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The best hardware and software of the year

Andrew Binstock | Jan. 12, 2011
InfoWorld's 2011 Technology of the Year Awards recognize the best products at the forefront of today's top data center, desktop, mobile, and programming trends

Now the cloud is emerging as a good platform for running large-scale analysis without requiring a commensurate investment in hardware. The cloud's attractive features (low op-ex rather than cap-ex, transparent backup and redundant systems, instant capacity expansion, and ease-of-use) will no doubt continue to draw new adherents.

Virtualization and multicore Virtualization -- the key enabler of the cloud -- can place considerable stress on processors, which is one of the reasons that CPUs today contain dedicated circuitry to reduce the software overhead of virtualization operations. In addition, the profusion of cores on new CPUs allows virtualization platforms to host many virtual machines without compromising performance.

This year's award-winning CPUs -- the 12-core AMD Opteron Magny-Cours and the 8-core Intel Xeon Nehalem-EX -- both provide superior performance when many tasks are running in parallel. AMD's (AMD) Magny-Cours offers the best price/performance for highly concurrent workloads, while Intel's (INTC) Nehalem-EX targets high-capacity SMP servers with RAS (Reliability, Availability, Serviceability) features previously found only in mainframes, RISC/Unix servers, and Itanium.

We fully expect the march toward more cores to continue. Many-core processors, combined with denser RAM configurations, all hooked up to high-capacity NICs (multiple 10Gb Ethernet adapters) are the basis of future in-house, "private" clouds.

Whether such platforms will ever replace traditional desktops -- via virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) -- is still unclear. Even ignoring issues of user acceptance, deploying VDI on a large scale can be both costly and complex. Starter solutions such as Kaviza VDI-in-a-box -- another of our award winners -- put desktop virtualization within anyone's reach.

Where Microsoft lives Between the iPad and the cloud lies the traditional Windows desktop and its supporting infrastructure of multiuser hosts, such as CMS and collaboration platforms, that enable users to share files, participate in workflows, and have immediate access to business data. Here, Microsoft's stellar SharePoint 2010 and Exchange 2010 offer the richest set of services by which users can get the benefits of collaboration and communication with the least amount of difficulty.

Microsoft's wins in these server software categories (plus two more awards for Visual Studio 2010 and Silverlight 4) demonstrate that the company is far from the legacy, Windows-and-Office-only vendor it is often portrayed as. Microsoft did not luck into its recent successes, but had the insight to identify needs and provide intelligent solutions. Equally remarkable is the company's success with younger consumers via the Xbox 360 and the stunning Kinect add-on. There is no other company that is both a market leader in consumer hardware and a provider of prize-winning enterprise software -- not Apple, nor HP, nor Google. Odd then, that Microsoft can't seem to find its footing in mobile or the cloud. 


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