5 Companies That Came To Win In 2014

The Year 2014

Every year there are winners and there are losers in the competitive IT industry. Which companies had the best strategies and made the right moves in 2014? Here are five we think were playing to win.

Docker In Demand

Was there any company hotter than Docker in 2014? Docker, which develops open-source technology for developers and system administrators, was on everybody's radar during the year, including big-name vendors that fell over each other rushing to partner with the company and venture capitalists who just couldn't stop throwing money at it.

Docker's platform and "container" technology provides a way to develop distributed applications independently of the underlying system. That makes it possible to build and run applications in data centers, in the cloud, on virtual machines and other laptop and desktop computers -- all without modification.

After Docker launched its disruptive product in June such industry heavy-hitters as Microsoft, Amazon Web Services, VMware, Google, IBM and others established business and technology partnerships with the company. In September Docker raised a whopping $40 million in Series C financing.

Lenovo Becomes A Top-Tier IT Industry Player

Lenovo has been expanding its industry presence for a number of years, largely in the PC space where it's No. 1 with 20 percent global market share (according to third-quarter numbers from IDC).

But Lenovo's $2.1 billion acquisition of IBM's x86 server business in October immediately vaulted the Chinese company up among the top competitors, including Dell and Hewlett-Packard, in the $50 billion worldwide server market. Company execs, led by CEO Yang Yuanqing, made clear their ambition is to be No. 1 in servers and at year's end were making plans to introduce a new service provider program for channel partners.

But Lenovo wasn't finished. Shortly after closing the IBM deal, Lenovo wrapped up its $2.9 billion acquisition of Motorola Mobility from Google, immediately positioning the company as the world's third largest smartphone vendor.

BlackBerry Rebound

BlackBerry frequently made our "Rough Week" and "Rough Year" lists, given the mobile device maker's struggles in recent years. In 2013 the company seemed to be in a death spiral, including a third-quarter loss of $4.4 billion and the layoff of 40 percent of its workforce.

So give BlackBerry credit. Under CEO John Chen the company has made some savvy moves this year, including leveraging key technology assets such as the BBM secure messaging service and BlackBerry Enterprise Server device management platform, forming strategic alliances with Foxconn and Samsung, investing in a medical IT cloud services provider, and launching the BlackBerry Passport and Classic smartphones.

Sales are still shrinking and BlackBerry's survival is far from assured. But the company's losses are narrowing and it was operationally cash-flow-positive in its third quarter. BlackBerry shares are up more than 40 percent since Jan. 2.

Dimension Data Fires On All Cylinders

Was there any solution provider that took a more aggressive approach to growth in 2014 than Dimension Data? The South Africa-based company, No. 13 on the 2014 CRN Solution Provider 500, has set itself the goal of doubling its global sales to $12 billion over the next five years. If this year is any indication, it's well on its way to achieving that.

Dimension Data was particularly aggressive on the acquisition front. In April Dimension Data Americas, under CEO Mark Slaga, struck a deal to acquire $471 million solution provider Nexus IS, a move that will significantly expand Dimension Data's presence in the U.S. and make it a powerhouse in the Cisco market. One month earlier the company acquired solution provider NextiraOne to grow its European footprint. And in May it bought Teliris, a privately held cloud video managed services provider.

Dimension Data was active on other fronts, including enlisting with Cisco's emerging InterCloud strategy and becoming that vendor's first global hosting partner. That and other savvy moves helped the company record 20 percent organic sales growth in fiscal 2014 -- even before considering the acquisitions.

Apple Debuts The iPhone 6

Apple began selling the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus on Sept. 19. One might think the sixth-generation release of a product would hardly be news, and with almost any other vendor they’d be right. But this is Apple and the iPhone 6 launch was one of the biggest IT events of the year.

Pre-orders for the new iPhone exceeded 4 million in the first 24 hours of its availability and more than 10 million were sold in the first three days. A Digitimes report says Apple could sell more than 200 million iPhone 6 units in fiscal 2015.

Some observers have questioned whether the post-Steve Jobs Apple can maintain the momentum of the past decade. And certainly 2014 was not Apple’s best year ever, given such missteps as the botched iOS 8.0.1 release and the infamous iCloud hack with stolen nude celebrity photos.

But people lined up in front of Apple stores worldwide by the thousands to buy the iPhone 6. How many IT vendors this year could say the same about their customers?