The 15 Best Products Of 2011

The Best Of The Year

2011 was the year IT vaulted into its next generation of mobility and cloud-computing, while finding new CPUs, big iron storage and display technology also making big advances. From processors to tablets, from PCs to laptops, this was a great year of great products. Here are the ones we found to be the best.

CPU: Intel Core i7

The Core i7 processors that Intel launched in 2011 stand as Exhibit A that the PC as a platform is as strong as ever, and provides as much value as ever. Consider Intel’s 6-core wonder, the Core i7 3960X: It provides performance that you couldn’t even find on a high-end server a few years ago. Moore’s Law is alive and well.

Security: Bitdefender Business Solutions Version 3.5

We liked this product’s ability to install anti-virus and security software across the network, even on unmanaged computers where there isn’t an installation of Active Directory. Also: Bitdefender’s approach is a two-fer: It’s targeting SMBs with this product but also has begun engaging VARs more aggressively. It’s a good product with channel opportunity.

Mobile Device: Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1

We loved almost everything about the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1, and believe it does what many other tablet makers haven’t done: compete against Apples’ iPad franchise. Sleek, slim and lightweight, its strong battery life and adaptation of Android brought it into the upper ranks of the Mobility Class of 2011.

Storage: EMC VNXe

The marriage of EMC’s Clariion and Celerra storage lines brought forth the incredibly powerful VNXe -- a lower-cost series of storage devices aimed at small enterprises and departments. That it provides 15K SAS storage in a 2U form factor, at less than $10,000 sealed the deal for this as our storage produt of the year.

Operating System: Mac OS X Lion

A simple, low-cost ($29.99) download, with the look and feel of a mobile device as much as a PC, Mac OS X Lion leaves little surprise that Mac as a platform has been growing in healthy-double digits.

Notebook: HP Elitebook 8560p

We like that notebooks are getting infinitely thinner and lighter, but HP’s Elitebook 8560p -- more of a mobile workstation -- simply couldn’t be ignore for this year’s products of the year list. A full menu of media support (four USB 2.0 slots, a USB 3.0 slot, HDMI, Ethernet, etc.), with support for CPUs up to an Intel Core i7-2760QM at 2.40 GHz and 6 MB of L3 cache making it a big, honking system, just helps you get work done -- at about $1,000.

Desktop: HP TouchSmart 9300 Elite

What, exactly, was HP thinking when it considered spinning off its PC unit? We ask because we found the HP TouchSmart 9300 -- one of the best-performing PCs we’ve ever seen in a slim, all-in-one desktop form factor -- to evoke one word over and over: ’Want.’ It’s a beautiful PC, with rocking performance (a 14,185 Geekbench 2.2 score is through the roof.) At a list of $1,115, it’s simply fantastic.

Server: Dell PowerEdge C6145

Consider what’s inside this box: support for up to 96 AMD Opteron processor cores, one TB of 1.333MHz DDR3 memory, 24 hot-swappable 2.5-inch (or 12 3.5-inch) SATA, SAS or SSDs, six half0length PCIe x16 expansion cards and a pair of x16 mezzanine slots. The Dell PowerEdge C6145 score on Geekbench of 22,607 was one of the highest we’ve ever seen in the CRN Test Center lab.

Open Source: LibreOffice

Produced by The Document Foundation, LibreOffice stormed the open-source productivity space in 2011 with major updates to its software -- as well as adoption as the default suite for Ubuntu. The TDF is a splinter group from the community, and its LibreOffice suite -- upgraded in 2011 -- provides solid features, stability and an upgrade path for its word processing, spreadsheet, presentation and database applications that needs to be considered as a serious option.

Cloud Application: Office 365

Microsoft launched its cloud-based service for Exchange, SharePoint and Lync -- with support for online versions of its Office franchise -- with ultra-competitive pricing starting at $6 per month per user. Enterprises can be up and running with full functionality within minutes, it can be managed in-house or remotely by resellers, and we found it to be uber-flexible and compelling. It’s the real deal, and it blows away Google Apps.

Display/Signage: LG EzSign TV

The LG 42VV355B EZSign Television supports eight inputs and a wide variety of display sizes, but its use of application support supporting Windows and AdobeAir makes it incredibly accessible as a signage and content display solution. Pricing for the display starts at $1,599 -- which puts easy signage solutions in the hands of VARs and their customers in a more meaningful way than we’ve seen.

Enterprise Appliance: Oracle Database Appliance

Oracle has combined the high-end hardware it acquired in the deal for Sun Microsystems, with its Oracle Database 11g, and brought to market a trailblazing appliance aimed at value-added resellers and SMBs. With up to 12 TB of storage, dual Intel Xeon processors and price of $50,000 (with a pay-as-you-grow model), the Oracle Database Appliance delivered by far the best enterprise appliance of the year.

Virtualization: VMware VSphere 5

Why this solution from VMware rocks: simplified setup of high-availability features, support for massively scalable virtual machines, including 32 virtual CPUs and 1 TB of RAM, new browser-based access to VSphere and support for Mac OS X server as a guest OS. For enterprises just now trying out significant virtualization deployments, VSphere 5 will have them asking why they waited so long.

Data Center: Dell Management Center Plug-In

If VMware’s inventory reporting can be called exhaustive, Dell’s Management Center for vCenter is indefatigable. The tool takes administrators well beyond the world of virtualized hardware, and into what’s really happening into real hardware. It’s stunning, wide view of data center activity puts it into a class by itself this year.

Overall Product Of The Year: Apple iPad 2

Changes use patterns? Check. Supports both personal and business use? Check. Supports the world’s largest vetted software ecosystem for mobile apps? Check. Sleek and elegant? Check. Apple’s iPad 2 changed the game in 2011 by combining the best hardware features with beautiful software and making it just work out of the box. Apple once again raised the bar in 2011, and iPad 2 led its charge. It was the best product we saw over the past year. Period.