 260 to 42

To narrow the field to our 42 finalists, we grouped top products from disparate tests into eight categories based on the most critical network function the product addresses. The categories are:

  • Messaging and collaboration: collaborative workspaces, instant-messaging management, Web conferencing meeting spaces.
  • Network infrastructure: access routers, blade servers, dual WAN routers, Ethernet backbone and workgroup switches, wireless network gear.
  • Network management: desktop and client management suites, network analysis tools, network configuration management products, network modeling wares, network performance analysis software, WAN/bandwidth management products.
  • Security infrastructure: authentication servers, intrusion-prevention systems (IPS), IPSec VPNs, security appliances, SSL VPNs.
  • Security management: anti-spy software, anti-virus management software, endpoint security tools, patch management wares, policy auditing and compliance software, security event management products, Secure Shell management servers, vulnerability assessment and management products.
  • Storage: director-class multi-protocol switches, workgroup switches, disaster-recovery tools.
  • Web infrastructure: Web application firewalls, Web application monitoring tools, Web front-end devices.
  • Wireless and mobility: location-based security systems for wireless LANs, mobile middleware, WLAN management and monitoring tools.

All our finalists had to make the grade on overall performance, management capabilities, unique feature sets and ease of use.

From 42 to 9

To determine which of each category's finalists most deserved Best of the Tests honors, we considered each product's overall usefulness when deployed in a large-scale network. Those having multiple tools for getting the job done carried more weight than point products honed for a single task. (Why nine winners instead of eight? We named two winners in the hard-to-call network management category.)

Besides these 42 finalists and nine winners, we also laud products we tested in several groundbreaking evaluations - of anti-spam, IPS, VoIP and wireless security products. We didn't designate winners in these tests for a variety of technical reasons but do highlight noteworthy performances. For a look at these exceptional wares, see "Testing outside the box ".

And now, read on to find out more about how our Best of the Tests winners could help increase your network yield.

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Copyright © 2005 IDG Communications, Inc.

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