This year we have broken our innovators down into nine groups plus our Hall of Fame inductees. This is, in our opinion, the best year yet for innovation. The companies that we highlight are creative, well-positioned and really understand their niche and how to fulfill its requirements at the highest level. As usual, we will discuss each category at the front of the section, but here is a bit of a peek.

Access Control is a perennial standby and this year we are in keeping with that tradition. However, the notion of access control has changed over the years. Arguable the oldest of the traditional information security measures, it has typically fallen to access control tools to enforce the C-I-A triad. Really, it is no different today. Only the methods – and, therefore, the tools – have evolved. The goal is the same though: keep unauthorized users out of where they don't belong. While that used to mean access to devices or networks, in recent years, as the perimeter has begun to evaporate, it has been increasingly focused on the data themselves.

Perimeter Defense also is a long-standing category. However, like access control, the name of the game may still be the same as in past years but the rules of the game have changed markedly. The perimeter is rapidly fading and that means that, before too long, we will see the enterprise exposed completely to untrusted networks. So, that in mind, how do we protect the assets that used to be safely ensconced behind firewalls? Truth to tell, the firewall is far from dead but there are lots of ways – intended ways – around it. That's what today's perimeter defense is tasked with protecting.

Virtualization is a relative newcomer. Security in virtualized – or, what now is called the “software-defined data center” – is a pretty tough nut to crack. Pretty much nothing that works in the physical world works equally well in the virtual world. Add to that set of challenges the fact that, technically anyway, the cloud is nothing more, usually, than a virtual environment, and the difficulties move to the cloud as well as on-premises.

Data Protection has become an even bigger deal that it has been previously. Long ago we decided that the only reason we protect the infrastructure, at the end of the day, is to protect the data. Never has that been truer than now. Moreover, protecting those data has become increasingly difficult as the need for sharing and the propensity to work anywhere with any type of device makes things a bit more difficult.

A new category this year is Cyber Threat Analysis. To our mind this may be the most important category of the bunch. And, as one might conjecture, its denizens are likely to emerge as the benchmark for holding off the hordes of bad guys going forward. This is a category that is not well understood by consumers of information security tools but it is a category that holds a lot of promise. This and our next category are pretty much joined at the hip and we would not be surprised if next year they morphed into a single group.

Next Generation Security Monitoring and Analytics was a tough one for us this year. It is a brand-new category so we were faced with how to define it. Most competent tools in this space include many of the capabilities and objectives of cyber threat analysis and intelligence but they use those capabilities somewhat differently. The selectees for both of these categories bear a lot of watching over the coming year.

Security Infrastructure might be seen as going away. We don't think so. But we do think that what we have defined as Infrastructure might be changing dramatically. We rather see this as a transitional year for this category. We have only a single entry in the category and that one is truly a first-rate innovator. We wonder what the category will look like a year from now.

Risk and Policy Management has split into – in our view, anyway – two basic types: next generation and traditional. Oddly, there have been some interesting developments in the traditional side and we don't see that going away anytime soon. Risk and policy management, however, is changing a lot. This year when we reviewed that group we found that a lot of effort is being put into firewall management. So, as we hear every year lately, whither firewalls? If the firewall goes away – as many predict – how will these tools evolve? In our view – since we are moving ever closer to the data –the tools that will formerly have managed firewall rules must turn their heads in a new direction.

Finally, we come to Analysis and Testing. That used to be a pretty big group but the key players have passed into the Hall of Fame making room for a new generation. As one might expect, that new generation is going to have a lot of forensic tools in it in coming years. This year, though, it is a pretty lonely place to be.

So, with that as an overview, on with the show for 2015!