InfoWorld's 2010 Technology of the Year Awards

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Perhaps there is some light at the end of the corporate desktop tunnel after all.

-- Paul Venezia

Sun VirtualBox 3.1 We love disruptive products -- the kind that sneaks up on an established category or market segment and shakes up the apple cart. In the case of desktop virtualization, the cart has needed a good jolt for some time now. With VMware focused primarily on ever more vertical niches and Microsoft effectively withdrawing from competition, true examples of innovation have been few and far between.

Fortunately, an interloper has emerged to add some drama back into the mix. Sun VirtualBox 3.1 is proving to be a compelling alternative to VMware Workstation for many usage scenarios. And while the product still can't match its commercial contemporary's tight integration with Visual Studio or its robust VDI-authoring features, Sun VirtualBox 3.1 has actually pulled ahead of VMware in one important area: scalability.

With version 3.x, VirtualBox now supports up to 32 virtual CPUs per VM (VMware Workstation supports just 4). Add to this improved snapshot capabilities and 2-D acceleration for virtualized applications, and you have a solution nipping at VMware's heels in the general desktop virtualization space. However, even greater innovation is happening behind the scenes.

In a page straight out of the Microsoft playbook, Sun has quietly been building a live migration capability around the VirtualBox engine. The feature, dubbed Teleportation, first debuted with version 3.1 as a command-line function. Using a simple syntax, users can take a VM running under VirtualBox on one system and "teleport" it to another VirtualBox system, all the while preserving the VM's runtime state.

Needless to say, this is a huge development for Sun Microsystems, one that places it on a collision course with heavyweights VMware and Microsoft in the virtualized datacenter. But the most remarkable aspect of this story is how quickly the company has brought this virtualization platform along. In a little over a year, Sun has turned this relatively unknown fledgling from an obscure German software developer (Innotek) into a potent threat.

Our advice to VMware (and Microsoft): Be afraid. Be very afraid.

-- Randall C. Kennedy

Compellent Storage Center 4.2 From vendor to vendor, SAN storage systems generally share not only core functionality, but also what used to be considered advanced features, such as thin provisioning and local and remote replication. Compellent still offers features that many others don't. One of these is automated tiered storage, a data migration capability that EMC recently announced with a great deal of fanfare, several years after Compellent introduced it. Another is the ability to map multiple volumes to multiple virtual machines simultaneously. And yet another is consistency groups that allow easy setup of single LUNs mapped to multiple virtual machines for VMware VMotion and Microsoft Hyper-V Live Migration.

But what Compellent does better than other vendors is provide great ease-of-use and all the performance you could ask for at very moderate prices. In Compellent Storage Center, wizards make everyday tasks simple enough for untrained administrators to do, while a command-line scripting interface makes it simple for experienced admins to provision multiple LUNs with one step. Setting up a second Compellent Storage Center for remote replication of a local Storage Center is literally a matter of six clicks, and if the local SAN has a lot of data, there's an easy way to attach USB-based portable drives to seed the remote SAN without having to ship the whole rack around.

Extraordinary ease-of-use combined with great performance is the hallmark of the Compellent Storage Center, and the reason it once again wins InfoWorld's Technology of the Year Award.

-- Logan G. Harbaugh

Dell EqualLogic PS Series Dell EqualLogic SANs subscribe to the concept of "Do one thing and do it well," and boy, do they do it well. EqualLogic SANs are iSCSI only -- no multiprotocol file serving such as NFS, CIFS, or any other doodads, just blazing fast iSCSI performance and a hugely scalable design that guarantees that you cannot add storage without adding requisite redundant bandwidth.

The attention to detail throughout the PS Series product line is exemplary. Upgrading the firmware on an EqualLogic SAN is very simple, and can be accomplished without taking the array offline at any point. If some components need their firmware flashed, the upgrade process takes care of the whole process from start to finish. The management GUI is as good as any other, and the SAN HQ software gives a wide view of all storage components, processes, and performance.

Dell also takes things a step further with their integrated backup hooks. You can link to specific Microsoft SQL Server databases for instance, arrange for snapshots to be taken of that file system on a regular basis, and automate the restoration of just that database should a failure occur.

There are more reasons why we like Dell EqualLogic SANs so much, but our position can be summed up with the simple statement that Dell EqualLogic has produced a simple, stable, and elegant storage framework that will bring peace of mind to any infrastructure.

-- Paul Venezia

Amazon Web Services Amazon Web Services (AWS) is something like the world's biggest shopping mall of cloud-based services. Its array of selections is wide, ranging from storage-based services like SimpleDB, Amazon Relational Database Service, and Elastic Block Store to compute services like the Elastic Compute Cloud and Elastic MapReduce; to online ecommerce services like Amazon DevPay and Amazon Associates Web Service; to difficult-to-categorize services like the ad hoc job matchmaking service of Mechanical Turk.

A sizable ecology of freeware libraries and tools for accessing AWS continues to flower. While AWS's chief language of use is Java, you'll find tools for Python, JavaScript, Perl, Ruby, C#, and more. Access to AWS is primarily through HTTP-based Web services, so the API is universally accessible to any mechanism that can generate an HTTP request. In addition, Amazon's micropricing architecture makes it possible for even the most cash-strapped developer to test the viability of a cloud-based application.

Whether cloud computing ultimately establishes itself as a permanent platform for storage and data processing remains to be seen. One thing is certain, however; should cloud computing ultimately fail in its aspirations, no one will be able to blame Amazon for not trying. AWS extends to just about every dimension of cloud computing currently known. No doubt more "cloud solutions" are on the way, and as soon as someone figures out what they are, Amazon will probably be the first to provide an offering.

-- Rick Grehan

Apache Hadoop Hadoop is a data analysis application specifically designed to handle large data sets by employing distributed processing. Hadoop's scalability is remarkable; you can create and run a single-machine Hadoop system on your laptop or -- provided you have the space and finances -- deploy Hadoop across several thousand inter-networked computers.

More specifically, Hadoop is an implementation of the Map/Reduce algorithm developed by Google, running atop the Hadoop distributed file system (HDFS). Map/Reduce is a two-step process (the map step, followed by the reduce step), but each amounts to the mapping of one set of key/value pairs to another. When you create a Map/Reduce task to run in Hadoop, you write map and reduce routines (both are often remarkably small), and Hadoop acts as a managed runtime environment for them. Hadoop sees to it that distributed instances of your routines are executed, that input data is partitioned and sent to your routines, that the results are gathered and passed on to the next stage, and even that crashed instances are restarted and the situation is "healed."

Though the concept is simple, the result is powerful. Developers quickly catch on to writing map and reduce functions. (Nor are programmers restricted to a specific language for the functions; although Hadoop is Java based, you can write map and reduce functions in any language that can read and write standard input and output.) And Hadoop's scalability is practically linear. If your data gets twice as big, then double the number of systems in your Hadoop network. You need write no new code to accommodate the increase in the number of processors or expanded disk space; Hadoop sees to all that.

Best of all, Hadoop is an Apache project (and is therefore free) and has spawned several subprojects, each geared toward using the Hadoop technology to tackle huge data sets. Commercial users of Hadoop range from Amazon to Facebook to the New York Times. Amazon's Elastic MapReduce service is a Hadoop implementation.

-- Rick Grehan

Amazon SimpleDB Amazon's SimpleDB is precisely what its name implies: a simple database. It is simple in that creating a table (or, rather, SimpleDB's equivalent of a table -- a Domain) requires no schema. You don't have to tell SimpleDB "I am going to build a Domain whose structure is thus-and-so." You simply begin putting data into the Domain, and the structure happens.

SimpleDB is not a relational database (you could use Amazon Relational Database Service for that), but a comparatively feature-rich example of the new breed of "NoSQL" databases. Data is sorted in SimpleDB as name/value pairs, organized into items. The architecture of SimpleDB is best visualized as a table in a spreadsheet: attributes are columns, items are rows, and values are cell contents.

Operations in SimpleDB are a minimalist's dream. Domains are created or deleted using the CreateDomain and DeleteDomain requests, respectively. To read data, use GetAttributes (coupled with Select, which searches for specified data). To write data, use PutAttributes. To delete data, use DeleteAttributes. The Select operator -- analogous to SQL's SELECT statement -- recognizes a limited set of conditionals, but can handle the majority of basic queries.

SimpleDB is ideal for persistent storage and searching of structured data. It is used by AdaptiveBlue's Glue social networking tools, Pluribo Technology's summarization engine, and Mindscape's LightSpeed .Net object/relational mapping tool. Devver.net, a development company that builds cloud tools, uses SimpleDB with Ruby. As with other Amazon Web Services, SimpleDB's strength is its micropricing (which encourages proof-of-concept testing) and its ease-of-use.

-- Rick Grehan

Eclipse Eclipse is an open source integrated development environment that has grown into an extensible hosting platform for development tools. Eclipse began life as a Java development tool, but its plug-in architecture has allowed it to provide development environments for languages, including C/C++, PHP, Python/Jython, Ruby, Tcl, JavaScript, and more. This versatility is particularly attractive in areas where software development requires working in multiple languages. For example, a PHP developer often requires access to tools that support HTML, XML, JavaScript, and SQL; a single Eclipse installation can be outfitted with plug-ins that handle all of those languages.

The Eclipse IDE is also well served by subprojects that provide construction kits for building tools that abstract higher-level development tasks. For example, the Parallel Tools Platform furnishes building blocks for creating Eclipse-based plug-ins that assist in development within parallel computing environments. Photran -- a FORTRAN development environment in Eclipse -- is a product of the Parallel Tools Platform.

Other toolkits within Eclipse cater to activities adjunct to development. The Data Tools Platform provides tools for managing RDBMSes, executing SQL, managing database meta-content such as triggers and stored procedures, and so on. The Web Tools Platform is invaluable not only for working with Java EE-based applications, but its included Web Services Explorer can be used to interactively navigate SOAP-based Web services.

Best of all, Eclipse is platform agnostic. Eclipse-based tools run on Windows, Linux, Unix, and (in many cases) Mac OS X.

-- Rick Grehan

Apple iPhone OS 3.0 and App Store How do an evolutionary operating system upgrade and an established online store make our Technology of the Year list? They do it by reinforcing the supremacy of one of the seminal products of the decade.

Some might say that the iPhone 3GS was the big news of the year, but by bringing most of the newest iPhone's capabilities to the previous generation of hardware (as a free upgrade no less), iPhone OS 3.0 kept a huge block of users happy with their smartphones. It also kept the feature bar high for a parade of would-be iPhone killers, none of which came close to accomplishing the mission.

The challenges posed by the BlackBerry Storm, the Palm Pre, and the Android 2.0-based Droid were all made more difficult by the tens of thousands of applications available for ready purchase, download, and installation through the App Store and iTunes. The applications, which range from silly to mission-critical, have made the iPhone a viable mobile business platform for many, and a source of endless diversion for many more.

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