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One thing is certain in the world of IT, the only constant is change! With the launch of our Channel Insider 2007 Products of the Year awards, it became easy to see how the industry is in a state of flux as evidenced by the no less than 27 categories needed to break down the market, at least from a channel point of view.

While some old standby categories, such as Notebook/Laptop computers and Client Operating Systems, preserved their well defined classifications, many other categories had to be re-invented to embody product families that evolved into something more. Take for instance firewalls. When is a firewall not a firewall? When it becomes a security appliance! That same logic can be applied to many other products on the market today, add to that “the channel element” and it becomes clear why 27 categories were needed. Those categories were assembled into four groups, Business Software, Security, Utility Software & Systems and Clients & Peripherals. While some of the categories were new, solution providers were still eager to vote on their favorite products in their respective groups and some of the results were surprising.

In the Business Software group, categories such as Business Intelligence and Middleware showed that Oracle still has the name recognition and channel support to outpace the challengers, but the margins between winners and challengers are narrowing.

With Databases, Microsoft’s SQL Server just barley pushed Oracle Database 11G aside,  perhaps showing that Microsoft’s product is being accepted in the larger enterprise. Without much surprise, Microsoft’s Exchange 2007 was able to smash any challengers in the Email/Collaboration Software space.

Things got a little more interesting with categories like ERP and SaaS, where the leaders were miles ahead of the challengers, indicating that those challengers have a lot of work to do to entice the channel.

In the Security Group, competition proved to be fierce. The Network Security, Endpoint Security and Security Server Software categories proved to be tight races. Surprisingly, Symantec barley edged out Microsoft in Endpoint security. Does that mean the channel perception of Microsoft’s poor security is fading? For Security Server Software, Trend Micro came in slightly ahead of Symantec and IBM, showing that as far as the channel is concerned, the offerings are all pretty much the same.

Network Security was another category almost too close to call, here lesser known Webroot was able to outplace industry giant Symantec showing that the channel doesn’t put name recognition at the top of the heap when it comes to security products.

The Utility Software & Systems group lumped together some operating systems and other software products and developed a few surprises. For the System and Network Management category, Microsoft proved to be king by outscoring VMware’s ACE 2 offering, showing once again that Microsoft is making headway in yet another category. For Server Operating Systems, the news was a little different, Microsoft had not introduced a new product in the time frame specified, that left the category to Unix derivatives and Red Hat ranked the highest, beating out Sun and Novell.

On the client OS side, things changed a little with Microsoft’s Windows Vista outscoring both Solaris and SUSE by a comfortable margin. Although that does not mean the channel is ready to embrace Vista, it does indicate that Vista is a more palatable offering than a Unix/Linux offering.

The Application Development category showed that Adobe had a strong lead over the other new comers and it was no surprise that VMware took the Virtualization category with ESX Server, indicating that sometimes the 800 pound gorilla is just too hard to ignore!

The Clients & Peripherals group shows that the channel still has an open mind and is willing to forgive. Despite Dell’s past anti-channel stance, the company was able to win both in the Desktop and Notebook/Laptop categories. It seems Dell’s new focus on the channel is paying off for the Texas giant. While HP did not take the lead in PCs, the company surely showed that the channel still values their products and HP won both the Workgroup/Network Printers and Multifunction Printers categories by a significant margin, despite solution provider grumblings about HP’s channel program commitments.

The Networking & Storage group still proves to be one of the hottest market segments for solution providers today as evidenced by the active voting for all of the groups categories.

One of the biggest surprises came from the Network Storage category, where upstart NetApp was able to best both of the big names in the industry, HP and EMC. NetApp’s channel friendly approach and technology innovations made the company hard to ignore. Although NetApp may have taken the gold for the hardware, someone has to manage it, and the Storage Management category showed that winner HP was up to the task with Storage Essentials Storage Resource Management EE.

For Network Infrastructure, Cisco reigned supreme; handily beating out the latest challenger, Juniper and an old competitor, HP. Cisco also took the honors in the Wireless Networking category, showing that the value of the Cisco name and the breadth of products scored well with solution providers.

One bright spot for HP was the Server Infrastructure category, where the palo alto based giant beat two other industry giants (Dell and IBM) to earn a place in the data center, at least according to solution providers! HP will have some good company in the data center, thanks to APC’s domination of the Power Management category, where the company’s InfraStruXure InRow RP brings what’s needed to solution providers building out the next generation of data centers.