Channel Insider content and product recommendations are editorially independent. We may make money when you click on links to our partners. Learn More.

At the end of the day if you’re a solution provider, you want to make sure that you hitch your wagon to at least a few hot products in 2006 on the assumption that increased demand for those products will not only drive more revenue, but perhaps more importantly, expand your customer base.

So with that issue in mind, what follows is a channel take on the best products of 2006
as rigorously identified by the analysts at eWEEK Labs, who over the course of the year already shared their opinions with your customers concerning the merits of hundreds of new products in 2006.

PointerClick here to read more about eWEEK Labs’ top products of 2006.

As these products go mainstream in 2007, there are more than a few trends that solution providers might want to factor into their 2007 business plans.

The top products identified by eWEEK Labs for 2006, in alphabetical order:

Asterik: This voice-over-IP technology may not be a household name yet, but it is rapidly becoming the foundation for a whole new class of VOIP products aimed at the small-to-medium business space that bring the benefits of VOIP to an SMB customer at a price they can afford.

MacBook Pro: While Apple may not be a great channel company, the fact remains that the new Intel-based Macintoshes are becoming a hot item. In particular, the MacBook Pro is a hot item in the SMB sector as customers continue to experience Windows security fatigue. Furthermore, a new generation of younger workers in the marketplace is making the MacBook Pro a secure, hip system to bring to work even if it does cost a little more to support. But when you factor in all the security issues surrounding Windows, maybe the MacBook Pro has better return on investment after all.

Opera 9: Although this browser has minuscule market share, it’s way ahead in terms of innovation and security. Opera is way ahead of both Internet Explorer and Firefox. In fact, if want a good heads up on where the IE and Firefox teams are headed in the future, you might want to check out Opera 9, especially for customers working in high-productivity environments that also require special attention to security.

SmartBPM: Everybody in any midsize to large enterprise is talking about business process management, but for the most part existing BPM tools have been found wanting. Given the fact that this is a key area in which solution providers can add value, you might want to check out Version 5.1 of this tool from Pegasystems.

Splunk: This tool is rapidly gaining a following thanks to its ability to index and then search every log and data source across applications, servers or network device in real time. Anybody trying to keep a cap on customer support costs is probably going to be at a serious disadvantage to their competitors using this next-generation tool for systems, application and network management.

Steelhead Appliances: Developed by Riverbed Technologies, these application acceleration platforms are saving customers million of dollars by eliminating the need to deploy remote servers while not compromising the quality of application performance in the wake of a major data center consolidation project. There are plenty of these types of devices available today, but for the past year it feels like the big guys have been playing catch-up with Riverbed.

ThinkPad X60 Tablet: Not only is this a terrific tablet, it’s also a good notebook. That makes this Lenovo offering one of the first of these types of devices to actually understand that it’s the device that needs to adapt to the user rather than the other way around. As we all know, tablets are doing well in the channel, but the idea of a tablet that’s also a good straightforward notebook system might keep your customers away from the direct channel altogether.

VMware Server: Any time there is a product at the core of a revolution in enterprise computing, it should be on everybody’s radar screen. But while most people talk abut virtualization, the ability to first comprehend its implications and then actually implement it remains limited. And as is always the case, the more mystery there is, the higher the profit potential.

Overall, when you look at these eight products, what they have in common is that each represents the leading edge of a trend that not only benefits the customer but also creates significant downstream revenue opportunities for solution providers because of their intrinsic value proposition.

While each of the organizations bringing these products to market has varying degrees of channel savvy, the one thing you might want to remember about mainstream products is that old Yogi Berra adage about people not going places anymore because they’re too crowded.

Instead, you will want to find the new hip place that offers some financial breathing room before everybody else moves in and destroys the profit margin neighborhood.