It's time for our “Innovators” issue again. Every year at this time, we roll up our sleeves and start digging for those companies that have the vision, imagination and creative management to become the leaders in our industry through their innovation. The first time we did this – four years ago – leading-edge changes were in short supply. Since then, we have seen mergers and acquisitions, severe economic woes and business failures. Happily, all of that seems to be behind us, but the industry does not look anything like it did four years ago.

Last year, we had several companies pass into our Hall of Fame. This year, we have one, but it is a real success story. The Hall of Fame is reserved for the most innovative of the innovative. That means that we have vetted the winners several years in a row. We perform that due diligence in a variety of ways. We look at how many times they have been chosen as Innovators. We look at how they fared in our monthly Group Test reviews. And we talk to them and look at how they have performed against the plans they offered in earlier years, and how they scrambled when things got tough. 

This year's Hall of Famer was a hot pick for us, as well as for other organizations that prognosticated about up-and-comers. The company was successful in the marketplace and it had leading-edge technology. So, in the true spirit of our industry, another innovative – but much larger – company, bought them. It remains to be seen what will happen next, but knowing both of these firms, I'm betting each will continue their winning streaks, together now.

Innovation is not something that comes from sales or marketing alone. It is comprised of the technology, plus the way the business is conceived. We found some interesting trends this year. For example, we found that the majority of our Innovators are stealth marketers. They prefer to use public relations and word of mouth instead of spending bundles on advertising. That doesn't mean they don't advertise. It means they advertise smart. For example, some told us they use online banner ads and trade shows instead of paying big bucks for display ads.

Another major factor in our business has been the emergence of old wine in new bottles. Those of you who follow my writing know I am not a fan of the hype that surrounds “the cloud” and “Web 2.0.” Both of these are, pure and simple, figments of some marketer's pipe dream. That said, they are with us even though nobody seems to recall that back in the day we were sharing computing resources from time-share services through crude dial-up modems. Web 2.0 is nothing more than the same old stuff married up with active content. The product equivalent of this is a “new release” that really is nothing more than a different color box.

So, given this reality, how have these “new” market areas affected us? Depending on your perspective, I think we'd have to admit that they have changed everything, at least for now. They have introduced an entirely new computing paradigm when taken in context with today's enterprises. A contradiction to my comments above? Not really. Back in the day, we did not have the distributed computing platforms that we do presently. And, most important, we did not have the kinds of virtualization that we do currently. If there is a single true generational innovation, it is virtualization. Clouds and webs notwithstanding, without virtualization, these things would never have been economically feasible. So, we may have old wine in new bottles, but that virtualization bottle is a game changer.

The combination of the wine and the bottle is a serious challenge for security and forensic investigation. The real Innovator companies are those that have come up with viable technology, have the business foresight to monetize it and the marketing savvy to get the technology to customers. This month, we have, as we used to say in Indiana way back when, a whole passel of 'em.

Though the picture has changed – and radically from four years ago – we believe you'll find that this issue is a harbinger of what to expect. Things in the computing world have started moving again and they will never be the same as years past. So, hang on… it's going to be quite a ride!