ARC: Best Vendors, Worst Vendors For Technical Innovation

Some vendors are better than others at fostering creativity and innovation. Our Annual Report Card research asked VARs to rate vendors on technical innovation. Here's a look at the five best -- and the five worst.

SonicWallL offers highly intelligent capabilities such as Unified Threat Management, dual-WAN capacity and highly frequent dynamic updates. Those are features solution providers don't always find on competitors' more expensive products.

EMC's researchers are tracking advances in storage tied to holography, micro-electro-mechanical systems, nanotechnology and more. The vendor is determining how those kinds of advances might affect the storage industry in the long term, and it is providing guidance to colleagues regarding potential application requirements.

EMC's Innovation Network is involved in a number of projects that are related to network storage as well as other segments in the storage market. For example, as a partner in the Daoli Project, EMC Research China is collaborating with university researchers to design methods for obtaining assurance of "behavior conformity" in distributed systems such as information grids, through a combination of trusted computing and virtualization.

Fortinet is focused on providing comprehensive and easily managed network security solutions. The vendor is continuously updating its FortiOS firmware. For example, with FortiOS 3.0, Fortinet became the first security hardware company to offer VoIP/IM/P2P security. It was also the first security vendor to deliver integrated SSL VPN with complete content inspection. The vendor released FortiOS 4.0 in March.

VMware is a pioneer in bringing innovation to data center environments to improve productivity, increase service agility and lower total cost of ownership. The vendor has a reputation for working with other vendors (for example, Cisco) as well as VARs to reduce the time needed to deploy new applications from weeks or even months to minutes.

Next: The 5 Vendors Scoring Worst In Technical Innovation

VARs gave technology innovation scores within NetGear's category from Adtran's high of 84.1 to NetGear's low of 70. The vendor is working toward improving the innovation score: Earlier this year, NetGear's Powerline AV Adapter with four-port Ethernet Switch won an innovation award at CES. The technology lets VAR customers carry high-speed data network traffic on existing electrical wiring and can be used with high-performance applications such as networked attached storage.

Overall, the notebook segment is suffering from commoditization, making it difficult for a vendor to stand out based on innovation. Notebooks are fiercely competing on price, with the same basic specs and features. An exception to that is Panasonic, with its emphasis on durability. In fact, Panasonic came in first within notebooks for innovation, beating Dell by 16 points.

VARs are looking for innovative technology in network storage that will virtualize hardware, while delivering a single file system. The channel is looking for storage solutions that are managed as one resource, so partners can provide customers with the ability to share files seamlessly among servers in a SAN. EMC finished first in this technology category, with an innovation score 22 points higher than IBM's.

There are only two vendors in our Display Technology category: ViewSonic and Samsung. VARs were clearly distressed with the vendor's innovation. Samsung's Technology Innovation score was 12 points greater than ViewSonic's. However, ViewSonic is taking its display expertise and expanding its product line: The vendor is planning to introduce two netbook models before year's end.

Sun/SQL came in last in technology innovation in the Data and Information Management Software in a four-vendor race. IBM finished first in the Innovation criteria in the technology category.

Finishing in last place, VARs told CA it has a ways to go to improve its product innovation scores. Within its technology category of Client Security Software, it finished 30 points behind Kaspersky Lab, which not only took the criteria but also was ARC Company of the Year in Client Security Software.