It's that time of year again when we look back at who the Innovators were over the past 12 months. As usual, we have a pretty good collection of returning companies and we've promoted a few into our Hall of Fame. However, we are seeing some new entries and that is encouraging. A couple of our returnees have undergone name changes or have been acquired/merged with other companies, so convergence is alive and well too. We have to say, however, that in spite of that, innovation is certainly alive and well this year.

One of the things that we look for each year is what drives innovation. As last year, we found that innovation comes from two places. First, the consumers, under a lot of pressure from the adversary, are demanding more and more features. Many of those features are intended to speed up the security process – depending on the product type, of course – or automate much of it completely. Vendors are responding with ever more complex algorithms, machine learning and competent management of Big Data.

The second driver – and this should be obvious, but we'll mention it anyway – are the vendors themselves. Never in all of the years that we've been reviewing computing and security products have we seen such contentious competition between vendors. This was a year when a half of a star rating could make the difference between losing a sale to a competitor. Competition is a good thing, though, and it certainly has resulted in some powerful innovations. It was a year when we asked our Innovators what drives them and we heard that it was the competition more than we ever have before.

So, what good is all of this to you, the consumer? Among other things, it means that you have some excellent choices and they are not all from the big players. A long-standing trend is that our Innovators are more likely to be small fry using stealthy techniques to get the sale – and data scientists, along with their engineers, to develop the product. A poster child for this is a one-person company that is in its second year on our list and the innovations in the product this year are many and excellent. Not only that, but the product sells. To see a creative developer who also runs a solid business and is a crafty marketer is really to see the heart and soul of innovation.

With all of that said, let's dive into this year's crop of Innovators. Our Innovators are selected for their original technology that actually helps solve a real problem, their creative go-to-market strategies and their ingenious ways of managing their organizations and resources to best advantage. We have watched several of our Innovators over the years go on to be acquired by one of the bigger companies, but this year mergers of approximate equals were more common. That, in our view, is a good thing. It shows that our industry is maturing – finally – and growing from within.

And, as we look forward to economic growth that we all hope will result from a new President in the White House, we can see that our industry is poised to help fuel that growth.

Industry Innovators 2016

This year we have nine categories and over 20 products for our Innovators segment. We have seen the marketplace changing significantly over the past couple of years and there are a few categories that we're quite sure will change next year to accommodate those changes. Some of those are what we've been calling next-generation products. Generally, we define those as using advanced algorithms, machine learning and Big Data. Often, these are cloud-based solutions that depend on the massive amount of data generated by feeds from thousands of users in the field. As any data scientist will tell you, when it comes to data, more always is better than less. Unfortunately, processing vast amounts of data takes more computing power than most organizations want to acquire. So, up in the cloud it goes.

While we are seeing a lot more next-generation tools, we still are not where we expect to be in a year or two. Additionally, we are seeing a trend to use next-generation techniques in tools that we would not describe as being next-generation themselves. This is because the machine learning, for example, performs only one – and, perhaps, not even the central – task. A true next-generation system will have all of the next-gen pieces well integrated and interdependent. For those tools that are not quite there yet, it almost seems as if they are easing their way into being a full next-gen deployment. That is understandable. The tools and techniques that fit in this type of product can be complicated and the people who work with them are not typical engineers. We expect this to work itself out before too many Innovators issues have passed.

Our categories this year are Access Control, Perimeter Defense (a bit about that momentarily), Virtualization and Cloud-Based Security, Data Protection, Cyberthreat Analysis and Intelligence, Next-generation Security Monitoring and Analytics (fully next-generation), Security Infrastructure, Risk and Policy Management, and Analytics and Testing. Of course, we have the Hall of Fame as well. This contains companies that have been included for three years in our Innovators section and have done well in the regular reviewing process.

Now, to the issue of perimeter defense. In our view, this is a dying category, arguably, because the perimeter is a dying concept. Companies that remain successful in this category – or, if you prefer, functionality – will need to redefine the nature of the perimeter that they are defending. There are those who believe that the perimeter will shrink all the way back to the endpoint. For now, anyway, we don't share that opinion. Years ago, there was a movement afoot to get rid of the perimeter and everything that, traditionally, protected it, such as firewalls. The argument was that if we encrypt everything we won't need a perimeter anymore. We didn't buy that then and we don't buy it now. But there is no doubt that the traditional perimeter is blurring and may eventually be gone altogether.

Another area that is undergoing change – and needs to – is Access Control. The old ways of authenticating are just about worthless today. So, vendors in this space will need to rethink their approach to authentication particularly. We continually search for ways to replace the username/password scheme but we never are particularly successful. Multifactor authentication has been shown over and over to be vastly preferable to username/password, but there is a myriad of excuses for not deploying it: The users won't like it, it's too expensive, it's too hard to use and deploy, and on and on we go. At the end of the day, users sign into their social media accounts with username and password. They forget that social media accounts are the easiest to break into and contain some of the most sensitive personally identifiable information (PII) anywhere.

So, with that in mind – and much more – we addressed the issue of who is innovating what and what categories we should look at. This is what we came up with and, as usual, the interviews with the Innovators themselves was a treat. What we found out from them was fascinating and not one of our Innovators was a disappointment. We trust that you will feel the same. We do recommend, however, that if you see something you like in these pages, contact the vendor. While all of this is quite interesting, at the end of the day, it's what the tool can do for your enterprise that counts. With that top of mind, we're off to look at over 20 innovative products that really caught our eye this year.

Click here for Industry Innovators 2016: Hall of Fame