The best hardware and software products of the year

InfoWorld's 2010 Technology of the Year Awards recognize the top solutions for business and IT professionals

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For instance, a vApp might have a database server and several front-end Web servers that can be addressed and administered as a single entity. Another big addition is the new fault tolerance method that allows for a single VM to run in lockstep across two hosts, with only one VM in production. If that should fail, the passive VM is immediately put into service without missing a beat. There's also the ability to run VMs with 256GB of RAM and eight vCPUs, and map PCI devices directly to a VM. The management tools have also been improved to a degree, with better reporting and trending features.

These and other enterprise features show that VMware is in fact leaps and bounds ahead of competitors in this market, even though a few of them pretend to be nipping at VMware's heels. Not to say there won't be challenges ahead for VMware as the virtualization market continues to grow and mature -- the competition is large, and it isn't going away. Luckily, that's a benefit to us all.

-- Paul Venezia

Citrix XenDesktop 4
The taming of the corporate desktop is arguably one of the industry's failures over the past decade. No matter how many strides are made in the datacenter, the user experience is largely unchanged: Most companies are still running Windows XP on a local desktop. Citrix XenApp (formerly Presentation Server, formerly MetaFrame) and terminal services in general have been around for seeming eons, but in general-purpose deployments, there were always pitfalls and corner cases that made full-scale adoption problematic, if not impossible.

For some use cases such as call centers and data entry, Citrix has always been an excellent solution, but that's of small comfort to a corporation trying to control costs and reduce complexity by using thin clients on every desktop, regardless of the users' application requirements and workload. Pity the poor user who needs more.

After acquiring XenSource in 2007, Citrix pushed forward with a three-pronged approach to this problem. By leveraging their tried-and-true application virtualization technology alongside application streaming and finally virtual desktop infrastructure, they can now claim to cover all the bases. Building on XenApp, XenDesktop weaves together all of these technologies, allowing the shortcomings of each to be overtaken by the advantages of another.

If an application cannot function normally in a traditional Citrix farm, it can be run on a virtual desktop system under Xen or VMware, with the application seamlessly piped to the client. If the application can be streamed, it can be pulled from that particular pool. The cost to implement is high, but the rewards can be great with the right deployment.

Perhaps there is some light at the end of the corporate desktop tunnel after all.

-- Paul Venezia

Sun VirtualBox 3.1
We love disruptive products -- the kind that sneaks up on an established category or market segment and shakes up the apple cart. In the case of desktop virtualization, the cart has needed a good jolt for some time now. With VMware focused primarily on ever more vertical niches and Microsoft effectively withdrawing from competition, true examples of innovation have been few and far between.

Fortunately, an interloper has emerged to add some drama back into the mix. Sun VirtualBox 3.1 is proving to be a compelling alternative to VMware Workstation for many usage scenarios. And while the product still can't match its commercial contemporary's tight integration with Visual Studio or its robust VDI-authoring features, Sun VirtualBox 3.1 has actually pulled ahead of VMware in one important area: scalability.

With version 3.x, VirtualBox now supports up to 32 virtual CPUs per VM (VMware Workstation supports just 4). Add to this improved snapshot capabilities and 2-D acceleration for virtualized applications, and you have a solution nipping at VMware's heels in the general desktop virtualization space. However, even greater innovation is happening behind the scenes.

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