The 2009 Reader's Choice Awards

Your picks for the best in virtualization.

In our first Reader's Choice Awards survey, which will be conducted annually, we asked you to vote for the best of the best in the world of virtualization. The voting process included decisions on more than 125 products in 11 categories, ranging from application virtualization to virtualization security, plus standards and training. You, the readers, have spoken. Here's what you said.

Application Virtualization
Products in Category: 8
Number of Respondents: 270
Winner: VMware ThinApp (45.6%)

Preferred Products: Citrix XenApp (30.7%) and Microsoft Application Virtualization (App-V) (17.8%)

Virtualization Review magazine reviewer Ken Da Silva gave the thumbs up to VMware's ThinApp application-virtualization tool ("Test-Driving VMware's ThinApp," February/March 2009), and readers apparently agree with his positive take. ThinApp earned the top spot among the eight products in this category, beating out competitive wares from Citrix Systems Inc., Microsoft, Novell and others.

In general, these types of virtualization tools create application portability by separating a program from its underlying OS. In his review, Da Silva identified these three reasons to use ThinApp: to migrate proprietary or custom applications to new versions of Windows, to package complicated application installations and, for developers, to create OS-independent applications.

Da Silva wrote that ThinApp, which VMware acquired a couple of years back from Thinstall, might be a bit pricey, but has many worthwhile features, including an easy-to-use interface.

Virtual Automation
Products in Category: 2
Number of Respondents: 135
Winner: Univa UD Reliance (67%)

Preferred Product: Surgient Virtual Automation Platform (33%)

Being able to finesse the provisioning of servers, physical or virtual, is certainly a challenging task. It's currently a small category, but one that's sure to grow as virtualization becomes more ubiquitous. Our readers clearly favor Univa UD's Reliance automated virtual machine (VM) provisioning tool. Reliance received two-thirds of the votes in this two-product category.

The product monitors the application infrastructure, gathers and analyzes detailed performance metrics, then takes provisioning actions based on these metrics to meet established customer service-level agreements.

Virtual Business Continuity & Disaster Recovery
Products in Category: 15
Number of Respondents: 244
Winner: Microsoft System Center Data Protection Manager (25.4%)

Preferred Products: Vizioncore vRanger Pro (15.2%) and Neverfail for VMware vCenter Server (14.3%)

Virtualization has changed the nature of disaster recovery, and there's no shortage of vendors trying to capitalize on the enterprise opportunities. In this category, we asked readers to pick their favorites among 15 products, from 12 vendors, with slightly more than half of the votes going to the top three picks. Microsoft System Center Data Protection Manager (DPM) came out on top, having received one-quarter of the respondent votes. With DPM, users can execute disk-to-disk-to-tape backups for Microsoft VMs. The backup tool uses shadow copy-based block-level protection of virtual disks. As a plus for Microsoft shops, DPM also backs up a host of physical machines, such as those running SQL Server, Microsoft Exchange and SharePoint.

Desktop Virtualization
Products in Category: 15
Number of Respondents: 247
Winner: Citrix XenDesktop (54.7%)
Enterprise interest in desktop virtualization has grown substantially this year as companies grapple with the sticky challenge of managing desktops with shrinking IT budgets. Hosted desktop virtualization enables enterprises to pool desktops in a central location for ease of management and stricter security control. It comes with tradeoffs, too, such as performance degradation; but vendors are working to overcome those issues with better display protocols. It's still a new category, but there's a lot of momentum in this space.

The Reader's Choice winner here is clear, with Citrix's XenDesktop leading the pack by a wide margin. Industry watchers like it, too. Earlier this year, VR reviewers Danielle and Nelson Ruest called XenDesktop a state-of-the-art hosted-desktop virtualization product that "may be the gold standard by which other products are judged in a feature-for-feature comparison" (see "Xen and the Art of Hosted Desktops," December 2008/January 2009).

[One other key desktop virtualization product, VMware View, was inadvertently left off of the ballot. Along with XenDesktop, View is one of the most popular products in this category. It offers similar functionality, including centralized management, application virtualization and a connection broker. Virtualization Review magazine regrets the omission of VMware View in these listings.-Ed.]

Virtual Management & Optimization
Products in Category: 27
Number of Respondents: 235
Winner: NetIQ AppManager for VMware (11.9%)

Preferred Products: VKernel Capacity Analyzer (9.8%) and SolarWinds VM Monitor (9.4%)

There's no real virtualization without management. Because VMs are so easy to create, they can easily proliferate in the data center, leaving administrators wondering what they have on their network. In addition, virtualization adds another layer of complexity, making troubleshooting and lifecycle management more challenging than ever.

In this crowded field, no single product grabbed reader mindshare-the top three choices garnered slightly less than one-third of the vote, and AppManager from NetIQ Corp. won by the narrowest of margins. For its part, NetIQ touts features such as self-maintaining service maps and the ability to auto-deploy agents and modules for "zero-touch" monitoring as points of differentiation in its latest release.

Server Virtualization
Products in Category: 6
Number of Respondents: 299
Winner: VMware ESX (62.2%)

Preferred Products: Microsoft Hyper-V (17.1%) and Citrix XenServer (13.7%)

As it does in the general market, VMware's hypervisor beat out competitive wares by a comfortable margin-ESX's 62.2 percent of the vote compared to Microsoft Hyper-V's 17.1 percent. This is the product, after all, that established the x86 server virtualization market in the first place. As of earlier this year, with the launch of the vSphere virtualization suite, VMware has made the ESX hypervisor fully 64-bit. In other words, this latest iteration of ESX will only run on 64-bit hardware.

vSphere has the clear technology lead on Hyper-V and XenServer. It's more enterprise-worthy as of right now. But Microsoft and Citrix are working hard to close the gap. For instance, Microsoft added a crucial feature, live migration, to the R2 release of Hyper-V. And Citrix built new cloud-computing components into XenServer, and is upgrading its storage capabilities, as pointed out in the next section. The advantage the competitors have is in price; it's cheaper to get basic functionality with Hyper-V and XenServer. But VMware has huge market share because its products are the most well known and established in data centers.

Storage Virtualization & Management
Products in Category: 16
Number of Respondents: 232
Winner: Citrix Essentials for XenServer and Citrix Essentials for Hyper-V (27.2%)

Preferred Products: Network Appliance NetApp V-Series (12.1%); Network Appliance NetApp Data ONTAP 7G (11.6%)

In this heavily populated category, the top three products grabbed 50 percent of the vote, with the remaining product nods fairly well sprinkled among the 13 other entrants. Citrix grabbed the winner's slot for its Essentials advanced virtualization-management tools. This add-on management software comes in two flavors: its own XenServer and Hyper-V.

Weighing in on the Hyper-V version, our product reviewers Danielle and Nelson Ruest called out three features as being particularly helpful for managing enterprise data centers: Advanced StorageLink Technology, which enables rapid provisioning of VMs using high-speed copying capabilities native to a storage-area network; Dynamic Provisioning Services, which use provisioning server farms to pre-populate VMs based on a single-source VHD file and differentials; and Automated Lab Management, which relies on Citrix LabManager to provide user self-service for laboratory provisioning. In the review, they wrote: "The ability of DPS to decrease VM disk footprints while providing fully functional environments to massive numbers of users makes this tool worth its weight in gold" (see "Citrix Delivers Essentials for Your Hyper-V Data Center," August/September 2009).

Virtualization Security
Products in Category: 13
Number of Respondents: 204
Winner: Tripwire Enterprise (26%)

Preferred Products: Check Point VPN-1 VE (23%) and Tripwire for Servers (15.7%)

The two Tripwire Inc. virtualization security products in our reader survey-Tripwire Enterprise and Tripwire for Servers-both cracked the top three. Tripwire Enterprise, voted best product by a narrow margin over VPN-1 VE from Check Point Software Technologies Ltd., combines configuration assessment and change auditing for control of virtual and physical systems, including servers, desktops, network devices and hypervisors. It comes with hundreds of policies that proactively assess and validate current IT configurations against regulatory standards and security best practices. Should the configurations fall out of a secure state, IT is alerted.

Tripwire announced the latest version, Enterprise 7.5V, at this summer's VMworld conference and exhibition.

Virtual PC
Products in Category: 8
Number of Respondents: 285
Winner: VMware Workstation (68.4%)

Preferred Product: Microsoft Virtual PC for Windows (24.2%)

VMware Workstation is the hands-down winner in the virtual PC category, voted best product by nearly 70 percent of survey respondents. PC virtualization differs significantly from the previous category of desktop virtualization. In PC virtualization, a desktop OS-such as Windows XP, Windows Vista or Ubuntu Linux-is hosted inside the primary operating system. There's no server component involved. The big difference between the winner here and Virtual PC is price. VMware Workstation, which is much more feature-rich, is hundreds of dollars, while Virtual PC is free. Note also that Microsoft's newest desktop OS, Windows 7, has a version of Virtual PC built in. Called "Windows XP Mode," it allows great backward compatibility in an environment that's seamless to the end user.

It's worth pointing out that this is a growing category for the Mac OS X as well, with VMware Fusion and Parallels Desktop for Mac the leading players. They allow an alternate desktop-Windows, for the most part-to be run on a Mac.

Products in Category: 2
Number of Respondents: 181
Winner: NetWrix Change Reporter for VMware Infrastructure 3 (76.2%)

Preferred Product: LinkTek LinkFixerPlus (23.8%)

This is an odd-bird category, created for two products worth asking about but not fitting neatly into any other. Regardless, NetWrix's change-management tool seems to have a big following, having garnered more than three-quarters of the vote in this category. Enterprises can use Change Reporter, a freeware tool, to overview configuration changes on a daily basis, prepare compliance reports and audit the creation of new VMs.

Virtualization Standard
Choices in Category: 2
Number of Respondents: 202
Winner: DMTF VMAN Open Virtualization Format (54.5%)

Preferred: DMTF Virtualization Management Initiative (45.5%)

That more than 200 readers weighed in with a vote for this category is a sign of the importance standards play in virtualization environments. There really is no loser between these two Distributed Management Task Force (DMTF) initiatives. In fact, the Open Virtualization Format (OVF) specification, created by VMware and other virtualization players, is part of the DMTF's Virtualization Management Initiative, which aims to address the management lifecycle of a virtual environment. The OVF spec in particular provides a standard format for packaging and describing VMs and applications for deployment across heterogeneous virtualization platforms.

Virtualization Training
Vendors in Category: 5
Number of Respondents: 197
Winner: Global Knowledge (76.1%)

Preferred Products: Intense School (8.1%) and NetCom (8.1%)

Global Knowledge Training LLC blew away the competition in this category, earning more than three-quarters of the votes. Its VMware courses cover everything from basic installation, configuration and management to advanced features intended for experienced VMware administrators.


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