Best In Class

The continued onslaught of spam, e-mail-borne viruses and worms created a myriad of opportunities for security-focused VARs, especially those leveraging anomaly-detection and adaptive learning technology. Meanwhile, Linux gained a larger foothold in the desktop market, offering more choices for solution providers and custom-system builders. 2004, however, did not prove to be the year of Linux as many had predicted.

The advent of the Media Center PC also brought a new dimension to solution providers' business. In addition, solution providers profited from the underlying current of vulnerabilities discussed almost daily in the mainstream press. That helped to create opportunities in the disaster-recovery realm, data protection technologies and anti-identity-theft-related solutions. All of these proved to be high-margin, service-focused endeavors for savvy solution providers.

With the end of 2004 rapidly approaching, the CRN Test Center has put together its recommendations for the best products of the year. This annual report recognizes the products that epitomize quality solutions for channel partners, both from a technical point of view and from a channel-friendly perspective. These products truly deserve the designation "CRN Test Center Product of the Year" for each of their respective categories.

For a solution to earn that honor, it must have offered a unique channel opportunity and exhibited an incredible amount of technological prowess. CRN Test Center engineers evaluated hundreds of solutions over the 2004 calendar year and pared down the list to those products that offer technological innovation, opportunity and profitability to solution providers.

Sponsored post

To qualify for consideration, a product had to be reviewed by one of the CRN Test Center engineers during the 2004 calendar year and earn high marks for both technical and channel elements while still providing add-on revenue opportunities. Several categories were defined and an overall winner was picked from the following: Security, Notebook/Tablet Computer, Color Laser/Solid Ink Printer, Handheld Device, Display Technology, Wireless Solution, Development Tool, Business Productivity Tool, Storage, Management Tool, Database and Remote Access. While the competition was fierce, CRN Test Center engineers were able to agree on final selections for each category--though not without some squabbles, of course--primarily focusing on opportunity and revenue potential for a vendor's channel partners.

Other elements, some of which border on the intangible, were also considered during the judging process. These elements include real and potential service revenue, cost of supplemental supplies, intensity, cost and availability of training and maintenance considerations.

Considering all these factors helped CRN Test Center engineers make some very difficult decisions in choosing the best examples of channel-friendly products in each of their respective categories. Engineers are confident that solution providers will be well-served by offering each of the products selected to their customers.

Symantec Network Security 7100 Series
Price: 7120: $7,995; 7160: $23,995
Distributors/Integrators: Arrow/MOCA, Douglas Stewart, Ingram Micro, Synnex, Tech Data

Security is all the rage for today's solution providers. Worms, viruses, security breaches and malicious code are the largest problems facing networks of all sizes.

Symantec's 7100 series of security appliances addresses all these threats head-on. The 7100 series ranges from the 7120 for midsize networks requiring 150-Mbps throughput to the 7160 for enterprises requiring 2-Gbps throughput. Symantec's products offer margins in the 20 percent range and have ample room for add-ons, ranging from software assurance contracts to enhanced features. Solution providers will benefit from Symantec's five-tier channel program, which offers excellent benefits for any-size integrator. Extensive training and product support round out the company's channel offerings.

The 7100 series' Web-based central management console can easily be set up in a managed service deployment. Scalability makes the units future-proof and can reassure smaller businesses that they are making a wise investment. On the technical side, the 7100 series combines all of the key elements needed to adequately protect networks from both external and internal attacks.

Several technological advances help to make the 7100 series unique. First, Symantec's network threat mitigation architecture combines anomaly, signature, statistical and vulnerability detection techniques to secure networks from known and unknown attacks. In other words, the 7100 series can prevent attacks and outbreaks even if no virus or anomaly signatures exist. The unit's convergence of security technologies is built around Symantec's enterprise products. The unit integrates protocol anomaly detection, traffic rate monitoring, intrusion-detection-system evasion handling, flow policy violation and signatures to effectively identify malicious activity. This single device can secure a network from almost any threat. Administrators also can define additional signatures, which can help protect the network from internal scripted attacks. Other security signatures are supplied via a database built around Symantec's proprietary threat database.

The unit's advances also include deployment flexibility, which means it can be configured to work inline. This setup forces all network traffic to travel through the unit for thorough screening. The 7120 can also be used as a monitoring device on a network segment, passively monitoring all traffic on that segment. This capability offers a good solution for those looking to leverage the product's intrusion-detection and -prevention architecture. Solution providers can also install the unit in switched port analyzer mode to copy network communication from client and server segments to the unit. This feature is ideal for forensic analysis.

Those looking to build bulletproof security solutions will be well-served by the 7100 series and Symantec's generous channel program. Both truly exemplify what CRN Test Center engineers look for in a product of the year--cutting-edge technology and incredible support for solution providers. NOTEBOOK/TABLET COMPUTER
IBM ThinkPad T42
Price: $2,500
Distributors/Integrators: CDW, Ingram Micro, Insight, Synnex, Tech Data

The complexity of mobile computing devices--handhelds, tablet PCs or notebooks--often brings solution providers back to a familiar and trusted name: IBM.

Big Blue's ThinkPad is the benchmark against which all other notebook systems are judged, and the company's new ThinkPad T42 raises the bar even higher. Solution providers will enjoy the plethora of configuration options for the ThinkPad T42 series, and the anticipated long life cycle and three-year warranty should ease concerns about reliability, obsolescence and vendor support.

Along with a wealth of memory, hard drive, wireless, processor and component options, conveniences such as an integrated LED keyboard light, self-healing recovery utilities and a shock-mounted hard drive prove the vendor understands that details matter. What's more, the unit's rugged design and long battery life position the T42 as an excellent traveling companion.

Integrated management capabilities make the ThinkPad T42 ideal for enterprise environments, while a friendly price brings the unit well within the reach of smaller businesses.

IBM's willingness to work with its channel partners further sweetens the pot, while the company's name recognition can ease the selling process.

Lexmark C510
Price: $619
Distributors/Integrators: ABS Computers, CDW, Dartek, Dell, Global Computer, Tiger Direct, Viscom, direct from vendor

In the C510, Lexmark has built a color laser printer that's faster than any printer in its price range and so affordable it offers extensive opportunities for solution providers.

Hardly bigger than a personal monochrome laser printer, the C510 measures only 15 x 19 x 16.5 inches and weighs 69 pounds. The C510 is also easy to set up, as cartridges are pre-installed. It prints monochrome output quickly: A 10-page Word document takes only 30 seconds to print. Since the C510 is not a single-pass unit, printing documents in color takes longer. A 10-page Word document with color headings takes 1 minute, 27 seconds.

Color graphics and photos printed on the C510 are crisp and sharp and the color is true. The C510 prints a high-resolution photo of a castle in just 34 seconds--faster than any printer in its price range tested by CRN Test Center engineers in 2004. Solution providers can generate ongoing revenue by selling ink cartridges and maintenance contracts.

Lexmark's Partner Source program offers 20 percent commissions on service offerings. The company also provides pre- and post-sales support. Extensive marketing collateral, a dedicated solution provider Web site and fee-based training are also available.

RIM BlackBerry 7100T
Price: $299
Distributors/Integrators: AT&T/Cingular Wireless, Nextel Wireless, T-Mobile Wireless, Verizon Wireless

In the past, multifunction PDAs have had as many negatives as positives, and most are still a study in compromise. Yet with the Blackberry 7100t, Research In Motion has tackled these concerns head-on and created a true multifunction device that offers solution providers plenty of opportunities for integration work.

RIM's 7100t is approximately the size of a typical cell phone and weighs less than 5 ounces. The device's functionality does not end with e-mail and basic cell phone capability. The 7100t offers a quad-band GSM.GPRS cell phone, making it ideal for international travelers. Scheduling, instant messaging and Web-browsing capabilities are also included.

With all of this functionality in one device, solution providers might think integration avenues would be limited. But RIM's enterprise server-class e-mail products, which tie BlackBerry devices to corporate e-mail and scheduling programs, open the door to integration opportunities.

RIM's channel program includes the ISV Alliance Program, which supports developers looking to create new applications. RIM also offers traditional channel support in the form of partner-portal-restricted Web sites, dedicated account reps, tech training, rebates, online training and certification, tiered program elements and marketing support.

Samsung SyncMaster 173mw
Price: $699
Distributors/Integrators: ASI, D&H, ICG, Ingram Micro, MA Labs, Synnex, Tech Data

Looking for a near-perfect product that delivers high-margin sales? Look no further than Samsung Electronics America's SyncMaster 173mw. It's a wide-screen 17-inch TFT display with a native resolution of 1,280 x 768 and an image quality that's almost impossible to beat.

The 173mw is ideal for graphics designers, engineers and architects due to its sharp image resolution and wide-screen design. It features analog and digital inputs, so it's easy to connect to the latest digital graphics adapters, as well as legacy cards.

The unit offers text, picture and HDTV modes, all of which produce a crisp, clear image. Two built-in speakers provide good sound quality for their size and don't add to the overall dimensions. The SyncMaster 173mw includes Samsung's proprietary MagicBright technology software. There is no doubt that the monitor is priced at the upper end of the 17-inch LCD market, but it's well worth it.

Solution providers can earn high margins by selling this model or can incorporate it into a larger PC system offering.

Interlink LucidLink Wireless Security Software
Price: Starts at $99 for 3 users
Distributors/Integrators: Direct from vendor

Interlink Networks' LucidLink wireless security software wins top honors from CRN Test Center engineers not only because it's affordable and scalable, but because it's extremely easy to use and manage.

A client/server-based solution for securing and administering small-business wireless LANs, LucidLink offers great opportunities for solution providers as an add-on sale for new wireless installations and can also complement security offerings such as VPNs, firewalls and antivirus.

The software is wizard-driven, and LucidLink wizards can accurately configure most network and security settings. The application is compatible only with Windows 2000, 2003 or XP-based machines.

Interlink offers various tech support plans and provides free product upgrades. Support plans range in price from $150 yearly for 10 users to $495 for 50 users.

Tricoron Pro Objects 4.0
Price: Starts at $3,000
Distributors/Integrators: Direct from vendor

Hands down, Tricoron tools provide the smartest and fastest method of developing Java-based enterprise applications.

With Tricoron's patented development suite, Java architects and developers no longer have to manually design and develop code based on database architectures. The development suite allows them instead to concentrate solely on business requirements.

Tricoron's Pro Objects 4.0 code generation tools provide an automated solution for prototyping and developing complex J2EE applications. By scanning database objects, Pro Objects can generate data definition language files, data access objects, stateless session enterprise JavaBean components and Java Server Pages.

Pro Objects can also combine multiple databases into a single normalized logical view and create a component library that represents all the internal data structures.

Margins average 25 percent, and the company offers technical and sales training and support via the Web or on-site.

Intuit QuickBooks Enterprise 5.0
Price: $3,500
Distributors/Integrators: Intuit ProAdvisors, HP resellers, direct from vendor

Intuit's QuickBooks Enterprise 5.0 offers small businesses a perfect way to grow as their accounting needs change. True to its name, Enterprise is one of the most "intuitive" productivity tools reviewed this year. While some workflows in Enterprise are rather complex, upgrading from Premier to Enterprise is seamless because the two products' environments are almost identical.

Enterprise lets users handle credit-card transactions, write checks, perform marketing campaigns and manage inventory from multiple suppliers. New access permission roles control access to forms and data views. Users can also be assigned to workflows. Enterprise provides custom workflows for accountants, contractors, manufacturing, nonprofits, retailers, professional services and wholesalers.

Intuit's partnership with Hewlett-Packard opens the door for solution providers to tap into HP's partner program, which provides marketing support, rebates, MDFs and more.

Exabyte VXA-2 Packetloader 1X10
Price: $2,499
Distributors/Integrators: Direct from vendor

Protecting data is one of the top concerns for today's businesses, but innovation hasn't kept pace with need.

Exabyte, however, has reinvented tape backup technology in an effort to bring it to the masses. The company's VXA-2 Packetloader 1x10 offers multiple opportunities for solution providers to effectively back up businesses while tapping into lucrative disaster-recovery planning and service markets.

In the past, tape drives wrote data in blocks on predefined tracks. This process is less than reliable at times, and data loss can occur from a bad block, defective track or a tape drive head-alignment problem. Exabyte's technology is similar to network communications--in other words, data is written to tape in packets, eliminating the data integrity problems inherent in blocks, tracks and the related alignment issues. By combining packet technology with a 10-tape capacity, the Packetloader offers a stellar solution for small businesses.

Exabyte's channel program offers excellent support for solution providers. They can create ongoing revenue streams by offering replacement tapes and backup or disaster-recovery services.

ANTs Data Server 2.4
Price: $5,000 per CPU
Distributors/Integrators: Direct from vendor

ANTs Software's Data Server 2.4 is poised to revolutionize the database market. Using seven patent-pending algorithms, Data Server achieves the same effect as clustering but without the added expense and hassle.

Data Server has completely rearchitected how databases work, making it far superior to similar RDBMS products from Oracle, IBM and Sybase. This product is, by far, the best database CRN Test Center engineers reviewed this year.

Data Server's highly parallel transaction processing engine does not use locks at any database level, allowing transaction processing with little overhead switching between connections. The engine uses a messaging system to execute queries based on available server resources so every thread is equally prioritized and has its own connection.

ANTs' channel program offers margins of 30 percent to 50 percent. On-site sales and technical training, extensive technical support and the opportunity for solution providers to provide ISV and integration services round out its offerings.

NetIQ Security Administration Suite 5.0
Price: $2,400
Distributors/Integrators: Ingram Micro, Interwork, Tech Data, Westcon

Of all the network management tools tested by CRN Test Center engineers this year, NetIQ's Security Administration Suite version 5.0 was the easiest to use, provided the most revenue-generation and profit opportunities for solution providers, and is backed by a top-notch channel program.

The suite integrates with Microsoft's Active Directory and makes it easier to work with. The suite consists of Directory and Resource Administrator version 7.0, Directory Security Administrator version 2.0 and Group Policy Administrator version 4.0.

DRA 7.0 automates time-consuming and repetitive tasks involved in provisioning users and groups and allocating network resources. DSA 2.0 helps administer security policies in Active Directory through advanced permissions management. Once policies are modified, GPA 4.0 provides an offline environment that simulates their effect on security and performance before the changes are made live.

Solution providers can resell the software or can generate recurring revenue streams by offering NetIQ as part of a managed services offering.

Symantec pcAnywhere 11.5
Price: $199.95
Distributors/Integrators: Arrow/MOCA, Douglas Stewart, Ingram Micro, Synnex, Tech Data

Remote access is becoming increasingly important for both mobile users and solution providers. Symantec's new version of the popular pcAnywhere software, now in version 11.5, can fill the need for improved remote-control solutions better than any other remote-access solution reviewed by CRN Test Center engineers in 2004.

Symantec has added Linux support to pcAnywhere, allowing users to control Linux-based machines from Windows PCs and vice versa. This also offers more opportunity for solution providers, since Linux users are no longer denied the ability to use remote-access solutions. PcAnywhere also includes support for Pocket PC devices, allowing mobile users to access remote systems using a cellular or Wi-Fi connection.

The software provides AES encryption capability, which offers up to 256-bit cipher strength. The new encryption will meet the FIPS 140-2 encryption standard required by several federal agencies. Symantec's channel program provides on-site support, training and sales assistance, and extensive marketing programs.