Best Of The Best: Awards At Interop Honor Tech Innovation

Top honor goes to Palo Alto Networks for its next-generation firewall; other standouts include Vidyo for its videoconferencing suite and Foundry Networks for its eco-friendly approach to manufacturing.

Art Wittmann, Art Wittmann is a freelance journalist

May 1, 2008

6 Min Read

CEO Steve Mullaney and marketing director Chris King accept the Best of Interop award for Palo Alto NetworksPhoto by Kim Kulish

With tech at the center of the last economic downturn, we're all holding our collective breath waiting to see how this one will affect IT budgets and the flow of innovative technology from vendors. The Best of Interop awards are one bellwether of the latter. The 181 entries related to the annual business technology event came in just under last year's 194 but marked an increase over 141 entries in 2006. Contenders included a mix of startups and heavyweights. InformationWeek editors picked winners in three overall categories--Best of Interop, Best Startup, and Best Green Vendor--and in eight tech categories.


The awards strive to identify technologies that will not only change how IT professionals work but also will reshape the day-to-day lives of businesses and end users. This year, top honor goes to a product that has the potential to do all that: the PA-4000 Series Next Generation Firewall from Palo Alto Networks.

The PA-4000, which also wins in the Security category, is a firewall that can identify and monitor traffic from more than 600 applications, enabling IT to allow, block, or restrict access to those apps across a company's network. Its purpose-built processor lets the PA-4000 sort and apply company policies to every application a user might have, without significantly slowing network performance. It also lets companies set policies on particular categories of apps, such as video or instant messaging, and control user access to new and emerging apps in those categories, even if IT isn't aware of them.

The PA-4000 has the potential to let companies stop having to say no to broad types of traffic, such as HTML. Instead, they can control access to specific applications, according to the needs of the business. Employees can be allowed to use an application in off hours but not during work hours, or one department can be allowed to use one application but not another.

The PA-4000 lets the business set policies on how employees, customers, and partners use IT resources--and enforce them with a real "gate" that prevents abuse. It also lets companies see how applications are used within the enterprise to better gauge productivity and efficiency in the IT infrastructure and at users' desktops.


The top startup this year also improves visibility within companies--literally. Vidyo in January introduced VidyoConferencing, a videoconferencing suite that ranges from desktop software to a room system. It includes a videoconferencing gateway, portal, and router, and uses scalable video coding, or SVC, to deliver high-quality video streaming over general-purpose IP networks. The VidyoRouter adapts to available bandwidth and sends endpoints only as many packets as they can handle. The result is high-def video over IP, an attractive option for companies looking for a flexible, low-hassle conferencing system that doesn't compromise on video quality.

One thing we like is that Vidyo is easily extended to branches and home offices so it won't end up collecting dust as a high-end system that's only turned on for special occasions. Vidyo uses the H.264/SVC video-compression standard, while its gateway connects to existing Multipoint Control Unit systems, giving companies a way to implement newer videoconferencing technology without ditching earlier investments. Cisco has given Vidyo its own stamp of approval, licensing Vidyo's technology for use in its Unified Communications desktop products.


Judge Steven Hill presents the Green award to Foundry Networks' Janina McMillinPhoto by Kim Kulish

IT is often the largest single consumer of energy in many companies, and more IT managers are being asked to find ways to cut rapidly increasing power costs. Foundry Networks caught our attention among the many environmentally conscious vendors with its eco-friendly philosophy that covers virtually every aspect of production.

Foundry's newest module for its BigIron RX Series is manufactured to the European Union's Restriction of Hazardous Substances directive, which requires reduced toxic waste during production of electronic devices. In operation, it has a maximum power consumption of only 18 watts per 10 Gigabit Ethernet port, and each port offers an idle mode that further reduces consumption by 30% when not in use. Fully loaded, a single BigIron RX-32 chassis supports up to 512 10 Gigabit Ethernet ports but draws only 13,100 watts--a fraction of the power consumption of the competition. Foundry has also adopted the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment disposal process, which lets customers return products at their end of life for recycling.

Virtualization is changing the rules for how data centers run, but to fully realize the benefits, the infrastructure must change, too. One way that's happening is through the convergence of data and storage networking and full I/O virtualization. Mellanox Technologies wins our Data Center and Storage category for its ConnectX EN with Fibre Channel over Ethernet, which is the first production NIC to off-load FCoE processing from the main CPU. The card provides I/O virtualization along with FCoE off-load at 10 Gbps.

Similarly, Cisco Systems takes the top honors in our Infrastructure category with its Nexus 7000 Series switch. Though few of the 7000's features are unique, the collection points the direction for the future of the data center's infrastructure. The features include a modular operating system; 15 Tbps total throughput, supporting 10 Gbps links now, and the promise of 40 Gbps and 100 Gbps in the future; an XML-exposed management API; and virtualized I/O support.

Cisco gets another nod in our Network and Application Performance Optimization category, for its Wide Area Application Engine 674. This appliance provides a unified platform for Cisco's WAN optimization, wide area application services, and Application and Content Networking System software. The result is a single box option for optimizing the performance of most applications to remote offices, including real-time apps like video.

In Network Management, Software and Services, Splunk wins for the latest version of its Splunk Platform, which seeks to capture and organize log, trap, and configuration data. While Splunk concentrates on organizing what your infrastructure tells you, the winner of the Software category, Spigit, uses its software, called IdeaSpigit, to organize and qualify ideas that come from customers and business partners.

In VoIP and Collaboration, Mitel takes the award for its comprehensive Mitel Communications Suite. It collaborated with Sun Microsystems on a system that puts multiple instances of Mitel's call server on Sun Fire servers, and uses Sun's thin Sun Ray clients, along with Mitel's Mobility Extensions, to create an efficient server back end and flexible, secure end-user environment.

In Wireless and Mobility, AirMagnet earns top honors for its Analyzer and Survey Suite for 802.11n. AirMagnet's not only first to market with 802.11n support, but it has added features that address the unique nature of the 11n specification.

-- With John Foley, Steven Hill, and Tim Wilson

About the Author(s)

Art Wittmann

Art Wittmann is a freelance journalist

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