One of the hardest tasks that the judges in the Techworld awards have to do is assess the winners of the product awards. It’s a particularly difficult task because often we’re judging between products that offer very different technologies for very different users – how, for example, do we distinguish between a router aimed at the small business which offers little in the way of features but which comes at a fantastic price and easy configuration?

Every year, the judges are asked by aggrieved runners-up why a product didn’t win, and it's had to give a simple answer. So, for the first time, we’re explaining why the winners snaffled the prizes. It should be stressed that there was by no means common ground on all the awards: while in some cases there was a unanimous winner, in most cases there were two or three candidates (and in one category there were four).

There were some tremendous products on the shortlists and some of the decisions were marginal. However, the judges had to pick a single winner for each category and here's why.

We’ll consider all the awards in alphabetical order, starting with Acceleration product of the year. This was won by Expand Networks' Compass 6.1 - the company had twice been runner-up so it was a well-merited success. What impressed the judges here was that the company had produced a sensibly integrated suite of products, rather than (as is often the case) a set of separate products that have been bought in via acquisition or OEMed from third parties. It was obvious that the company had thought clearly about users wanted and this was reflected in the way that the product had been received.

For the second year running the Encryption product of the year was won by PGP's Universal Gateway Email with PDF Messenger This was a company that won, partly because it’s a respected company with a healthy user base, but mainly because, again, the company had put in a lot of thought as to how it would integrate with other applications and with the operating system. It also made it as painless as possible for users to bolt encryption on to their platforms.

Next up is Endpoint Security product of the year which was won by Check Point with its Total Security product. The reason this product won was that it offered users a more holistic approach to security – it wasn’t an add-on to the existing system but integrated with users’ corporate security systems. It was that, coupled with Check Point’s vast experience in this field, that swung it for the company.

The Enterprise Wireless product of the year was claimed by Meru with its Wireless Access Points 300 Series. It was innovation that won out here, the judges were impressed that a company had successfully introduced an 802.11n product. There has been a lot of talk about the standard and it was good to see a company quick off the starting blocks bringing it to the UK.

The Green product of the year was an interesting category. This was one example where it was hard to judge what the winner was because different companies defined ‘green’ differently.

The judges were, however, taken with D-Link’s Green Ethernet power-saving switch. It wasn’t so much the technology itself - current switches are pretty small and so savings are tiny at present – but the way that the company had thought out a road-map (or for green products, should that be cycle path?) for the way that the product line will expand to larger (24- and 48-port) versions.

The Innovative product of the year is a slightly different award, it’s not entered per se by the vendors but the shortlist is nominated by the judges who want to reward companies that have developed a brand new technology or who are doing something very different with an existing one.

This year’s winner, CryptoCard's Token SMS was an example of the latter. It had developed the technology some years earlier but was applying it in a completely different way.

The IPS/IDS product of the year was won by Applicure’s DotDefender. This was a product that won out by the depth and breadth of its protection. The fact that it was a web application too, made it stand out a bit from its rivals

GoHello's eponymous system won the Mobile Application Product. This was a clear winner: the judges really liked this. Here was a product that made use of some innovative technology and which had been designed with users in mind (not around a technology with users considered as an afterthought).

The first storage product that we looked at, NAS/SAN product of the year, was won, for the second year running, by Isilon, this time with its X-Series Clustered Storage. What this product had was some excellent scaleability coupled with some powerful management capability.

The Network Application product of the year was another one where the judges were faced with the task of assessing some very varied products. The winner, Imperva's SecureSphere's 6.0, won out because it was a genuinely innovative one. What we liked about this was that the company had looked to fill a user need that wasn’t being met by other products rather than introducing a ‘me-too’ tool.

The Network Management product of the year is an award that always leads to heated discussion. This year the talks weren’t quite so animated as before, as the Uplogix Envoy emerged a clear winner. This was described by one judge as “bloody lovely”. Offering out-of-band management for switches and routers, so that even if the thing is hosed completely and can't be pinged, it can be resurrected remotely via RS-232. It also offered further features such as automated deployment of firmware upgrades based on filters and a distributed architecture for the distribution of configurations and firmware.

The Networking device of the year was a bit of a catch-all category with lots of different devices competing for the judges' nod.

Force 10's C300 Resilient Switch won this because the company had managed to take an ISP/large enterprise technology like 10Gig Ethernet and package it up for the smaller enterprise at a reasonable price. Not only that, it was a product that offered great scalability and thanks to its distributed architecture there was some impressive performance - all of this, coupled with an impressive list of customers made Force 10 the winner.

The Security software product of the year was won by a newcomer to the UK, Core Security's Impact version 7.5. The judges were very impressed with this penetration testing product. It boasted a first-class list of customers (and testimonials) as well offering and a comprehensive sweep of technologies covered.

The Server product of the year was claimed by Intel for its modular server. The judges liked this for many reasons. Partly, the company had really thought about what users wanted, partly because it brought the benefits of modular computing to medium-sized organisations, whose IT guys would probably find full-blown blade servers scary and partly because it was a product that came jam-packed with features.

The category that really stirred up the debate this year was virtualisation. We eventually ended up splitting this into two, covering Server Virtualisation and Storage virtualisation – that stopped some of the debate but there was still a feeling that there were some good products that had fallen by the wayside.

Scalent won the Server award, because the judges thought the Scalent V/OE (Virtual Operating Environment) software was a genuinely innovative product - one that is already being used by some high-powered customers. The Storage Virtualisation product of the year was snapped up by Seanodes for the cunning way it virtualised storage without centralising it on a SAN, avoiding all the bottlenecks and eggs-in-one-basket that can bring.

The Storage Management product of the year was won by Moonwalk with the Moonwalk 6.0. This triumphed thanks to the way that it was pitched at the right level, both in terms of price and ease of use. It also scored highly for the fact that it was vendor-agnostic.

Sepaton went away with the Tape/backup product of the year for its tongue-twisting 2100-ES2 Series 750 Enterprise virtual tape library (VTL) with DeltaStor deduplication software. The company gained its laurels thanks to its innovative approach. It virtualises tape storage by pretending to be any or all of the popular tape libraries - so, for instance, it can be placed in the data centre and the backup software think it's still talking to an ADIC Scalar, HP Ultrium or whatever.

The VoIP/Convergence product of the year drew on the growing interest in converged networks. The winner here the comparatively little-known ShoreTel with its ShoreTel 7.5 but this was a company with an impressive list of customers who all had plenty of plaudits for ShoreTel's offering. What really made this product stand out were two features: scalability - its ability to handle anything from one to 10,000 users was a definite plus - and openness - the judges loved the way that it could handle so many different vendors' applications. It wasn't the cheapest product out there but the judges thought it was the most impressive.

Finally, the Wireless Security product of the year was won by Aruba with its Remote Access Point. Aruba is a company that's highly respected and has released a host of good products. The Remote Access Point won out for its ease-of-use, not requiring a separate remote VPN concentrator to terminate the connection.

There were some common themes among the winners. The judges were impressed with companies that offered value for money, whose products were highly-scalable and whose entries integrated well with other devices and applications within the enterprise. It's also true to say that those products that the judges had seen in action tended to do well (although this was a double-edged sword, there were a couple of entries where the judges had seen the products working and hadn't been impressed).

This year was a bumper crop of entries - some of the best products that we'd seen for some time. If 2009 is anything like this, the judges will be in for a treat.